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Fans to TV favorites: I quit!

From ”The Killing” to ”Game of Thrones” to ”Glee,” showrunners making shocking choices risk viewer tantrums. But should they care?

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Last week’s announcement of the Emmy nominations included six for what has become, no competition, the most kicked-around TV series of the season, AMC’s serialized mystery The Killing. I think the show got just the recognition it deserved — nominations for the steady excellence, despite uneven scripts, of its star Mireille Enos, for Michelle Forbes’ bold, uningratiating turn as a mother racked with grief, and for the direction and script of the pilot, which was full of promise and intrigue, even if much of it subsided in later episodes. The sustained ”This show has betrayed us!” vilification of The Killing ranged from the reasonable (its cops weren’t nearly smart enough; too much of the plot hinged on ridiculously dated technology) to the obtuse (why did the family in mourning have to be so mournful?).

But the outrage crested when the season finale did the apparently unforgivable: Instead of solving Rosie Larsen’s murder, it threw in a couple of twists and rolled the answer over to next season. You wanted closure? You got a cliff-hanger instead. And this led, across the nation (at least the small swath of it that watches The Killing), to the most overused, overwrought rallying cry of our era: That’s it! I’m through! I am NEVER WATCHING THIS SHOW AGAIN!

Of all the ways TV can be discussed, this particular brand of tantrum has got to be the dullest. When did fans become such drama queens? There’s a fine line between using passion and rhetoric to hold your favorite shows to a high standard — something the Internet has enabled — and sulkily demanding that a series tailor itself to please you. Besides, most showrunners know that ”That’s it! I’m through!” is an empty threat. We heard it after the next-to-last episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones this past spring, in which the Emmy-nominated scriptwriters shocked many viewers by lopping off their main character’s head. Chat boards were brimming with high dudgeon and harrumphs about a boycott. The following Sunday, of course, ratings hit a record high. Because the truth is that, with rare exceptions, people don’t stop watching a series because it startles them, even unpleasantly; they stop because they’re bored. ”That’s it! I’m through!” is not a death knell. A death knell is ”I wonder what else is on?” or ”Is this a rerun? I can’t tell” or ”Where’s my iPad?”

I have problems with The Killing (and yes, after that ending, the first couple of episodes of season 2 had better deliver), but — not to get all antipopulist — I don’t really want the shows I love to listen to fans. When Matthew Weiner maps out Mad Men‘s new season or Vince Gilligan plots the next corkscrew in the downward spiral of Walter White in Breaking Bad, they’re not sifting message boards for ideas — nor should they, because popular consensus is the enemy of surprises. You can tell when the powers behind a show are paying too much attention to fan reaction: Witness season 2 of Glee, which often felt like it was co-written by whatever was trending on Twitter. Girls like Chord Overstreet — he’s going to be the new cute boy effective immediately! No, wait, Darren Criss’ ”Teenage Dream” is a breakout! Put Darren in every episode! That joke Sue Sylvester made about Mr. Schu’s hair got quoted on blogs! Let’s have five more! As a result, the show’s fans — the same fans whose weekly mood swings were being so overmonitored — complained that Glee was all over the place this year. Because it was.

Just before the Emmy nominations, Glee czar Ryan Murphy announced that this would be the last season for three of its mainstays — Chris Colfer, Lea Michele, and Cory Monteith — whose characters will graduate from McKinley High next spring (it’s about time, since next June the actors will be, respectively, 22, 25, and 30). When the news broke, some fans yelped, ”That’s it! I’m through!” And maybe they are. But I hope nobody at Glee is listening. You can crowd-source many things, but the creative direction of a TV show shouldn’t be one of them.

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