Hey, it’s Michael Jamin. So today I want to talk to you about endings and the ending to your script or story, whatever you’re working on. So before the pandemic, I remember going to a public reading, and the writer was a young guy and he was very talented and his piece went like this. It went, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh. And then he got to a very real and grounded moment towards the end for emotional. And then he finished it up with one more laugh. Boom, one more good joke, bam. Right. In network television, we call that moment the trickle cutter, and it’s very common in network television shows, especially sitcoms where the ending is something very sweet. And so you want to cut it with something that takes away the sentimental moment. Boom, put one more joke there. 

I worked the first 10 years or so of my career, I was in network television. Then I went to cable and streaming and in cable and streaming it’s, the endings tend to be a lot more different. They tend to be a little darker and not always, but a little more sophisticated. We rarely did those treacle cutters. And what I learned from not doing that is you can actually have a much more powerful ending if you don’t end on that last joke, think about it. If you can take your characters or you get your listeners or readers on this journey and you get them to a place where it’s very emotional and you just walk away, whatever that difficult moment makes for an uncomfortable moment. 

Walk away. Because if you add one more joke to the end, you pop the bubble and everything’s going to be fine. But if you end on that kind of real thing where it’s uncomfortable, that’s the last sensation that your reader or your audience is going to walk away from. And that’s way more powerful than any joke. They’re not going to remember the joke, but they will remember how they felt at the end of your piece. If it’s a little uncomfortable, what’s the character going to do now? We don’t know what the reader is supposed to do now, we don’t know. You know, so that’s the kind of thing I think if you’re writing a pilot and you want that tone of your piece to be a maybe a little darker or to be a little more real, don’t undercut it with a joke. 

Jokes are cheap, man. No one remembers the joke. Now there’s an exception. If you’re writing a spec of an existing show, follow the format of whatever the show is. If they end every episode on the laugh, do that. Don’t think you’re going to improve the show by changing it, do what they do. But if this is an original piece of yours, you might want to consider that. Now that’s not to say that the ending on that joke is terrible. Cheers is one of my favorite shows of all time, probably one of the greatest sitcoms ever. And they used to always end on that laugh. Cheers was this place you wanted to go. So this friendly, happy place, it’s where everyone wanted to go, where you went to. So everyone knew your name. And so it was that kind of feeling. And so it makes sense to kind burst that bubble. But in my own writing now, way more often than not, I like to end on something grounded and not do that, not go for that one last joke. Cause it’s a little cheap. And like I said, no one remembers the joke, but they will remember that feeling, that uncomfortable feeling that you leave them with. So that’s my thought, hope that helps.

Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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