Grieving the loss of your favorite TV show? You’re not alone, study suggests: 'Perfectly understandable'


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Breaking up is hard to do, especially when it comes to a favorite television show, a study found.

When the long-running Australian soap opera series “Neighbours” was canceled after 37 years, there was considerable uproar from its loyal fans.

Surveyed viewers said they experienced emotions of grief as if they had lost a good friend.

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Dr. Adam Gerace, a senior psychology lecturer at Central Queensland University in Australia, launched the study to better understand the factors that stirred up the fans’ raw emotions.

“We often feel a sense of loss when our favorite television series ends because we form relationships with our favorite characters,” Gerace told Fox News Digital.

sad soap opera

A psychologist launched a study to better understand the factors that stirred up fans’ raw emotions when a favorite TV show ended.  (iStock)

“When a series ends or a [favorite] character dies, people often report feeling sadness and disbelief, almost as if an important relationship is ending in their lives.”

The research was published in the journal PLOS One on June 12.

Understanding ‘parasocial relationships’ 

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon — in which viewers develop a one-sided connection with the characters in their favorite show — as a “parasocial relationship.”

In previous studies, researchers found that the intensity of the parasocial relationship is the strongest predictor of breakup distress. 

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Gerace, the study author, recruited fans of “Neighbours” who lived in Australia and the U.K. to share how they felt that the series was coming to a close.

“I surveyed fans about their feelings of loss and sadness, their reasons for watching the series, how they felt about their [favorite] characters, and to what extent they felt they were able to commemorate the end of this series,” he told Fox News Digital.

neighbours cast

The cast of “Neighbours” are shown attending the finale event on June 29, 2022, in Melbourne, Australia.  (Getty Images)

Of the 1,289 respondents who answered the survey, 76% were female, with a mean age of 45.

Ninety percent of them viewed an average of five episodes a week. The majority watched the show alone. 

“Fans who experienced greater sadness, disbelief and downheartedness were those who were committed to the series,” Gerace said.

“We often feel a sense of loss when our favorite television series ends because we form relationships with our favorite characters.”

Despite feeling shocked that the series ended, the viewers said they felt grateful for having had the series in their lives.

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“They watched it for entertainment and excitement, which makes sense given that it’s a drama serial or soap opera, as well as to think about social issues and be exposed to lifestyles and situations they might not encounter in the everyday world,” he added.

Those who developed stronger connections with their favorite characters experienced more grief and a greater sense of loss.

A ‘virtual friend group’

“The study captures the effects I would expect from regular viewers of a long-running series,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Newport Beach, California, told Fox Digital News.

Rutledge was not involved in the study.

streaming tv

Streaming now allows people to revisit shows that have ended, so they can experience the same comfort of seeing “old friends,” especially during difficult times, an expert said. (iStock)

Shows like “Neighbours” create a “virtual friend group,” she said — similar to the ensemble casts in such shows as “Friends,” “The Office” and “Cheers” and how fans felt when those shows came to a close.

“Some people find a show … more gratifying than an unsatisfactory job or unreliable friendship.”

Gerace echoed that sentiment, noting that the feelings of sadness and loss that these viewers felt are likely to be similar for other series, including TV shows, movies and books.

“So, if you felt sad and downhearted at the end of ‘Lost’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ or are dreading the end of ‘Yellowstone,’ it’s perfectly understandable,” he said.

Positive effects of parasocial relationships

“Most studies support the positive effects of parasocial relationships in terms of positive emotions, belonging, mindset and social skills,” Rutledge pointed out in an email.

Streaming also now allows people to revisit shows that have ended, so they can experience the same comfort of seeing “old friends,” especially during difficult times, she continued.

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“During the social isolation of the pandemic, ‘The Office’ and ‘Friends’ were at the top of the most-streamed lists because they provided a sense of belonging and connection, decreasing loneliness,” Rutledge added.

Many shows aren’t only entertaining, but can also help people navigate their own lives.

woman sad on computer

Many shows aren’t only entertaining, but can also help people navigate their own lives, a psychologist said. (iStock)

“Viewers can find meaning and gain insights from the storylines and relationships that they find applicable to their own lives, such as a better understanding of their own emotions or how to handle certain challenges and life choices,” Rutledge said.

“Some people find a show … more gratifying than an unsatisfactory job or unreliable friendship.”

Viewers’ reactions to a show’s cancellation often depend on their individual circumstances.

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“Some parasocial relationships are directly linked to characters, where someone identifies strongly with a character and experiences the show through them, while others have a sense of immersion in the show without the loss of self,” Rutledge said.

The study has several limitations, Gerace acknowledged. 

remote

“Thinking about what the show meant and appreciating how it contributed positively to your life can provide some perspective and acceptance,” a psychologist advised. (iStock)

Many who completed the survey described themselves as “big fans” of the show, and the research did not assess how their sense of grief changed over time.

“My sample did consist of viewers who were quite involved in the series. More casual viewers are likely to have experienced less negative reactions to the end of the series,” Gerace said.

Look for ‘new psychological adventures’

People should not feel embarrassed if they have feelings of loss or distress after their favorite show ends, the experts agreed.

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“Thinking about what the show meant and appreciating how it contributed positively to your life can provide some perspective and acceptance,” Rutledge said.

crying tv show

The study included viewers who were “quite involved” in the series and were more likely to have experienced negative emotions, the researcher said. (iStock)

One way to deal with the loss is to connect with other fans on social media to share that grief and trade favorite moments or characters.

“Nothing will be as rewarding as the old show in terms of comfort, familiarity and emotional engagement — however, pining for the past for too long isn’t healthy,” Rutledge said.

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“Appreciating the lost show and thinking about the things you valued can help a fan look for new characters and storylines that create new psychological adventures.”



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