From Dallas to Spoiler Alerts, the Rise and Fall of the Cliffhanger

The world didn’t start in 2010, gang, no matter how much it may seem like it did.

Especially the TV world:

JRby David Sims

35 years ago, the Texas oil baron J.R. Ewing was working late at his office when he was shot twice by a mysterious assailant. J.R. crumpled to the ground with his fate unknown, and every member of the cast a plausible suspect in the shooting. With that, the third season of CBS’s Dallas concluded, but at the same time, it also graduated from hit network show to nationwide phenomenon.

The end-of-season cliffhanger, deployed so effectively in 1980 that “Who Shot J.R.?” became a national catchphrase, is a brilliant and oft-used television device. But in a fractured TV landscape that no longer takes the summer off, it’s a ploy that struggles to punch with the weight it once did. Dallas aired during the golden era of the “big three” TV networks, when there was no way to binge-watch and catch up with the hit of the moment. So its third season finale was an innovative gambit—the cliffhanger was the stuff of serialized soaps and Charles Dickens, not the world of episodic television, where mysteries were tidily solved every week.

“Who Shot J.R.?” was hokey and not particularly compelling from a writing standpoint—almost every character on the show had a reason to shoot the manipulative and unscrupulous patriarch, so it was almost beside the point when Dallas revealed who actually did it eight months later. But it was the kind of water-cooler moment that could drive conversation about the show during the quiet summer months of the network TV schedule. Dallaswas serialized television, but not so much that viewers couldn’t jump right into any given episode and figure it out, and after a few months of hearing co-workers or family members debate their theories about potential suspects, it was hard not to. The show ended its third season as the sixth-most watched show on television, with 19.1 million viewers; its fourth season jumped to number one, with 27.6 million people watching. The reason for that kind of meteoric leap in ratings is indisputable.

The storyline’s success wasn’t thanks to Dallas‘s quality, or America’s fondness for star Larry Hagman, who’d turned a secondary character into the archetypal man-you-love-to-hate, and the breakout star of the show. The third season finale “A House Divided” aired on March 21, 1980, and Dallas didn’t return to screens until November. Over that summer, Ted Turner’s fledging Cable News Network launched, and embarked on the then-daunting concept of reporting the news 24 hours a day—with feverish speculation over J.R.’s assailant becoming a popular and frequent topic.

As with many classic TV cliffhangers, the show’s writers went into things with no particular idea of how to resolve the mystery, arriving at the conclusion just by a logical process of elimination. Another example of that loose approach is “The Best of Both Worlds,” the third-season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation,which ended with Captain Picard captured by the alien Borg and transformed into a cyborg zombie. The writer and showrunner Michael Piller later admitted he had no concept of how the next episode, which led off the fourth season, would resolve the cliffhanger—he just knew the show needed something to keep audiences on the hook over the summer. The Next Generation was a steady cult hit before the episode, but its ratings jumped by 25 percent between seasons, and the show graduated to mainstream success.

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There are no professional script writers in Ghana

…Which doesn’t mean we should all zip down there and set up shop.

Or does it?

from Ghana Web

media10Ace Ghanaian actor, David Dontoh says there are no professional script writers in Ghana.

“I don’t know of any Ghanaian who practices as a professional writer, who writes script for films, television and teleplays and makes all his living from that,” David Dontoh stated in an interview with Ibrahim Ben-Barko on the Red Carpet Show on Multi-TV.

He further said “a film starts from a script but we don’t have very good writers who really know the element of drama that makes it exciting and interesting for people to enjoy.”

Known for the roles he played in very popular movies including; The Dead (2010), Deadly Voyage (1996) and Heritage Africa (1989), David Dontoh on his part, said elsewhere you find people taking script writing as a professional job and it works for them.

He blamed theatre institutions in the country for not giving students detailed knowledge on script writing.

“The people we train at our school of performing arts and other theatre institutions in the country are only trained in stage plays.”

Actor David Dontoh

Actor David Dontoh

The popular Obra TV series actor, expressed worry about the attitude of some movie producers in the country.

“Some of the producers who are in film production now are not prepared to spend their money to buy scripts where the entire movie starts from,” he added.

He continued that “but if you really want a good script the person has to spend all the time to do solid research, write and rewrite.”

He concluded that “if the script is not good, bring Denzel Washington, the story is [still] not good.”

David Dontoh is also known for movies like Rain movie from the stables of Silver Line Film Production and Announcement directed by Evelyn Robinson.

See the New Series POWERS on the web – Free!


POWERS is a new series that’s going to available on neither TV nor the interwebs but instead via Play Station. It’s a superhero thing, adapted from an existing comic book by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, which on its face might repel as many people as it attracts, but we like the specifics of the concept. A superhero loses his powers and becomes a cop, but still ends up working with superheroes…and against them as well.

For “a limited time only,” (nope, we dunno how long that really means), you can see the first episode on YouTube. Or even right here and right now:

YouTube Preview Image

And of course there’s, you know, the absolutely essential YouTube trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

Whatever you think of this series, you gotta love having another new way of having a show delivered! (Especially if you already have a Play Station and don’t have to shell out all that dough.)

NOTE FROM LB: I’ve just watched the first episode and think that all in all it’s terrific. Too much talk, exposition-wise, but the story and characters are very compelling to me. It had the same effect on me that reading WATCHMEN did many years ago. (As opposed to viewing the WATCHMEN film not so many years ago.) So now I’ve got to figure out how to see the rest without having to buy me a Play Station. Curious about what you guys will think when you see it, so let me know.

Here’s How the 2015 TV Pilot Season is Shaping Up


What’s that? You’re ready to bear down and write a TV pilot of your own. To sell to NBC, say, cuz if anybody needs new material it’s them? To give to agents so they’ll sign you, cuz if anybody ever needed an agent it’s you? To enter in TVWriter™’s own People’s Pilot Competition, cuz…well, erm, we’ll just let you fill in the blank.

Writing a pilot script is hands down the best way to get yourself noticed, but before you write you need to know a little something about what the pros already are doing. So you can get into the right mindset and take the Industry by storm. We ever-helpful minions at TVWriter™ have been scouring the interwebs looking for info that’ll help you in your efforts, and we think we’ve found exactly what y’all need.

Here it is. Lots of shows, heaps of potential, mountains of money to spend. Variety has the most complete list of what pilots are being shot and which shows have already been ordered to series that we’ve ever seen. Definitely worth a CLICK.

Break a leg! (But not a pencil. And especially not your mac.)

Writers Guild of America News for March

Not to be confused with their calendar of events and such. No, no, no….

Hank Isaac’s LILAC Wins 3 IndieFEST Awards!

Kudos to frequent TVWriter™ contributor for making a very big score!


He’ll be back on the site later this week with more about the making of this selfsame LILAC.

Who loves ya, baby?