Spoiling Columbo

23rd September 2008 – 7.00 am

When I picked up some Mission: Impossible series on DVD along with the box set of Columbo, I mentioned in passing my dislike of the snippets of the episode shown at the start of Mission: Impossible. Whilst the snippets don't really show spoiler information for the episode as such they tend to show revelant moments that can reveal a little too much for my liking. It's not that I'm ever surprised that the main cast survive until the end of the episode, but there are revealing cues. The clothes people wear, the locations, the other characters around; little hints that point towards the direction the episode will take that can help you piece together what will happen in a way that can spoil the carefully constructed revealing moment.

The third series of Columbo took a turn for the worse when it started showing something similar to Mission: Impossible. Again, short clips from the episode are shown together at the start, and again they can reveal a little too much. It may be obvious from the formula who the murderer and victim are going to be, who Columbo will pester, what clues the murderer will leave, but I'd rather find out from watching the episode than know before it starts.

I can understand why the snippets are included. With both programmes being shown first on television it makes sense to show a brief burst of information that will entice a viewer to sit down and watch the whole episode, to keep their attention for longer than a slow build-up possibly would. Unfortunately, this does not work so well in a time when recordings are prevalent, because the act of willingly starting to watch a recording almost guarantees the programme will be watched from start to finish.

The clips at the start of the episodes of Columbo continue in to the fourth series too. They are not so bad with Mission: Impossible, because the clips are silent with the theme music playing over the top, and they last the same amount of time each episode. I only have to look away from the screen until a certain point in the theme, or indeed until the theme stops unless I want to look at the cast credits yet another time.

Columbo's openings are more difficult to avoid, as they are not part of the credits and have sound as well as pictures. This means I have to mute the sound to avoid any potential spoiler information, and then I can't simply not look at the television picture because then I get no cues as to when the episode starts. I need to mask the picture with my hand to obscure all detail but leaving enough of a gap to show the cut to black, marking the beginning of the episode. It's a bit of a fuss.

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