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How spoilers have changed the way we watch movies and TV

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On the evening of March 15, 2015, across America, phones shoved into jeans pockets or left to rest on dinner tables buzzed to life with a New York Times news alert, which was also tweeted from the newspaper’s official account.

“Breaking News: In Documentary, Robert Durst Says He ‘Killed Them All,’” the alert read. The documentary was The Jinx, HBO’s six-part miniseries about the eccentric real estate heir Robert Durst and the murders he may or may not have committed, and that night, the final episode was set to air.

The problem was that for millions of viewers on the West Coast — and anyone who’d planned to watch later — the Times had just given away the big twist.

Directed by Andrew Jarecki, the series instantly grabbed viewers and critical interest. The show’s central mystery was sordid and addictive: Did the wealthy, weird Durst kill three women (including his wife), no women, or some other configuration thereof? Or was he merely very, very unlucky? In hours of interviews with Durst, research, and even reenactments, the series sought to unravel the mystery.

It was a real-life story, of course, and three women were dead. But it was also terrific entertainment.

When news broke before the finale that Durst had been arrested on a murder charge in New Orleans a day earlier, viewers’ anticipation spiked. The audience for the episode’s first airing, on the East Coast at 8 pm, was nearly double that of the previous week’s episode.

And the spoiler made people really mad, especially evident on Twitter. Barry Jenkins

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