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Commercial Break Cliffhanger

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Meap: My word, we've been falling for a long time.
Doofenshmirtz: Oh, a joke about the commercial break. Yeay, that's really how I want to spend my last few seconds!
Phineas and Ferb, after a commercial break in the middle of the two characters plummeting to their doom

A Cliffhanger that is set just before a commercial break, to ratchet up the suspense within the given episode. It's used to keep viewers' attention on the screen — preferably all through the commercial break — lest they miss the crucial moment of resolution. Some reality shows do this as well, normally right before big announcements of winners or people getting kicked off.

If done well and used with discretion, it can really draw out the suspense. However, there are also quite a few ways it can go awry:

  • When American shows not made for premium stations such as HBO or Showtime (which don't have commercials) are broadcast in countries where the frequency of commercials is lower, or when an American show goes out on BBC Two or is released on DVD, or more recently, streaming services such as Netflix, with no commercial breaks at all. This results in dramatic cliffhangers which Fade Out... then fade back in right away, sometimes repeating the last line said before the break, which, if you're any bit familiar with the Saturday Morning Cartoon during an age such a thing existed on network TV, was prevalent to the point of ubiquity.
    • Conversely, the BBC as often as not now makes shows with an eye to the export market, and deliberately introduces Commercial Break Cliffhangers to make the show more palatable to overseas commercial channels (or UK cable channels, as there are some that screen BBC shows with commercials). Which just looks completely jarring and ridiculous when screened for domestic consumption on the BBC.
  • When a show does this too often, especially if it also tends to return from the break and review what just happened before the break before the resolution. Viewers will catch on and see it coming a mile away, which may cause them to preemptively lose attention and change the channel. Particularly frequent in game and reality shows, which has caused this trope to become somewhat of a Discredited Trope in those genres.
  • When the Eye Catch or Ad Bumpers causes accidental Mood Whiplash, completely killing the tense mood.

Pseudo-Crisis is a specialized version of this trope. Compare Charge-into-Combat Cut, when the show cuts to an unrelated scene at the beginning of a fight. Frequently cuts on a Reaction Shot as an extended Dramatic or Melodramatic Pause.


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  • Believe it or not, this is actually done with a Gushers commercial! This is the full commercial, and the cliffhanger usually takes place halfway through.
  • A 2014 ad campaign for Stanley Steemer (a professional cleaning company specializing in carpets) comes in two parts, one airing toward the beginning of the commercial break and the other toward the end. One example: a young couple (dressed in casual clothing) is shown rearranging the furniture in their living room only to be bemused by the contrast between the very clean cream-colored carpet areas where the furniture used to be and the ashen carpet that had been exposed at the same time. That commercial ends. The second half shows a Stanley Steemer employee steam-cleaning the carpet, then the couple (now dressed professionally) looking at their sparkling clean living room with great satisfaction.
  • The first television ad for Man on the Moon, a one-off that aired during the Saturday Night Live 25th anniversary special months prior to the film's release, took the sequence recreating Andy Kaufman's famous "Mighty Mouse" routine on the first episode of that show and presented a condensed version of it in two parts, with an unrelated commercial aired in-between to draw out the Dead Air the routine intentionally evokes. Can be seen (albeit with music muted) here (starting at 14:35).

