It’s an understatement to say that “spoilers” are anathema for today’s film and television audiences. Until the advent of social media, the threat of inadvertently or deliberately revealing an important story element or plot twist was posed primarily through word-of-mouth (at water coolers which no longer exist) or by imprudent media critics.
The term mainly referred to movies (i.e. The Crying Game or The Sixth Sense). However, nowadays, it’s common (expected) for episodic television to regularly throw curves at viewers by killing off cast members or suddenly introducing a drastically new story element. It’s almost a cliché to hear someone loudly proclaiming their intention to avoid Facebook or Twitter until they’ve had a chance to catch their favorite show on DVR.
What was the very first spoiler? Doug Kenney wrote an article called “Spoilers” for the April 1971 issue of “National Lampoon” where he gave away plot points for a number of famous movies and television shows. But that was a deliberate act, consistent with the iconoclastic editorial policy of the magazine and its pre-Internet age readers could make a conscious decision to not see those pages.
So, with that said, a case could be made that actor Peter Strauss was the offending party in delivering the very first bona fide spoiler. (cue dramatic music)
Strauss starred as Rudy Jordache in ABC’s 1976 miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man. That series also launched the career of Nick Nolte. Although hard to imagine now, the “miniseries” was a revolutionary format. Rich Man, Poor Man paved the way for similar later efforts, such as Roots.
So successful was Rich Man, Poor Man that it spawned a sequel, 1976/1977’s Rich Man, Poor Man Book II. Much of the water cooler talk at the time centered around whether or not there would be a Book III.
On March 4th, 1977, Peter Strauss slipped and revealed the ending during a Tonight Show appearance with Johnny Carson intended to merely promote the finale.
META SPOILER ALERT!
The exchange started innocently enough with Carson matter-of-factly asking, “Is Rudy Jordache going to live or is he going to die? I know you’re not going to tell us because nobody would watch.”
Strauss, whose success due to the miniseries had opened up a lot of other acting options, replied, “This was, I think, probably the hardest day of my life. Because the final show is Tuesday and the word was leaked out that we shot two endings. And it’s been a very difficult period of decision. It’s a nice position because it’s my choice. At the same time, it is a gruesome decision.”
Then, he blurted out, “It was a decision that will probably upset people.”
The studio audience immediately reacted with groans. A somewhat flustered Strauss, trying in vain to recover, quickly added, “Well, a lot of people might be upset that I’m going to live.”
Not one to let things lie, Carson chuckled, “A-ha. You already told them.”
And now you know the REST of the story.
(Note: This is a “re-run” of an article lost in our tragic site crash. I don’t know when it originally ran, so I’m publishing it now. –Deborah)