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Let's talk about spoilers ...

by Jane Boursaw, posted Nov 16th 2009 2:00PM
Retro TVSpoilers are a hot topic here on TV Squad. Nary a day goes by when we don't hear something -- good or bad -- from readers about spoilers. And it's been going on a while; Isabelle wrote this post on spoilers back in 2007.

What is a spoiler? Should they be included in titles? Should we always put them after the jump? Are casting announcements spoilers? What about short posts that only fit on the front page? What if the info is common knowledge?

Let's take a closer look at spoilers, what they are, and how we can run a great web site and all live together with these precarious bits of info known as spoilers.

What is a spoiler?

A fairly common explanation can be found on Wikipedia, which notes: "A spoiler is a piece of information in an article about a narrative work (such as a book, feature film, television show or video game) that reveals plot events or twists, and thus may 'spoil' the experience for any reader who learns details of the plot in this way rather than in the work itself."

When is a spoiler a spoiler?

So that's the basic description, but often times, the question is WHEN is a spoiler a spoiler? On TV Squad, we feel that if an episode has aired, whatever we may post about it is no longer a spoiler. After all, our reviews for shows get posted shortly after the episodes air. Our goal is to talk about what happened in the episode and give readers a chance to share viewpoints and thoughts.

However, in this age of DVRs and TiVo, we're sensitive to the idea that not everyone sees the episode as it airs on TV. For that reason, we try to be careful about posting any major spoilers in the title or on the front page of TV Squad. We're not saying it never happens; just that we try to be careful about it. Even Isabelle's weekly Spoilers Anonymous is good about putting all the spoilery info after the jump. If you want to read it, you can click through to the second page.

But the question is, how long after an episode airs should we be careful not to post things in titles or on the front page? Our thought is that 48 hours is plenty of time. So for instance, the day after The Biggest Loser, we probably wouldn't have a post with the title "[Name of Contestant] shouldn't have gone home on The Biggest Loser last night." Instead, our title might be "The wrong person went home on The Biggest Loser last night." We wouldn't be giving anything away in the title, but there's enough info for readers to know what the post is about and decide whether they want to read it or not.

What if the info is common knowledge?

Let's say there's an important casting announcement. One that came up recently was the fact that President Logan (Gregory Itzin) would be returning in season eight of 24. The title of our post was "President Logan returns to 24." Is this a spoiler? No, we don't think so. The reason is because in this age of the Internet, the news was all over the place, including on TV Guide, The Ausiello Files, and Watch With Kristen.

Casting announcements have been done for years, in the trades as well as mainstream magazines, and if producers wanted a casting decision to be a surprise, they'd keep it under wraps. Also, just because we know that someone will be returning to a show, such as President Logan to 24, we don't necessarily know how it will play out. It's fun to speculate, though, and knowing the info gives you the opportunity to do that.Producers know it will build buzz for the show.

Why put major info in the titles?

As mentioned, we try NOT to spoil a show that's aired the previous night, either in the title or on the front page. But in the case of the aforementioned President Logan info, we have to think about SEO and what the search engines will pick up. We're not in the blog business to be the last one in a search engine list. We want to be read, which is why we have to think about our titles, image titles, tags and categories. So a title like "Someone returns to 24" isn't nearly as SEO-friendly as "President Logan returns to 24."

What if the post is too short to carry to the continued page?

That's a toughie, but if this happens, we'll usually put a little "Spoilers Ahead!" note at the beginning of the post. For example, we'd tell a little about the post in the first sentence or two, put the spoilers warning, and continue on with the post, maybe even in the next paragraph to give your eyes a warning.

What about older DVDs?

You're on your own when it comes to avoiding the endings of The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire or any series that aired years ago -- or even months ago, such as Battlestar Galactica. I have to admit, though, my readers for Jane After Dark, in which I review older DVDs, are amazingly sensitive at revealing spoilers and endings. I know you don't have to be, and for that, I thank you. But I don't watch these shows thinking I'll remain unspoiled until the very end. If it happens, that's a bonus.

We realize we're never going to make everyone happy, but by following these guidelines, we try to be as sensitive to spoilers as possible on a site that's all about past, present and future TV shows.

Feel free to comment below. We look forward to your thoughts on spoilers.

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Frank Phillips

I think the stinker spoiler of all time was in TV Guide when they gave away the series ending of "St. Elsewhere". Remember, it was a shocking last scene that indicated the whole series was in the mind of a little boy who dreamed up everything after looking into a snow globe.

The show's ending was fine but I hated reading about it ahead of time. I think that was the last issue of TV Guide I ever bought. Is it still being published?