    Anime and Manga 
  • While often combined in anime with the Eyecatch, this can occasionally backfire. An example is the dramatic cliffhanger reveal of Rau Le Creuset as a clone in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, the rather dramatic conclusion of his long expository rant revealing several significant bits of backstory to the series' universe. The characters that are witness to this reveal are shocked...only to suddenly cut to a completely unrelated and relatively cheery eyecatch of another character playing in a meadow, thus providing the audience with the dramatic equivalent of a face-first, high speed collision with a brick wall.
  • Slayers Next usually uses these quite well. One memorable instance occurs when dramatic tension mounts until Gaav is about to attack the gang, Martina appears and the main characters scream "MARTINA!" in comical fashion. Cue cheerful Eye Catch, followed by Martina making a complete fool of herself to her signature comical tune. They don't always work very well though - the cliffhanger/eyecatch combination jarringly backfires when Lina casts the perfected Ragna Blade and Gaav looks worried for the first time, almost afraid. The dramatic mood is sliced to bits by the cheerful Eye Catch.
  • Fruits Basket also made good use of eyecatches, creating different ones to fit the episode (even having two separate ones for either side of the commercial break. For the latter darker episodes, fitting plain black eyecatches were used.
  • Pokémon: The Series does this sometimes. Usually, it's only once an episode or so, though.
  • In GO-GO Tamagotchi! episode 30, the gang being freaked out by what looks like a ghost comes before the episode's ad break. Mametchi screams as the ghost approaches him, which is repeated when the second half of the episode begins; the ghost ends up picking up the candy Mametchi dropped and giving it back to him.
  • Tends to happen a lot in Yu-Gi-Oh! and all of its sequel series, with some created by how the ad breaks are inserted into the English dub to allow for commercials to air.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey was originally shown in theaters with an intermission. The scene immediately before the intermission? Dave and Frank talking in the pod, thinking HAL can't hear them...and HAL reading their lips.

