This fall, my husband took a particular interest in the shows premiering on TV since he wanted to find shows that we could watch together. Usually, we disagree on most entertainment. I dislike what I call "cringe comedy," which are shows that attempt to create humor out of people getting into embarrassing or awkward situations.
Alas for me, Hubby finds those shows very enjoyable. He likes, for example, The Crazy Ones, which stars Robin Williams doing the "manic sad clown" routine (I forget where I read that term first, but it's not mine). Hubby says he can watch Williams do pretty much anything and find it hilarious. That's cool. Unfortunately for me, I get uncomfortable the more Sarah Michelle Gellar tries to manage the out-of-control mayhem and the cringe-worthy moments. I knew within five minutes this wasn't a show for me, but Hubby is very happy to watch it while he's on the treadmill, so we're all good. Plus, he and I both really like Brooklyn 9-9, so at least he found one we both enjoy. We're happy with that.
It's rare for us to agree on television shows, and while we were discussing this fall's new collection and why I wasn't that interested, I realized why. I read books all the time (this is not news), and romance in particular (again, not news), so my preferences for entertainment are shaped by story structure. Specifically, I want to trust the author to deliver the sequence I'm expecting, most particularly the ending.
The real problem I find with television is that I don't trust the writers since, in most cases, I don't think they want to reach an ending. This makes sense, and I understand why, of course. The goal of any episodic television show is to get picked up for more than a few episodes, then another season, then another season, until they've got enough episodes on file to reach syndication deals and reruns on other channels, with residuals in perpetuity, amen. With a few exceptions, there is not much of an emphasis on the ending (or any ending) in television writing, and so I don't trust the story.
My distrust has been building for awhile, too. I don't trust shows to wrap up storylines. For example: Whatever happened to Dr. Weaver's farm in Africa on the show ER? Did anyone ever hear more about that? (That was probably my first taste of distrust. It still bothers me.) (Yes, I know it's ridiculous.) (Why did she have a farm? What happened to it? Is it still there?!)
I also don't trust shows to reach a logical and satisfying ending if there is one. (It made me rather happy, for example, to see all the Breaking Bad fans satisfied with the ending of that show, even if that was not a show I could watch). And even if there was an end in mind, sometimes that doesn't matter, such as when the network is all, "No more show for you!" and I have to make up my own ending.
Worse, I tend to like weird shows that get cancelled in a hurry. I loved The American Embassy, which was cancelled after only 2 episodes (le sigh), and Cupid, which lasted barely a season. I've gotten pretty skilled at writing my own endings.
My desire for endings—and they don't have to be known or obvious or anything, they just have to exist—is, of course, why I struggle with books in an open-ended series. I have a hard time keeping up with them. If I don't know when the ending is, or if there is one, I don't easily get excited about them, and I've been burned a few times with "Surprise, this isn't the end of the series!" or "What ending? We don't need no stinking ending!" to try again.
Really, I'm spoiled by good writers in romance. There is an ending. It is known and expected, but with a good writer, I'm surprised when I get there—and I do get there, eventually. I trust that writer with my expectations, my anticipation and my enjoyment, knowing that they will bring the story to closure. And it's a HAPPY closure, one that's satisfying and makes any emotional wrenching and twisting during the journey worthwhile. Much as romance readers tend to get REALLY pissed if the happy ending is messed with, I get equally pissed when there isn't any ending at all.
I've seen authors talk about the satisfaction that comes with typing "The End." I have a similar satisfaction when I read it. And that's why I tend to be terrible about watching TV, but endlessly happy when reading books. Lucky for me, there's a "new season" of books every day!
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned towards a book.