Matthew Weiner hates spoilers.
The creator and showrunner of “Mad Men” is as tight-lipped as they come, keeping details about his show from viewers and even his cast. Jessica Paré didn’t even know if her character would make it past season four. “You feel like you’re a member of Seal Team Six when you’re shooting,” season five newbie Ben Feldman said in an interview with the L.A. Times. “We know as much as everyone else, which is absolutely nothing,” Vincent Kartheiser told Details magazine.
But some showrunners have a different philosophy.
Mike Kelley — the mastermind behind last season’s sleeper hit, “Revenge” — doesn’t see spoilers as the bane of television’s existence. In fact, he kinda digs them.
At this year’s annual television conference PaleyFest, Kelley generously divulged details about the final stretch of “Revenge” ’s first season to his panel audience.
A cautious Madeleine Stowe asks Kelley if she’s allowed to explain something her character Victoria Grayson is going to do in an upcoming episode. She’s shocked when he tells her to go for it, and so am I. Serialized shows like “Revenge” thrive on keeping audiences on their toes, so why is Kelley giving so much away?
“Part of the fun of this show isn’t just the secrets that we keep, but the fact that people love to see it all play out,” Kelley explains.
I tend to agree: Spoilers aren’t so bad. In fact, rampant spoilerphobia has gotten quite out of hand. When trying to convince my friend to start watching “Veronica Mars,” I accidentally spoiled part of the plot.
“Well now I’m definitely not going to watch it,” she said.
Huh? Can spoilers really ruin an entire show for someone? If knowing what happens was a reason to make TV unwatchable, no one would own DVDs of shows or tune in for “Battlestar Galactica” marathons on Syfy.
Television is about the storytelling and the process, not isolated plot developments. The things that really matter aren’t even spoilable. Let me explain by (possibly) spoiling you.
On “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Buffy Summers’s mom dies. Now if you didn’t know this, you are probably really mad at me. But that’s silly, just as it was silly for my friend to swear off “Veronica Mars” just because I let one of its secrets slip.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that it doesn’t matter if you know that Buffy’s mom dies at some point in the series. I knew it, and it didn’t preclude the episode of her death from being one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen. I could have read a detailed description of Anya’s monologue after the death, and it still wouldn’t have ruined seeing Emma Caulfield’s pitch-perfect, heart-wrenching delivery.
So yeah, you can know that a character is going to die. The way the characters react, the camerawork, that subtle movement in one of the actors’ jaws — no one can spoil these parts for you. They’re the little pieces that make the larger puzzle, and you’re only going to see them if you actually watch.
“Mad Men,” more than most, is a show that doesn’t really make sense until you have all the pieces in front of you. So would it really kill Weiner to be a little more giving? Kelley is confident enough in his writing staff and actors to know that even if viewers know a little bit about what’s to come on “Revenge,” they’ll still be blown away as it all unfolds.
I’m not saying that you should call up all your friends and tell them what happens in the eighth episode of season five of “The Wire.” Spoilers can suck. I abide by a very strict don’t-tweet-about-the-episode-until-after-it-has-aired-on-the-West-Coast code. And some shows are definitely more spoilable than others. But don’t let a “spoiler alert” prevent you from reading a review, and definitely don’t let a spoiler prevent you from watching a show.
We live in a world in which people live-tweet television as it’s happening, we can look up even the minutest of details about a show on Wikipedia and sites like the AV Club throw up episode reviews mere minutes after airtime. Hell, we can even get our hands on shooting scripts before episodes air if we really want to.
These changes aren’t ruining the television experience. But they have created more work for writers and showrunners. They can no longer rely simply on the element of surprise to wow viewers.
Spoiler alert: You can still have stakes without secrecy. So Weiner, can you please stop trolling us with those painfully vague promos?