  • Parodied in Animorphs after Ax, the only alien on the team, has been watching too much Earth TV. He says something dramatic, then freezes in place. When the others ask him what he's doing, he responds that he has to remain silent until they get to "These Messages", at which point the others realise he's doing a "soap take".
  • In Redshirts, the writers of The Chronicles of the Intrepid have a tendency to have someone say something dramatic before cutting to commercial. What the character says and does once the Narrative lets them go is much more sensible.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In general, ever since the success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, game and reality shows frequently use this in an attempt to emulate its success via heavily dramatic presentation. By the late 2000's, nearly every (new) game and reality show would do it at every available opportunity. It seems to have lapsed into cliche territory around the turn of the decade, and critics (and fans) will now often trash a show for trying to do it too often.
  • Chris Tarrant, the UK presenter of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has a reputation for dragging out the "Is that your final answer?" bit until he can announce a break immediately after the answer has been confirmed, but before he says if it's correct. This includes Judith Keppel's million-pound question, which led to frustrated gasps from everyone else. There even was one instance in which he was about to announce the final answer, but the siren went off and Chris declared we'd have to wait until tomorrow!
    • Similarly, Eddie McGuire of the Australian version was infamous for cutting to commercial before announcing correct answers, and was the subject of many a parody for this.
    • Also the Japanese version is notorious for this like other Japanese on-studio shows for cutting to commercials before revealing the results without the studio's awareness. After a contestant locked in an answer on a difficult question, the host stares at the contestant for a minute give or take before he reveals if he/she answered correctly or not. A commercial break interrupts sometimes during the drum roll.
    • On the other hand, the American version averts this; the closest it ever got to happening there was if a contestant switched out a high-level question and the replacement is only shown after the break, and even then, the answer to the first question was shown before cutting to commercial.
  • Japanese game shows in general get their own example. Quite often, they will smash cut to commercial in the middle of a game round with no warning, especially if the main game is nearing its conclusion.
    • Any Japanese show with a bonus round where a wrong answer ends the game in a loss. If it cuts to commercial at any point before the final question, it is a 99% guarantee that the bonus game will be lost after returning from the break. It completely destroys the tension for anyone who recognizes this pattern.
  • Chuck Woolery on Greed was, at least until Deal or No Deal came along, the undisputed master of this in game shows. The episode leading up to Daniel Avila's famed $2,000,000 attempt was the biggest example; the particular episode only featured one team who answered all but the last question in the Tower of Greed... but this means they got through just seven questions in the entire hour, which was padded by two recaps near the end. After the first forty minutes, just about everything was filler to put off the choice to go for the top prize until next week.
  • Speaking of Game Shows that leave you hanging, this is a favorite of Howie Mandel on the U.S. version of Deal or No Deal. "Open the case...when we come back!"
  • Jeff Foxworthy tries to imitate Howie on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, but he talks so slowly that you can see the commercial coming a mile away. It's even worse there because one can easily look up the answer on Wikipedia before Foxworthy even announces the commercial break.
  • Duel played with this a bit one day. The contestants had just given their answers to a question, and then one of them griped that, well, of course now we're going to go to commercial. (Beat) "Just for that..." Cue commercial.
  • BOOM! occasionally does this after a contestant cuts a wire, with the voice counting "3... 2... 1..." before cutting to black.
  • NBC must be contractually obligated to use this trope in every single show they run.
    • Minute to Win It in particular appears to be making a valiant attempt to top Greed and Deal or No Deal at this. At the end of one episode, the contestant had to make a stack of martini glasses and Christmas tree ornaments which would stay standing by itself for 3 seconds for a guaranteed $250,000. She finishes the tower and lets go, and three... two... one—TO BE CONTINUED. Though any viewer who's watched the show before probably saw that one coming a mile away. Ten bucks says the outcome won't be shown until after at least one commercial break into the next episode.
    • Who's Still Standing? is an example of how this can go wrong and kill the tension - they repeatedly cut to commercial in the middle of a question, with rather clumsy editing too. The music (which was very obviously added in post-production) would swell up to the point of nearly drowning out everything else and blatantly give away nearly every commercial break 15 seconds in advance.
  • Any episode of American Idol that ends with a winner uses this trope (along with a nice healthy serving of Filler) so often that Ryan Seacrest gets hate mail about it.
    • Subverted in exactly one episode of Canadian Idol. The host said he will reveal the winner. After a second delay, the audience announced it to be after the break, but the host replied "right now, actually".
  • The Dukes of Hazzard typically had these, accompanied by a freeze-frame shot, a dramatic musical sting, and a pithy comment from narrator Waylon Jennings.
  • If a patient on House suddenly has a seizure/heart attack/projectile vomiting/stops breathing/anything involving bleeding/bizarre rash out of nowhere, expect the screen to go black in about 3 seconds...
    • Note, that in 5 years of the show's run, no patient has ever died during the commercial break. The show will always return from the adspot with a somewhat-stable patient, and a their doctors will be in a completely different part of the hospital.
  • Bones must get a cookie for this one: The team figures out that the remains that has been dead for a month was in fact raised in the 19th century. da-da-dum! Cue opening. Was it time travel? No, 30 seconds in the actual show it turns out the kid was Amish.
  • Lost does this. Repeatedly.
