The 38 most dramatic TV cliffhangers ever, from Friends to The Simpsons

From 'Who shot JR?' to 'Who shot Mr Burns?', cliffhangers are one of television's most effective plot devices. Jacob Stolworthy and Jack Shepherd explore the best

Sunday 23 January 2022 10:03
<p>Clockwise from top right: The Simpsons, Breaking Bad, Dallas and Friends</p>

Clockwise from top right: The Simpsons, Breaking Bad, Dallas and Friends

Done right, a cliffhanger can be the most effective plot device on television.

The best can leave you tearing out your hair, wishing the next episode was available immediately. The greatest offer mystery by teasing answers but never making the outcome obvious. The worst, the ones that make you want to stop watching a show, are often those that “jump the shark”.

For many years, the benchmark for great cliffhangers was the “Who shot JR?” storyline on Dallas, the American TV show that caused a media storm in 1980. So widely talked about was the twist that Jimmy Carter even joked about the fictional murder during his second presidential campaign.

The cliffhanger soon developed into something more than just being a “whodunit”. Sitcoms – such as The Office US and Friends – went on to incorporate the device to tease relationships (Jim and Pam, Rachel and Ross), keeping viewers coming back for resolution. Soaps, from EastEnders to Neighbours, have used cliffhangers to bring viewers back for more day-in day-out.

So, what are the best cliffhangers in television history? The Independent has compiled the greatest in television history. Click through the gallery below to see what has made the cut.

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