(Note: This post contains no spoilers. Read on without fear!)
Like many science fiction fans, I make good natured attempts to avoid spoilers for major books, movies and TV series that hold the promise of occasionally surprising me. In this age of recycled plots and unending remakes, it is truly refreshing to read or watch something and experience actual surprise when something transpires that you didn’t foresee.
One example of this is the current Battlestar Galactica series on the SciFi Channel. The show consistently strives to catch viewers off guard with plot twists and revelations, and it frequently succeeds in that effort. For nearly a year, fans have wondered and debated who the show would reveal to be the final Cylon*. The plot mystery grew into 2008 and 2009’s version of “Who shot JR?” So during the episode that finally reveals the identity of that final Cylon, why would SciFi Channel broadcast commercials that blatantly gave away the secret, in essence ruining the secret contained at the end of the episode?
Less than five minutes into the episode came the first commercial break, and the very first ad was for next week’s episode of Battlestar Galatica. Even though viewers had just started watching this week’s episode, the ad’s voiceover stated something to the effect of “Now that you know the identity of the final Cylon ..” and showed a clip of that Cylon’s identity being revealed — a clip of a scene that wouldn’t even occur in the current episode until 50 minutes later. And just in case any viewers missed that spoiler, it was repeated during every single commercial break throughout the rest of the episode. What the frak?
I do need to provide one qualifier — I was out with friends on Friday night at 9:00 pm Central Time when the episode initially was broadcast, so I actually watched the encore rebroadcast (SciFi Channel provides such encores for many of its top series.) My experience with the commercials revealing the episode’s ending occurred during that rebroadcast. The encore rebroadcast, however, was only a few hours after the original broadcast and I would bet the majority of people who watched that rebroadcast did so because, for whatever reason, they were unable to see the original broadcast. Thus those viewers would not yet have known the identity of the final Cylon, and I assume still looked forward to a moment of surprise from the show. What they instead received was a moment of surprise when a commercial repeatedly gave away the ending of the very episode they were watching.
During the heyday of the TV show Fraiser, I remember reading an interview with actor Kelsey Grammer where he chided the show’s promotion team for consistently giving away the plot twists of the coming week’s episode in the promotional ads they created to entice viewers to watch. The point is that this practice isn’t necessarily anything new ... but it’s just as irritating every time I experience this as a viewer.
In today’s always connected world, there are numerous other ways for viewers to hear spoilers for the books, TV shows and movies they haven’t yet experienced. Leading up to the publication of the final Harry Potter novel, there was a somewhat mean spirited competition to see who could first reveal the identity of the major character who would die. And although not officially a “plot spoiler”, the name of the new actor contracted to play Dr. Who on British TV was revealed via Twitter several hours before the BBC made the official announcement. Given the explosion of information — including an untold number of plot spoilers — that surrounds us every moment, where should the line be drawn? When is revealing a plot spoiler bad manners, and when does it qualify as malicious? And does it ever actually reach the point where it becomes bad for business (“I know how it ends, so why bother watching”)? Let me know what you think.
*For those of you who don’t watch Battlestar Galactica, the rich and detailed backstory leading up to the final Cylon mystery is beyond the ability of a single blog post to summarize or convey. If you’re interested in learning more, the best option is to use iTunes or Netflicks to view the prior seasons, or alternately read one of the many good summaries available online.