Sunday 18 August 2019

Roslyn Dee: 'The dramatic death of the cliffhanger'

The late Ken Kercheval. Photo: PA
The late Ken Kercheval. Photo: PA

Roslyn Dee

Cliff Barnes died last week. Well, actually, it was the actor who played him for so many years, but like many screen professionals who are defined by one particular role, Ken Kercheval will always be Cliff Barnes. And the minute I heard that he had passed away, instantly, there I was, humming a tune in my head. Remember it?

"Do-do... Do-do… Do-do… Do… Do-do… Do…" - 'Dallas'. The TV series that defined the 80s. That hold-your-breath-for-a-week soap opera that had us all in its thrall. Not just because of its famous 'Who Shot JR?' cliffhanger, but because of all the dirty wheeling and dealing in both boardroom and bedroom that made up each and every episode, leaving us on tenterhooks for another seven days.

That's right. Seven days. We had to wait for a whole week. We couldn't record or download and watch one episode after another at one sitting, so we had no choice but to sit it out. That's how it was.

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And do you know something? It was precisely that enforced hiatus that made viewing all the more compelling.

When I was a child there was one programme that was the talk of the town every week. In shops, on football terraces, in schools, and even at the church gates. How on earth was he going to get out of this one, everyone wondered?

Would Inspector Gerard's net close in? Or would the wrongly convicted Dr Richard Kimble evade capture again as he doggedly pursued the so-called "one-armed man"?

Sunday nights in our house meant only one thing back then - everyone gathered around the television together for David Janssen in 'The Fugitive'. This Sunday, next Sunday, and the Sunday after that again.

And holding your breath for a whole week to find out what was going to happen was such a powerful viewing tactic.

Now, of course, in this world of instant gratification, most people would record it and then watch a few episodes back to back - with all the plot-twists revealed at one sitting. But where's the excitement in that?

Oh, I've binged on box-sets like everyone else, and I've sat up into the early hours glued to Netflix watching "just one more" episode of 'Narcos' or 'Ozark' or the lesser known but absolutely compelling Canadian crime series, 'Intelligence'.

But, for me, there's really nothing like the joy of week-to-week watching.

I did it with every series of 'Homeland' and loved the ritual of it. Back home from work, dinner done and dusted, glass of wine poured, and settled on the couch just in time for that fantastic opening sequence. And I'm doing it with 'Line of Duty'. Watching 'live' every Sunday at 9pm.

The problem is, unlike with 'Dallas', 'The Fugitive' or the wonderful 'Hill Street Blues' (would Furillo and Joyce finally commit to each other in next week's episode?) nowadays there's no sense of communal conversation around TV programmes.

I might be watching 'Line of Duty' on a week-to-week basis, but you might be recording it and intending to watch all four episodes at once.

Or maybe you've seen episode one but haven't got around to two or three yet, so you certainly don't want to discuss it. And so, inevitably, the 'shush' factor kicks in.

'Line of Duty's' final episode is this weekend. Is Ted Hastings really the crooked cop? Is Lisa McQueen actually working undercover?

I'll know in two days' time. But the problem is, you might not. So I'll have to stay schtum.

As Adrian Dunbar's Ted Hastings would say himself, world-weary with exasperation, I too have only one thing to say to that state of affairs: "Mother of God!"

Irish Independent

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