Saturday, May 28

A bad call: why do the characters never say goodbye on the phone? | TV

In the weekly Guide Solved! column, we looked at a crucial pop culture question you’ve been raving about knowing the answer to and solving it

I absolutely hate talking on the phone. I’m one of those infuriating friends who would rather have a long winding text conversation than talk on the phone to put together a simple plan. People under the age of 60 who still leave voice messages? Seek help. And unknown numbers? I follow Dua Lipa’s first rule (don’t pick up the phone!). But there seems to be one group that detests the inconvenience of talking on the phone even more than I do: screenwriters.

Watch any movie or television show and you will probably notice (and be very irritated) that the characters almost never say “goodbye” at the end of phone calls. After the main part of a conversation or a raunchy bomb is dropped, it is very common for the phone call to end abruptly. There are no voices saying “goodbye” awkwardly on top of each other, and no awkward variations on “speak soon.” Just pure silence.

I’m not the only one who’s upset about the lack of goodbyes on screen. It seems pretty rude – after all, even the 81% of millennials who find phone calls “anxiety provoking” probably still go out of their way to be polite once they’re on the phone. But is it something that people really do? As an anecdote, it seems that it is a no, at least in the UK. A reader wrote to the Guardian to tell him that they had tried this strange Hollywood trend for themselves, only to have their friends immediately call back and ask if their “signal had been cut off.”

Maybe it is something American? This also seems doubtful. There is a whole thread in Reddit where Americans insist that not saying “goodbye” is not part of their culture. There’s also the fact that, on US reality shows, it’s very common to see stars like the Kardashians calling out to each other, and unless one person hangs up in anger, there’s usually a goodbye.

So it seems like this is a deliberate decision in scripted shows and movies. But why would the screenwriters do this? One reason could be to add tension. If the conversation is between romantic partners, not saying “goodbye” could create distance between them. But goodbyes, like those delivered dramatically by Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, breathing through her landline with Mr Big, can be just as suspenseful.

The disappearance of the phone goodbyes probably has more to do with something much more boring: time management. Most of the time, pranks don’t significantly promote a story, and particularly when TV shows and movies aren’t made for broadcast, writers are hard pressed for time. When a show is 23 minutes long, every second is precious and getting straight to the point is essential. A quick Google on how to write dialogue shows that “avoid small talk” is on almost every how-to list.

Farewells not appearing on our screens has become a major problem for detail-conscious viewers. It is an instant and uncomfortable reminder that the conversation we are seeing is fully written. Seemingly broader, this feels like a sign that even in the age of streaming, where runtimes are more flexible and we inhale content like Pringles pepper tubes, keeping up with a story and keeping our attention is more important. Than pretend that everything is real And that’s a bad decision, if you ask me.

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