  • The Brazilian versions of Big Brother and American Idol are infamous when it comes to this trope. It begins with a flashback of the performance of the contestants who may or may not leave, then a long philosophical dissertation regarding what the contestants should have learned during that time, then the commercial break, then flashes of the families of those who may leave the competition/win the prize, to THEN declare who leaves or wins. After that, massive hysteria for the rest of the show time.
  • Totally subverted on 24. Because the show is played in real time, there can't be any cliffhangers before the commercials, because that would mean that either all of the action would play out during the commercials, or none of the characters would do anything for 4 minutes.
  • Hell's Kitchen does this in a very predictable pattern. 1) During the challenge of the day, cue the long dramatic pause on who the winner will be, COMMERCIAL! 2) Dinner service starts, drama ensues, Ramsay gets pissed off and yells at the chef who screwed up and seems to want them out, COMMERCIAL! 3) Elimination comes around, one chef is asked who they voted to kick out, dramatic pause, COMMERCIAL! Also, at some point during the episode, someone will probably cut themselves or trip over something... COMMERCIAL!
    • Top Chef seemed to be ripping the first one off in their Washington DC season. Normally on quickfires, the winner is announced right after the challenge, but they started putting a commercial break in. No idea why, and they've gone back to their normal style for All Stars.
  • If not every episode, 95% of the episodes of Prison Break have at least one of these.
  • For a while, Get Smart had a lot of these before the last segment where it looked like Max had been killed. Of course if it had happened, the show wouldn't have gone much further...
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • "The Initiative" has a commercial break between a serious scene of Spike about to kill Willow, and the comedic reveal that Spike now has a Restraining Bolt preventing him from hurting anyone.
    • On at least one occasion syndication cuts, to make room for more commercials, created one - Giles is getting drunk with old friend/nemesis Ethan Rayne, who casually tells him "I put poison in your'll be dead in an hour." There's some dramatic soundtrack, then he laughs "Just kidding!". A commercial break was put in between the two lines.
    • The most notorious example in Buffy, however, was the commercial break during the original US screening in the middle of Spike trying to rape Buffy, which was widely seen as emotionally inappropriate and further intensified the controversy over whether the scene was in character.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: There's a rather glaring one in the last episode of the first season. Spock is ambushed by a deranged man holding a heavy instrument. Spock wards off one swing, then the two face each other to the tune of a dramatic cue. Cut to commercials. When we get back, Spock easily neutralizes the man within about 2 seconds. Onwards with the episode.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation loves this trope. Something alarming happens just before a commercial break, dramatic music swells and the camera very slowly zooms in on a character's concerned expression. It's amazing how often Star Fleet officers are frozen in place for several moments when decisive action is needed.
  • Another game show, Cash Cab, has done this after an answer is locked in.
  • Fear Factor does this whenever a stunt might go wrong.
  • And then, there's the French version of Money Drop. It might not be the Trope Codifier, but it happens at the very last moment. We wait about 30 seconds to see what the wrong answer is, and suddenly, at the very last second, there's the commercials.
  • Angel did this very frequently. A notable subversion occurs in "Hell Bound".
    Fred: Spike told me where he goes when he disappears. It's...hell. He's slipping into hell. (suspenseful music cue)
    Gunn: Kinda figured.
    Wesley: Of course.
    Gunn: Where else would he be going?
    (cut to the next scene)
  • Fear Itself, the NBC version of Showtime's Masters of Horror, used a lot of Commercial Break Cliffhangers. The thing is, while that's fine for suspense, since it (ideally) keeps the audience in their seats to see what happens next, it's not so good for horror. Commercial breaks take the audience out of the action and remind them that they're just watching a TV show, which kills the mood (and horror's all about mood).
  • Storage Wars does this Every. Single. Commercial. Break. Take 2 shots if it shows someone opening a trunk, chest or safe. Three if it's Barry.
  • The Food Network's chopped does this with the first two chefs to be cut. The host Ted Allen then averts this with announcing the last contest to be "chopped", which in turn reveals the winner. If you watch the show enough, you can time the commercials breaks to the second and the winner will always be announced in the last three minutes.
  • All 3 CSI series do this repeatedly, but especially toward the end of an episode. And they love it even more when a main character is in some kind of danger.
  • Happens all the time in The Chase, especially when there's a 'one question shootout at play' (i.e. the contestant has to get the question right to go through else the Chaser will probably catch them). In some amusing examples, the contestants have either noticed this and groaned just before the commercial break cuts in, or in one strange case, actually announced the break with 'see you after the breaks folks!' when the host was too busy laughing.
  • Given that The Wild Wild West used an Artistic Title that froze the last frame of each act into a panel, it's unsurprising that they used this trope at least Once an Episode (and usually more than once - some episodes, like "The Night of the Gypsy Peril" and "The Night of the Hangman," had cliffhangers for three of the four acts!).
  • Cutthroat Kitchen always does this in the first two rounds, just as the judge is about to announce who's being eliminated. This trope is generally common in cook-off shows like Cutthroat Kitchen, being used in similar shows such as Chopped and MasterChef.
  • The 2010s revival of To Tell the Truth:
    "Will the real [person who did this incredible thing] please stand up...when we come back!"note 
  • Property Brothers: Buying And Selling: Between them, Drew and the editors make sure we get one of these before the announcement that the client's bid for the new house has been accepted.
  • An early episode of Air Crash Investigation attempted one of these. Just before the commercial, the narrator notes that rescue services are on their way and leaves the viewer with the question of whether they will arrive in time to save the first officer from a horrible death. Quite a cliffhanger — if not for the fact that the episode had already shown multiple clips from said first officer's survivor interview.

