The cliffhanger is, without question, the most overused storytelling technique on TV today. When they work, they can be brilliant. However, more often than not, cliffhangers come off as half-baked.
Take the recent episode of "Dexter," "Scar Tissue." The tail end of the episode ended with a quasi-cliffhanger. Deb forced Dexter to drive off the road, hoping to kill them both. The car crashed into a lake, and began to sink. Deb was rescued by a man on the shore, while Dex sank under the water.
The cliffhanger felt completely underwhelming. In a TV show called "Dexter," it's pretty unlikely that the main character will be killed off before the series finale, especially when Dex was wearing a seat belt. The episode should have ended with the car going into the water, not with the man on the shore jumping in to rescue Deb.
But this episode of "Dexter" is far from the worst offender when it comes to terribly conceived cliffhangers. Season 22 of "The Simpsons" featured a prime example of a bad cliffhanger. While the famous Season 6 cliffhanger of "Who Shot Mr. Burns" was massively compelling, "The Ned-Liest Catch" revolved around a cliffhanger that nobody really cared about.
The mystery of who shot Mr. Burns was funny as a parody of the infamous "Dallas" episode "Who Shot J.R.?" But nobody really cared whether Edna and Ned Flanders would get together.
Sometimes, a show tries to stick a cliffhanger right in the middle of an episode, usually right before a commercial break. One prime example of an internal cliffhanger that didn't quite work took place in the "Bones" episode "The Plain in the Prodigy."
Before the first commercial break, the Jeffersonian team encountered a body that appeared to be from the 1800s … but had only been dead for two months. Fans freaked out, wondering if the case would involve something crazy like time travel. After the break, it was revealed that the body belonged to an Amish boy. Not much of a suspenseful cliffhanger, really.
The Season 7 finale of "One Tree Hill" had a massive misfire of a cliffhanger. Clay and Quinn were shot by crazy Katie, but it was hard to get too invested in their drama, since all three were such minor characters. Clay and Quinn had only been introduced that season, so it was harder to get viewers to care about them as much as they cared about Haley or Nathan. It didn't help matters when Clay and Quinn both survived in Season 8.