November 18 2009 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think TVSquad does a pretty good job with spoilers. Honestly, I think the only time you guys dropped the ball was with Jennifer Morrison. I don't roam around any other TV news site, or even news sites in general, so maybe that was well publicized before you did your story on it, but I had no idea and that was a huge spoiler for me.

But I do want to note that the SEO checklist shouldn't be a reason to put spoilers in the titles. We all know the only thing that really matters is targeted, relevant backlinks when it comes to ranking. Otherwise Adobe wouldn't rank 1st result in Google for "click here". Your spoiler posts get enough natural backlinks (or what seem like natural backlinks, anyway) from the fans alone. No need to worry about the title as its a very minuscule part of the ranking algorithm. At least in cases of huge spoilers.

November 17 2009 at 11:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

I agree. Just don't read the review if you don't want to know. I also agree that announcing and putting spoilers after the jump is the way to go. BTW, I love spoilers. As others have mentioned, they make me more interested, not less.

November 16 2009 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Sparks

I am so sick of people whinging about "spoilers". I think not wanting to be spoiled shows a lack of adventure and imagination. I remember years ago buying an advance script of one of the Star Trek movies to see what it was going to be like. Reading it just made me want to see the movie MORE. I just think people are just knee jerk about the spoiler thing.

November 16 2009 at 4:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jim Sparks's comment

its nice to live in a world where u have the option to get an advanced script of the star trek movie...it was your choice to do so and i applaud u. The only one making a knee jerk reaction is you... i prefer to use MY sense of adventure and imagination by thinking about what might happen in the next episode. How is just reading what someone else imagined and wrote and published ahead of time using more imagination? weak argument, but alas im sure u will have some rant about how i am uncreative because i prefer to be surprised when i watch a show rather than it all being told ahead of time...

As a final thought, how annoying is it to listen to someone tell a story that u have already heard? If your answer was REALLY freaking annoying then u will now understand my stance on spoilers.

November 16 2009 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People just need to get over the whole spoiler thing. One, they are all over the Internet. Two, why would a spoiler "spoil" your viewing; if anything it whets my appetite to see what happens.

Sure, write headlines that don't spoil the whole article and include a spoiler note in somewhere in the first paragraph, but other than than I don't think TV Squad's writer should wait any certain length of time.

November 16 2009 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eric H

I think 48 Hours is a bit short for spoilers, taking DVR's in consideration, I mean if I could watch the show that quickly, then I would have watched it when it aired. I would say a week is fair time, taking DVR's in consideration. Maybe you could add a spoiler free tag like you did for reality free for people who are a little behind on your 48 hour guideline, just a little safe space until they catch up.

November 16 2009 at 4:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

totally agree...BUT...it said in the first sentence she was leaving the show. i probably would have clicked the story and read it anyways if it was just a teaser on the main page. however the way it was presented made it impossible to choose.

November 16 2009 at 4:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My only problem with spoilers to do with casting is when it reveals a future plot line...for example, when it was announced that the actress who plays Allison Cameron on House would be leaving. And that was announced in the headline or at least before the jump. I was unable to avoid that and saw the story unfolding ahead of when i would have if i had not seen that post.

i know its a specific instance but it ruined the mystery of what would happen to the chase killing a patient storyline.

November 16 2009 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Joel's comment

personally spoilers do not spoil the program. My view is if the review is about a show you haven't seen yet DON'T READ THE REVIEW!!

November 16 2009 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A small part of me thinks that we'd be helping the TV industry if we all just let spoilers fly the second after the Pacific episode has aired. That way no one would be able to download TV shows, no one would be able to use their DVR, no one could wait for the DVDs. If all the critics and all the websites and all the newspapers, everyone started doing this then Network TV would slowly start to get more viewers, piracy would most definitely go down. As a person who does watch a lot of shows later (by means of various mediums), I know that I would have to choose between avoiding the internet and newspapers or watching TV live, and I would choose watching my shows live.
Judging from the ratings of some of the most buzzed about shows the people who go online to discuss these shows aren't watching them live. It seems to me that the shows with the highest ratings NCIS, CSI and even American Idol, get almost no attention on the internet. But shows that get massive amounts of attention on the internet, The Office, 30 Rock, Mad Men and even Lost don't get the rating one would expect. I think that's because people know they can just watch the episodes later.
Spoilers could be the solution.
At the same time I hate spoilers. And I know that this situation would never work, it's like communism, if everyone just suddenly switched to it one day it would be great, most problems in the world would be solved. But it's not going to happen.

November 16 2009 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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