    News Media 
  • News programs exploit this with irritating frequency. Advertisements for the day's news promise information on some dangerous thing that "you must watch out for" (especially if you have children), and during the news program itself, refrain from showing until almost the very end, but continually remind you before they cut to commercials that it's "coming up next". Of course, this means that the segment doesn't play until it's time to put the child(ren) to bed, making the report miss its target audience.
    • This is spoofed on a sbemail in Homestar Runner where Strong Bad runs a local news program that constantly alludes to a "World in Crisis" story coming up. At the end of the news show, he says to tune in next time for the "World in Crisis" story.
    • And by George Carlin back in the 60's: "The sun did not come up today, huge cracks are appearing in the earth's surface and big rocks are falling from the sky. Details at 5."

  • Since the Cool Kids Table players are playing as if their Firefly game is an episode of an actual Firefly revival series, they cut to commercial right after Todd's Tempting Fate moment below.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Believe it or not, WWE programs do this on a frequent basis. Whenever a wrestler gets tossed outside the ring, expect the announcer to cue up the oncoming commercial break by asking if the aforementioned wrestler can make a comeback when the show returns. However, due to the nature of the program, the match will pick up from the break, still in progress. Any action during the break is shown via split-screen.
    • Smackdown has recently averted this, with picture-in-picture of the match off to the side as the commercials play.
  • Impact Wrestling lampshaded this in their Total Nonstop Deletion special. After a massive spot between two wrestlers that cumulates with them crashing through a door, announcer Josh Matthews is quick on detailing what is about to happen next, but then gets annoyed over a commercial break in the middle of a world title match. Made even funnier as they never show the conclusion to this before leading into the Main Event of the night.
    Josh Matthews: ...The champion and challenger are down! Who will make it to their feet? Who will leave- Wha? What do you mean we have to go to break? The world title's on the line! *cut to commercial*

