Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Spoilers Make Surprise a Rare Commodity

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Spoilers Make Surprise a Rare Commodity

Article excerpt

Be forewarned: This is a story about spoilers that contains a potential spoiler.

If you're a "Downton Abbey" fan who has not yet watched the episode that aired Sunday night on PBS, please step away from this article.

If you proceed, it's at your own risk ...

Why on earth did such a beloved "Downton" character have to depart this world?

In the fifth episode of the show's third season, the death of beautiful, kind, spirited 24-year-old Lady Sybil -- from eclampsia, after she'd given birth to a daughter -- was tragic and shocking. Or rather, it would have shocked me had I resisted the urge to read what horrified fans in Great Britain had posted online about the episode when it first aired there on Oct. 14.

Yes, we live in a world of spoilers. Nowadays, when news circles the globe in seconds, it's hard to avoid spoilers, even if you want or try to. (OK, I freely admit that I did neither.) You never know when you'll run across one on Facebook, or get an unwanted alert from Twitter or Google News.

For years, Europeans have been dealing with this situation in reverse. They have watched our exported hits like "ER" and "The Sopranos" and "Lost" months after we first saw them, and then tried to tiptoe through a minefield of spoilers.

The difficulty of keeping surprises and secrets under wraps is not new. For years, we've heard about moviemakers and TV producers who have made crew members sign confidentiality agreements, or have filmed or written alternate endings, or have even waged disinformation campaigns -- all in an effort to throw people off the track.

But social media have made things so much more difficult. And there's no book of etiquette when it comes to spoilers.

Is it impolite to reveal something in a tweet that people in other countries or time zones do not yet know? Is the burden on those people to not read it? If they go ahead and keep reading it anyway, do they have any right to be angry at the poster?

And the most burning question of all: Is there an expiration date on spoilers? A statute of limitations on being blamed for ruining someone else's viewing experience?

One of my editors still has not forgiven me for the morning in 2000 when, having just watched a preview tape of "Homicide: The Movie," I blurted out, "Yaphet Kotto dies!"

Extreme case

Kotto's Lt. Al "Gee" Giardello was a beloved fixture in the series "Homicide: Life on the Street," but in the follow-up movie designed to tie up loose ends, he got shot, had emergency surgery (during which he was shot again) and ultimately died of an aneurysm.

I'm still not sure what caused my lapse of judgment, for which I am still apologizing and my editor is still ribbing me.

But that kind of spoiler is an extreme case. Most situations fall into a gray area.

DVRs make it possible to view things at our own convenience and on our own schedule, but they've been pretty much killing the communal viewing experience. …

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