Sunday, July 24, 2011

Every story deserves an ending

Michael Ende's classic fantasy novel, published in 1979 and adapted several times since in film and TV productions, is titled 'The Neverending Story,' but it does, in fact, have an ending.

A beginning. A middle. Plot and subplot. A terrific cast of characters. Exotic otherworldly locations.

And an ending.

Call me a traditionalist, but I believe every story should have one. I doubt there's a reader or a film goer out there who would disagree.

Imagine watching the DVD of 'Die Hard 4.0' and, as Bruce Willis dangles from a wire midair, surrounded by explosions, terrorists and swooping helicopters, the movie abruptly ends and the credits roll.

Not a good look.

Imagine reading Robert Ludlum's 'The Bourne Identity' - the amnesiac main character, still not knowing who he is or why so many heavy duty killers are on his trail, blasts his way out of one tight corner, only to face yet another. And that's the last page. The story isn't finished but there's no more leaves in the book and no sequel.

Not on.

You may not like a story's ending. It may or may not satisfy you, nor be what you were hoping for, there may be aspects to it that are open-ended (after all, life's like that)- but there should at least be an intended ending, one that completes the journey that the reader or viewer invested in with the first chapter or the first reel or the first episode.

We wouldn't accept a novel or a short story if it was cut off mid-sentence, wouldn't accept a movie if it faded to black without explanation, and publishers and filmmakers wouldn't expect it of us.

So why do TV networks believe they can do this with an ongoing TV series, and why do we put up with it?

This isn't just an occasional thing. It's chronic and it shows complete disrespect for the audiences that the very same TV networks need in order to survive. Talk about biting the hand that feeds...

Here's just a few recent examples:

Persons Unknown: a group of people from different walks of life are kidnapped and wake up prisoners in a small, deserted town. The town is surrounded by an invisible force field. There are thirteen emotionally-charged episodes with twists and turns as these people try to escape. The finale delivers quite a few answers but also sets up ongoing mysteries for a second season. No second season. No ending. 2.8 million U.S followers of the series are left in the dark.

Flash Forward: everyone in the world loses consciousness simultaneously for 137 seconds, during which they "experience' 137 seconds of their future, from six months forward in time. A group of FBI agents leads an investigation in to what, how and why this happened - and what it all means. The network cancelled the series after its 22 episode first series run, without a conclusion.

'The Event,' 'Jericho,' and 'Sons and Daughters' are just another three of the many recent series canned without tying up loose ends, mysteries and plot developments.

No-one expects the networks to run unprofitable businesses, or to not cancel a series that is not achieving the results being sought. Nevertheless, there are still some in the world who endorse the principles of ethics in business, and loyalty to your customers.

Flash Forward had an average audience of 8.5 million in the U.S and more around the world. They liked the program and invested their time and their interest in the characters. The audience deserved a finale that completed the tale. The story deserved an ending.

Writers, directors and producers all want to complete telling the stories that they have created.

When a network decides to cancel a series, it could do so allowing the producers the timing to script and shoot episodes that take the storyline to the finishing line. This was done in recent years with 'Smallville,' 'Prison Break,' and '24.' Or run a two hour telemovie "special" that concludes the series properly.

When the original tv version of spy series 'La Femme Nikita' was to be cancelled after its fourth season, a decision was made to produce a mini fifth season of just eight episodes to deliver a big finish.

It can, and should, be done.

A big finale, properly promoted, can also deliver extra ratings.

An audience is placing faith in the media that it will deliver a beginning, a middle, and a fitting conclusion to its fictional products.

Every story deserves an ending.


  1. How delightfully idealistic. The TV/movie business is all about the bottom line, and when the money runs out or the audience fails to grow, show's over. Period. To throw good money after bad by making episodes to indulge the (too few) viewers just ain't gonna happen. But you've pointed out one reason why books are better than TV. Books (almost) always have an ending, even when they're part of a series. And in this era of ebooks and indy publishing, even if a writer can't find a publisher for another sequel, she can always write it and sell it directly to her fans. Only death of the creator should mean an unsatisfying conclusion to the story created.
    Money isn't the only factor, either. I was a fan of the The Prisoner, a fascinating SF-like British TV series from the 60s. They completed their run and had a closing episode, but I for one found it incredibly unsatisfying and inconclusive.

  2. I, too, found 'The Prisoner' finale unsatisfying. In fact, I didn't understand the "ending" at all. As for ebooks, they're certainly ideal for book series. Perhaps there's even the occasional place foer an ebook series following on from a cancelled tv series that had a strong fan base, the opportunites are endless. (Of course, there's a precedent of sorts for that: original Star Trek novels were published by Bantam Books after the original tv series was canned - and look where that led.