The Killing: Did Twitter Change The History Of The Universe (You'll Have To Wait Until Fall)?

It's official. Here's my favorite headline of the 2010-2011 TV season: "The Killing: Worst Season Finale in the History of the Universe?" That gem was the header of Portland Mercury's editor in-chief Wm. Steven Humphrey's recent blog post.

It was truly amazing to witness fan reaction to the rookie-season finale in real-time on Twitter and Facebook. The hatred of the episode seemed almost visceral and most of it centered on the fact that fans were sure that the mystery that opened the series would be solved. It wasn't. People will have to - gasp -- wait until next season!  Did the producers make a huge tactical error? Did the "leave them wanting more" approach best used in recent times by "Lost" backfire on "The Killing"?  

I can't help but think of the classic cliffhanger third-season closer, "Dallas:  A House Divided," where the nefarious J.R. Ewing was shot by an unseen suspect. Viewers had to wait all summer (and through most of fall because of an actors' strike), to find out not only "who shot J.R." - but, was he even still alive? The summer of 1980 was filled with fun speculation, Larry Hagman became a cover boy, but no one said "Worst Season Finale in the History of the Universe." In fact, Larry Hagman is still amused by the success of the closely guarded mystery in this clip.



Even "Star Trek: The Next Generation" used the cliffhanger to great effect in 1990's "The Best of Both Worlds." This episode, where Captain Riker is forced to combat with his superior, Captain Picard (who is now a Borg), ends with the classic "Mr Worf, fire." It is considered one of the best episodes of the series, yet, no one remembers an online outcry (even if it was only on dial-up BBS, CompuServe, or AOL) from the most tech-savvy of all TV viewing audiences.

It should be interesting to see if "The Killing"'s producers will stick to their storytelling and not let the buzz affect the show's DNA. Maybe they should listen to what fellow AMC showrunner Matthew Weiner, creator of "Mad Men," said about what could become a disturbing trend -- to write to the tweet:

"The audience does not decide what happens on the show. I'm not saying 'fuck you' to the audience, I'm just saying, you don't know what you want.  Also the people who are vocal are not necessarily the audience.  I had this strange experience about the finale this year where the internet was overwhelmingly negative immediately, then they took it back and said,  'Oh my God, it's genius.'  You think about all the artists you admire and their relationship with their audience and who knows how it works. I don't want to be defending the show all the time, but the people who are writing on the internet are not necessarily the only people watching the show."

The test will be to see if those disgruntled tweeters return to "The Killing" for season two. I'm guessing, that because of the passion with which they expressed their dissatisfaction in under 140 characters, they may be back after all. Especially to see if anyone in cyberspace paid attention to their public pain....

5 comments about "The Killing: Did Twitter Change The History Of The Universe (You'll Have To Wait Until Fall)?".
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  1. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC, June 22, 2011 at 4:51 p.m.

    Really? The worst season finale in the history of television? How long has the Merc's TV reporter been WATCHING television? Did he/she miss the entire Chuck Norris oeuvre? And "Baywatch"?

    "The Killing"'s season finale was stupendous - adult storytelling at its finest. No neat answers, enough information to make me sweat in happy anticipation of the series' sophomore season.

    Clue: if you're looking for neat, quick storylines, watch cartoons. If you're a grown-up, look for deeper content with more context and texture. Like "The Killing"...

  2. Arthur Greenwald from Greenwald Media, June 22, 2011 at 4:53 p.m.

    Good analysis, Karen! One frequently-overlooked possibility is that audiences will tire of internet blather much sooner than we currently think. Too often it's like being seated next to a table of drunks and being subjected to their loud opinions. Eventually you ask for another table or just the check, please.

  3. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, June 22, 2011 at 6:17 p.m.

    Great analysis, and thank you for the wonderful examples from TV's golden past. I was initially as disappointed in the ending as the Tweeters you write about -- I'd be hyped by people posting all those "Oh My God!" comments on my Facebook page about the ending to expect something beyond belief. Instead, I realized I'd just been witness to some wonderful episodic storytelling.

    Having worked in television for a decade (and having watched for decades more), I know how hard it is to sustain serialized drama after the initial set-up is paid off (see also: Twin Peaks, Heroes, etc.) But the writers of The Killing did it. I admit it. I'm hooked...all over again.

    I only hope that they know where their story is headed and they haven't jumped the shark.

  4. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, June 22, 2011 at 7:45 p.m.

    There's a big difference between "Dallas," ST:TNG" and other series mentioned here and "The Killing." Those series had a number of plot lines over the course of a year, but ended with a sudden, specific cliffhanger. "The Killing" followed one investigation, spread across several characters, and promised viewers one self-contained story, that ended.

    Instead, in the last episode, we got a bunch of twists, several of which made no sense inside the context of what we'd seen before. I really felt betrayed and p!ssed off. I'm not sure I'll be back.

    The show was quality television, if relentlessly downbeat, with an appealing cast and some terrific performances. But the red herrings got excessive in the last few episodes, and the finale was a betrayal of the viewers' trust.

  5. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, June 22, 2011 at 8:04 p.m.

    In fact, as I read the comments of the people here who are defending the show, calling it "wonderful, episodic storytelling" and "adult storytelling," i have to shake my head in disbelief.

    Basically, what you're saying is that it's commendable that a series we spent 13 hours watching, that built it's entire ad campaign around "Who Killed Rosie Larson?" ended without answering that question and pretty much rendering EVERYTHING related to that question moot in the last ten minutes.

    That's not adult storytelling. It's amateur hour. That's not wonderful episodic storytelling, because the episodes before it are now meaningless.

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