The two most dreaded words in TV coverage may well be “spoiler alert.”
In this age of too much TV, it’s virtually impossible to watch everything live. And in high season, Sunday nights are a DVR-busting traffic jam. So nearly every TV story we publish now begins with those words of caution.
But when does the statute of limitations expire: The next morning? The next week?
I’m all for respecting the East Coast/West Coast time difference — of course, that’s only fair. And certainly, any stories the day after deserve a fair warning. But I’ve gotten yelled at for mentioning — spoiler alert — the death of a certain marine-turned-terrorist six months after it aired.
Netflix’s all-at-once programming strategy has rendered it all-but-impossible to even begin to cover their shows. Yes, greedy people like me binge-watched the entire second season of “House of Cards” that first February weekend, so how are we supposed to handle big plot twists like — spoiler alert — you-know-who’s murder in the premiere? Am I allowed to mention it here? And when will we be permitted to discuss the just-released second season of “Orange Is the New Black”?
“Community” star Yvette Nicole Brown binged it all — and tweeted: “That last minute was satisfying in a way I can’t even quantify. No spoilers in the replies, please.” Needless to say, it didn’t help.
I was once talking to a showrunner whose drama is based on a series of books published years ago, and I referenced something that happened in the novel. “That’s a spoiler!” he cautioned me.
It’s not that I’m advocating spoilers: I’ve been burned badly, too. I learned of — spoiler alert — Matthew Crawley’s death on “Downton Abbey” not from social media, but from simply launching Google the morning after the U.K. airing. Yes, it made headlines internationally. (Memo to PBS: It’s time to abandon the transcontinental time lag.)
The problem with rampant spoilers is that there’s simply no way to police them, yet everyone feels they’ve got the moral authority to lecture you if you dare breathe a plot point.
Twitter is ground zero for spoilers, with fans feverishly posting plot twists as they happen — and just as furiously flaming those that do. The night that — spoiler alert — Dan Bucatinsky’s character died on “Scandal,” he tweeted the news. And I got singed by simply retweeting his post.
Even just a peek at what’s trending is itself a spoiler. Is it that much of a leap to figure out that if #Joffrey is trending that — spoiler alert — something crucial has happened to everyone’s least favorite boy king?
Throughout this Emmy season, I’ve asked actors, producers and other key Hollywood players what they think of Twitter, and how they use it.
Some see it as a way to get their message out to fans without “having to go through the press” (gee, thanks). Some value it as a social marketing tool: @bellamyyoung credits it with getting “Scandal” picked up for a second season. Others approach it antagonistically: @nigellythgoe calls his followers “morons.”
What sticks in my mind is what “Glee” exec producer @bradfalchuk said. He told me he’s still struggling with Twitter. He referenced Louis C.K., who says that kids learn empathy from watching someone’s reaction to what they say. But on Twitter, there’s a disconnect — people write things they would never say in person.
“The other day, people were very angry about us giving a love interest to the lead character whose boyfriend had died — who really died,” said Falchuk. “He was a friend of ours. And this friend died. Finally I had to tweet, you know, you’re talking about a real person. And you’re talking to a real person whose friend died. So stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. And it stopped.”
Spoiler alert: I don’t think it will — for long.