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Cliffhangers Fail To Hold Interest

Fox Mulder is dead - and Andy Sipowicz killed him.

OK, I’m making that up. But, with the silliness that passed as cliffhangers at the end of the just-concluded ‘96-97 season, it’s not that far-fetched a premise.

In the season finales last month, David Duchovny’s Mulder of “The X-Files” supposedly was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, while Dennis Franz’ Sipowicz of “NYPD Blue,” to save the reputation of his partner, apparently killed someone in cold blood.

Viewers who accept either of those bleak scenarios at face value obviously haven’t seen enough television. If Mulder is dead, so is “The X-Files.”

If Sipowicz turns out to have committed murder in that fashion, the show’s writers have killed the soul of “NYPD Blue.”

In reality, the writers of these shows just wanted to end their seasons with a bang, and end with cliffhangers that would have people talking. You know what? It’s a month later, and nobody’s talking.

Prime-time television ended its season with more cliffhangers than ever before, but no one cares.

Cliffhanger lightning doesn’t strike very often on television - but when it does, it buys an unbillable amount of free publicity.

When the “Who Shot J.R.?” mystery was posed on “Dallas” in 1980, viewers and the media buzzed about it all summer long.

A decade later, when “Twin Peaks” ended its season with the “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” question unresolved, the result was a summer media sensation.

In 1997, though, the season-ending cliffhangers have posed a different question: “Who cares?”

It’s not that some of the shows haven’t tried. NBC’s “Profiler” ended its inaugural season by having Ally Walker’s Sam arrested for a murder she may have committed by mistake. NBC’s “Friends” ended with David Schwimmer’s Ross selecting one room and girlfriend over another, leaving viewers to wonder which one it was.

On Fox’s “Melrose Place,” Laura Leighton’s Sydney got slammed by a runaway car on her wedding day, but the actress already has appeared on talk shows to drain suspense by revealing Sydney’s death. And on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street,” the detective squad was informed that budget cuts and staff reassignments meant any or all of them might be somewhere else next year.

There’s one very simple way for television to improve its cliffhanger situation and rekindle the old magic of great expectations. All TV has to do is. …

Tags: Commentary