Is there a statute of limitations for not revealing movie plot twists? When can a surprise ending finally become part of pop culture conversation? In response to listener letters about our Million Dollar Baby giveaway and last week's attempt at an explanation, Brooke poses the questions to New York Daily News TV critic David Bianculli.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last week in our Letters section I read letters from listeners upset that I had spoiled the ending of Million Dollar Baby, to which I responded, where's the statute of limitations on this thing. And thereupon we spoiled the endings of The Crying Game, Psycho and Citizen Kane. That prompted more letters from irked listeners who suggested that a simple apology would have been classier. I agree. So permit me to say that I am sorry and I will try not to do it again. Then it occurred to me that though I may be able to avoid it, reviewers have to deal with this problem all the time. In fact, New York Daily News TV reviewer David Bianculli had just written a column on it, so I called to ask him how he handles it.
DAVID BIANCULLI: I really try to write all of my reviews about programs that are in advance without spoiling even good jokes and certainly plot twists because I want the viewers to be as surprised as I am when I saw it. But at some point to talk about why that movie is good or bad or why it resonates with audiences, somebody's got to be able to say here's why.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you devoted a whole column to the issue of spoilers and you said, "In the age of TiVo you can never satisfy everybody."
DAVID BIANCULLI: And it gets worse because there are people and I like these people - who say there's so much junk on commercial television regarding the commercials that they wait for the DVDs for a TV experience. Well, that's fine, but I work for a newspaper. You work for the radio. And we get to talk about these things a little bit sooner than the last person who saves the last chocolate in the box.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you propose a frustrated listener or reader do?
DAVID BIANCULLI: Well, only that person knows what his or her timetable is for enjoying something. And if you're not going to watch your Six Feet Under episode for three weeks then, you know, stack up the newspaper articles, turn off the radio when you hear it mentioned, so that you do get that experience. I do that. When I saw Million Dollar Baby I knew something was going on and it was in headlines and it was in op ed pieces, but I just stacked those up until I could get to it and enjoy it myself. So you can do it if you want to, if it means that much. And if it doesn't mean that much, then don't make such a fuss. It's insane to me. Once its been broadcast, as far as I'm concerned, it's out there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So for movies, what would you say the statute of limitations should be?
DAVID BIANCULLI: Well, since most movies, unless they're giant hits, disappear from the multiplexes within two or three weeks, if I were a film critic and I wanted to come back and really talk about The Sixth Sense is a perfect example I would say a couple of weeks is fair. Certainly you don't have to wait for a video release or any subsequent window.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. Thank you so much.
DAVID BIANCULLI: All right. Thanks a lot. I feel your pain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Bianculli is a reviewer for the New York Daily News who can also be heard on NPR's Fresh Air.
DAVID BIANCULLI: Good luck with this one. It's a losing battle, I fear.
BOB GARFIELD: From spoiling endings to arguing over beginnings, the conundrum of covering intelligent design - that's up next. And also why Google's buying a pipeline near you.