    Western Animation 
  • In the original broadcasts of the Felix the Cat (Joe Oriolo) cartoons, each episode was split into two parts with a cliff hanger at mid point, and the narrator would say "What will happen to Felix in the next exciting adventure of Felix the Cat?" and in the next part, the theme song would play again before the second half (hence why each second half of an episode does a recap of the previous half). These parts were cut in the late 70's by tv stations trying to add more commercials. The DVD releases of the show use these syndicated edits.
  • An episode of Futurama parodied this rather well. Fry, Leela, and Bender had to deliver a package to a robot planet, and Bender gets caught. Leela then exclaims: "If only I had two or three minutes to think about it!" Cut to commercial.
  • Done with The Simpsons as well. After the family is tricked by a commercial into a trap set by Sideshow Bob, Homer proclaims that the next time a commercial comes on, he'll close his eyes, cover his ears and scream. Fade to black, cue Homer screaming, cut to commercial.
    • Another episode features the Power Plant in danger of meltdown and Homer tries to work out which button he must press before it happens. He presses a button and...cut to black!
    • Also, it's done in another episode, where Bart finds a phone while picking up golf balls on a golf course, and he says "Hey! you can watch commercials on it!" and holds the phone up to the TV, and then it goes to a commercial.
    • And in another episode, with Sideshow Mel narrating the story of Lisa's comedy rise to fame, he says something along the lines of "You'll find out how show business is a business in three... two... one..." fade to black.
    • Parodied in "And Maggie Makes Three":
      Homer: (seeing Bart and Lisa walking off) Hey! Where are you going?
      Bart: Dad, you can't expect a person to sit for thirty minutes straight.
      Lisa: I'm going to get a snack, or maybe go to the bathroom.
      Marge: I'll stay here, but I'm going to think about products I might like to purchase. (closes eyes) Ooh...mmm...ooh, I don't have that.
    • Parodied again in "Dog of Death". Santa's Little Helper has been acting sickly for most of the first act, and just before the first ad break, Grampa nonchalantly announces that the dog is dead. When the show comes back from commercials, the Simpsons immediately realize that he's not dead and scold Abe for "toying with their emotions."
    • Yet another episode has Sideshow Bob threatening to explode a nuclear warhead. The commercial break starts right when Bob finally pushes the detonator button and an explosion is heard. Turns out the nuke is expired and doesn't work.
    • Occurs in "Separate Vocations" complete with the words "To Be Continued..." popping up as a Lampshade Hanging. At the end of the first act Bart is stuck in an alleyway and about to be run over by Snake.
    • In "Black-Eyed, Please", Homer tells Ned he'll only forgive him if he lets him have his wife. We get a commercial break, and afterwards Homer elaborates that he only wants her to help get rid of a substitute teacher that's been bullying Lisa.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures, although it was a self-aware cartoon, didn't do this too often. In the pilot episode, Buster and Babs use the commercial break to get most of their work on the future show accomplished. In the Christmas episode, the trope is played much more straight in that a panicky Buster is ready and desperate to wish everything back to normal but he is told that he has to wait until after the commercials.
  • An episode of Upright Citizens Brigade used a variation of this trope by claiming that they had succeeded in creating a batch of mind-numbingly unbearable commercials, then pressing play and treating the actual commercials as the ones they were referring to. It was claimed before each subsequent break that an even worse batch than the last one was cued up to play.
  • An episode of Sam & Max: Freelance Police tried to inform us that there would be no commercial breaks, to better assist our viewing pleasure. These announcements were, of course, cut short at every opportunity. And when it came back, it always looked like some scene was missing in between.
  • Done with the season premieres and finales in The Secret Saturdays.
  • Oddly, the punchline to a cutaway gag on Family Guy was cut off.
  • Done in most of The Disney Afternoon cartoons.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    Edd: Curse broadcasted commercialism!
    (cut to commercial)
  • Played for Laughs in the El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera 30-minute special "The Good, The Bad, and El Tigre". The titular hero is seemingly crushed to death by a kaiju with a The End card appearing... only to continue with "...of Part 1" after a Beat. One commercial break later, he's shown to have dodged at the last second. He's not named after a cat for nothing, folks.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV adaptations do this all the time with intense music.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks played with this in the 1988 episode "Food for Thought" (in which Alvin and Simon are helping Theodore prepare for a history test). One scene shows Alvin (portraying General George Custer) about to be ambushed by the Indians during the Battle of Little Big Horn.
    Alvin (as General Custer): Quick! Cut to a commercial!
    (cue commercial)
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines started using these since Season 3.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998) episode "Him Diddle Riddle" ends its first half as Him gives the girls a really long riddle, then tells them to solve it in 2 minutes, 45 seconds. By the time the commercial break ends, the girls have solved the riddle by bringing Him a rocky road ice cream cone.
  • The Earthworm Jim cartoon played this for all it's worth, complete with the hammy narrator asking multiple "Will Earthworm Jim escape from Psycrow's diabolical trap?"-style questions. A frequent Running Gag is that one of the cliffhanger questions is about something completely inconsequential, like Peter getting a winning hand in a poker game going on at the same time.
  • The Legend of Korra: The first episode has Korra take a few thugs down. Saihkan and the other officers arrest them and order her arrest. Come back from commercial sees him laying out the charges, and Officer Song giving chase.
  • Green Lantern: The Animated Series: "Larfleeze" has the titular character unleash Glomulus onto Razer and Kilowog, it begins to swallow them whole. Will the heroes get out of this one? Find out in... of course they do.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes does this at least Once per Episode, give or take.
  • Jem does this in pretty much every episode. They nearly die or get into some danger only to be fine after the commercial break.
  • Toad Patrol Does this in every single episode. Most notable is at least two occasions where the cliffhanger in question was a literal one.
  • Drawn Together had an episode set up as a music competition a la American Idol where they eliminated contestants based on "audience votes" as the episode went along. At one point, the host tries to set up a Commercial Cliffhanger over the next elimination, but the whole cast groans enough to get him to reveal it. He then angrily announces that they have nothing to look forward to over the commercial break and they're ruining the tension of the show.
  • The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin used this in "Octopede Sailors" during a flashback where a young Gurbby is involved in a shipwreck. Before the commercial break starts, we hear Grubby's dad call out to him, followed by the screen fading to black. The rescue part of this flashback doesn't happen until after the ads.
  • In the Animaniacs episode "King Yakko":
    Dot: You think this plan will work?
    Yakko: It better; we don't have any more commercial breaks!
    • Sometimes in some episodes, if a certain segment featuring Yakko, Wakko, and Dot is more than eight minutes, the segment will be split into two parts, with an act break in-between.

    Real Life 
  • Here's some Fridge Brilliance: What happens when you get really shocking overwhelming news? You may pass out. What does it look like when you pass out? Fade to Black and then you come to 3 minutes later.



How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / CommercialBreakCliffhanger

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