The cliffhanger is one of the most successful television vehicles to keep viewers tuned in and coming back for more. Cliffhangers work when viewers are emotionally tied to a series or character. If the viewer is not emotionally tied to the show, the cliffhanger won't work. But once that connection is made, writers and directors will use cliffhangers to build the story a big conclusion or momentous event.
"Dallas," Who Shot J.R.?
At the end of the second season of CBS's "Dallas," the show's producers knew they had one of the biggest hits in television. Most viewers hated all-powerful J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), but they were fascinated by his heartless moves and had to watch the series every week. In the second season's final episode, J.R. was shot by an unknown assailant, which was a good premise since so many people hated him and had reason to shoot him. Nine months after the episode, viewers learned that his sister-in-law Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby) pulled the trigger.
"The Sopranos," Made in America
"The Sopranos" was the program on HBO that featured the life of New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), his family and his mob associates. At the end of the series, Soprano's New Jersey mobsters are at war with their New York counterparts. After New York boss Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) is murdered at a gas station, the war appears to be over. Soprano comes out of hiding and goes to dinner with his wife and two children at a New Jersey diner. Just as it looks like Soprano may get attacked inside the diner, the screen fades to black and viewers were left to imagine what happened.
"Friends," The One With Ross's Wedding
The on-again, off-again romance between Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) appeared to be over. Ross is going to marry Emily (Helen Baxendale), but in the middle of the ceremony, he has a momentary glitch. Instead of making his vows to Emily, he inserts Rachel's name. Ross immediately apologizes and says he wants to go on with the ceremony. As the episode ends, Emily is left to decide if she should go ahead with the wedding or call it off.
"The West Wing," In the Shadow of Two Gunmen
At the start of the second season, tensions are heating up around the White House and the Secret Service is on high alert. President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) gets hit by gunfire, but is not killed. The episode ends with President Bartlett recovering and watching surgery being performed on his staffer Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), who was hit in the chest. In the next episode, we learn that white supremacists were the assassins and they were actually aiming for presidential aide Charlie Young (Dule Hill) because he's African-American and been dating the president's daughter. Lyman recovers from the shooting.
"The Fugitive," The Judgment
This is one classic television show from the 1960s. "The Fugitive" tells the story of physician Richard Kimble (David Janssen), who is wrongly accused of killing his wife. Throughout the series, Kimble maintains his innocence, says a one-armed man is responsible for his wife's murder and goes into hiding to keep from getting caught by Lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse). At the end of the series, Gerard is closing in on Kimble, while Kimble is closing in on the one-armed man. In the final two-part episode, the main question is whether Kimble will have enough time to catch the one-armed man or will Gerard capture Kimble first? Kimble gets help from Gerard and the truth finally comes out.