What Makes Viewers ‘Tune In Next Week
What Makes Viewers ‘Tune In Next Week
Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos by Netflix and NBC

The cliffhanger ending is a device as old as storytelling itself, one that is especially useful to anyone trying to keep an audience hooked into an episodic, serialized narrative. Simply put: The cliffhanger was made for TV.

Television has relied on suspenseful, “What happens next?”–style narratives in all kinds of genres over the years, from soap operas and telenovelas to sci-fi thrillers and primetime dramas, especially the kind that ask important questions like, “Who shot J.R.?” Even sitcoms, which traditionally churned out digestible episodes without ongoing storylines, have made cliffhangers a weapon in their arsenals. In recent years, as streaming platforms have multiplied, binge-watching has become the norm, and the hunger to retain viewers has intensified, cliffhangers have risen in importance, not just as a way to end a season but as a motivator to make sure Netflix and Hulu users immediately proceed to the next episode.

As part of Vulture’s The Art of Ending Things series, we reached out to several television storytellers to talk about cliffhangers: how they are crafted and debated in writers rooms, how they function on streaming platforms, and which pitfalls they try to avoid. We talked to TV veterans who have worked in broadcast, cable and streaming, and in a variety of genres, including comedy, drama, telenovelas, young-adult sci-fi, and docuseries. Here is what they had to say.

Interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. And naturally, this contains spoilers about shows such as Friends and Jane the Virgin.