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When TV shows end, fans experience grief similar to losing a partner or close friend: Study

When TV shows end, fans experience grief similar to losing a partner or close friend: Study
We've all had that one TV show where week after week, season after season, we became deeply enmeshed in its universe. We forged complex relationships with its characters, loving some and loathing others, until their world felt like a part of our own. But then, the inevitable happens: the show ends, leaving a cavernous void that makes us ponder our next move in life. Sound familiar?

While emotional responses like sadness and a sense of loss following the conclusion of a favourite series are well-known, they have rarely been the subject of thorough investigation—until recently.

Adam Gerace, a psychologist from CQUniversity in Australia, has tackled this issue head-on with a comprehensive study on fans’ reactions to the conclusion of the TV series Neighbours. This iconic show, which captivated audiences in Australia and the UK from 1985 to 2022, outlasted many of its viewers’ real-life relationships with a run of 37 years!
Probing post-finale pain
To delve into the emotional aftermath of a beloved show's ending, Gerace enlisted volunteers to complete online surveys reflecting their feelings about the show’s conclusion.

The survey aimed to gauge the extent of grief and other emotions tied to the show’s end, focusing not only on the series as a whole, but also on individual characters. It evaluated how well participants accepted the show's end, the distress over losing their beloved characters, and whether they achieved a sense of closure.

Analysing the 1,289 responses gathered shortly after the final episode aired, Gerace discovered a pronounced sense of grief among many viewers. Many found it hard to come to terms with the abrupt disappearance of the show and their favourite characters.

This emotional intensity was particularly evident in viewers who had developed "parasocial" empathic bonds with the characters—treating them almost as friends or members of their social circle. For context, parasocial refers to one-sided relationships where an individual feels a deep emotional bond with someone who doesn’t share or even recognise that connection. This dynamic often manifests in the attachments we form with media figures.

The survey further indicated that fans who watched for entertainment and to experience different lifestyles, along with those who felt a strong connection to the series, also exhibited more profound grief and loss compared to viewers with other motives.

Overall, the study revealed that viewers experienced a form of grief comparable to losing a real-life partner, friend or other significant person.

These findings contribute to our understanding of parasocial relationships and media engagement, providing evidence that the end of a cherished series or character can evoke a genuine grief experience.

The study was recently published on the open-access site PLOS ONE and can be accessed here.


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