Private Viewing: Is it time for teaser trailers to stop spoiling audiences’ fun?

Doctor Who stars Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman. Coleman, who plays companion Clara Oswald, mad

Doctor Who stars Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman. Coleman, who plays companion Clara Oswald, made a surprise appearance in an earlier episode Asylum of the Daleks, which managed to slip under the media radar. - Credit: PA

Spoilers are now part of film and TV but arts editor Andrew Clarke thinks it’s time to put surprises back in the plot

Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer in the thriller What Lies Beneath which managed to give away the

Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer in the thriller What Lies Beneath which managed to give away the ending in the teaser trailer.

My daughter thinks I’m strange. My wife thinks I’m mad but I can’t help it. I hate trailers tacked onto TV programmes. I mean I really hate sneak peeks at next week’s episode.

The one thing that convinces me that I’m not over-reacting is that my 21-year-old son agrees with me. We’ve obviously brought him up well. When he’s back from uni we both make a dive for the remote as the final credits roll in a desperate dash for the remote not to spoil our enjoyment of next week’s instalment of our favourite drama.

It doesn’t matter that wife and daughter may want to watch the next programme but we can’t stomach the spoilers which will inevitably fill the next two minutes. We need a brief moment of blank screen so we can arrive at next week’s episode with a genuine sense of anticipation.

I know why television channels do it, because they are desperate for people to tune in for the next episode. But, my point is that such is the drive for ratings that channel bosses and marketing men frequently turn what should have been a teaser into a spoiler.


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To be truthful, it’s not trailers I hate, it’s spoilers but sadly, today, there’s little difference between a trailer and a spoiler. Sometimes, in between indignant rants at the television screen damning them for having given away most of next week’s plot, I wonder what the actual programme makers make of these careless reveals.

Film and television are story-telling devices. The art of storytelling should be all about surprising your audience. Entertaining them with twists and red herrings, keeping them on their toes. The effect of the spoiler has been to take away that element of surprise.

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The chances are that when the majority of the audience tune into their favourite drama they already know most of what is going to happen. The same is not yet quite the same for film but it is getting that way.

The trailer should present glimpses of the action in order to entice you to either buy a ticket or tune in. It shouldn’t provide a plot summary. Sadly it often does.

The rot set in during the early 2000s when Hollywood marketing departments decided that in order to attract an audience they had to not only explicitly tell audiences what the film was about but they also had to show most of the good action sequences.

It seems that piquing the interest of an audience is either no longer enough or is too unreliable.

One of the worst offenders remains the trailer for What Lies Beneath, the Harrison Ford-Michelle Pfeiffer thriller-chiller which unashamedly gave away the film’s dénouement.

We live in the age of the spoiler. It’s not only film trailers and next week teasers on television that are intent on giving the game away. News media treat popular dramas and soaps as news and report major plot twists as if they are real-life events. What’s worse they report them as they are being filmed so we know of major departures before the latest series has begun. There is no sense of surprise any more.

When series do occasionally keep things under wraps that too is regarded as so unusual that they are worthy of a news story. Often misdirection is used to preserve secrets in these cases – the classic example being Clara’s arrival in the Doctor Who episode Asylum of the Daleks while previous companion Amy Pond was still on board the Tardis.

Shows like Doctor Who are so closely followed that it is almost impossible to slip surprises into the show which is a real shame.

One series that still does manage it and thrives on surprises is the HBO series Game of Thrones which delights in wrong-footing its viewers by killing off its stars. How they manage to keep everything under wraps is anyone’s guess but I suspect it helps that much of the series is shot away from the prying eyes of paparazzi cameramen.

Interestingly the problem of spoilers isn’t so bad in Europe and elsewhere. Few foreign language trailers have the gravelly-voiced man intoning: “There was a time when all men were heroes...” or some such nonsense. Instead we get music from the film and a montage of fleeting images, enough to get a feel for the tone of the film, to realise who’s in it and an idea what it may be about. Surely that’s all you need. Similarly once a series has started on TV, each episode should be a primer for the next week. You shouldn’t need to know the details of next week’s plot. It’s time to let surprise and storytelling take centre-stage once again.

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