In the 1980s and 1990s romantic detective show and workplace sitcom, the guy and the girl endlessly flirted. The guy had it bad for the girl. He would pursue her. She'd ignore him. Finally they'd sleep together. She'd deny it meant anything. Or he would. One or the other. He would tell her he loved her. She'd be in denial. Or it was the other way around. They'd come thisclose to being on the same page and revealing their deep undying affection for each other - but some stupid thing would interrupt it - if a sitcom - some ex-lover or friend would pop up at the wrong time and stop them. If a detective show? A dead body. It was highly frustrating. After a while I caught on to the writers - "oh, you're going to drag this out to see how long you can keep the audience in suspense and coming back for more..I get it." First it is "will they or won't they kiss?" Then "will they or won't they have sex"? Then "will they or won't they declare their love for each other?" Then "will they or won't they get married?" And the last bit? Spoiler: NEVER happens. Actually we're lucky if we make it to the declare their love part. In the 1960s-1970s, they did the declare their love bit first and worked their way up to the kiss, and the sex never happened. We live in more enlightened times now, we get the sex first and we're lucky if we make it to the declare their love bit.
But a few shows did attempt to break this cycle. Cheers not only had Sam and Diane sleep together, Sam proposed marriage, and Diane even imagined a life with him, before she took off on a lucrative book deal. (Shelly Long left for a lucrative movie career which bombed, but who knew at the time?) In Moonlighting - Maddie and David sort of slept together, then the show became weirdly surreal, she'd be on it, no he would, she disappeared, he mourned her absence, to this day I'm still not sure what exactly happened because I finally gave up and watched something else. (Cybil got pregnant and left, then Bruce Willis wanted out for a lucrative movie career and he couldn't stand Cybil, who was allegedly impossible to work with.). Remington Steele - same thing happened, Laura slept with Steele, he took off (Pierce Bronsan wanted out to pursue a lucrative movie career and he could not stand his co-star), she got a new partner, I gave up on the series, I came back - she sort of ended up with him in his Irish Castle. But by that point, who cared. TV writers and networks decided in their ultimate wisdom that what killed these three series was putting the leads together, not the fact that the actors wanted to pursue movie careers who hated their co-stars. (Which was the truth. Sometimes the hot on-screen chemistry was due to extreme dislike. )
Or as Whedon stated to the Onion in an interview:
He's said this in other ways as well. "What ruined Cheers was Sam and Diane got together!" So basically, we have Cheers to blame for this! Well, Cheers and Moonlighting, Remington Steel, and several others I can't think of at the moment. (Although I disagree with Whedon and his brethern (he's not alone, JJ Abrahams, Rock O'Bannion, Ron Moore and RT Davies also see the world through this strange haze) - I didn't think Sam and Diane getting together ruined Cheers, nor is Sam and Diane all I think about when I think about Cheers. In retrospect, I rather liked Sam and Woody, Sam and Carla, and Fraizer/Diane and Lilith. Although my favorite character was the magician named Harry.
First of all, if you don't feel afraid, horror show not good. We learned early on, the scariest thing on that show was people behaving badly, or in peril, morally speaking, or just people getting weird on you—which, by the way, is the scariest thing in life. In terms of not giving people what they want, I think it's a mandate: Don't give people what they want, give them what they need. What they want is for Sam and Diane to get together. [Whispers.] Don't give it to them. Trust me. [Normal voice.] You know? People want the easy path, a happy resolution, but in the end, they're more interested in... No one's going to go see the story of Othello going to get a peaceful divorce. People want the tragedy. They need things to go wrong, they need the tension. In my characters, there's a core of trust and love that I'm very committed to. These guys would die for each other, and it's very beautiful. But at the same time, you can't keep that safety. Things have to go wrong, bad things have to happen.
I call this particular television trope: writers dangling a proverbial piece of chocolate in front of their audience - oh, look, see, how great this is...but I'm not going to give it to you yet, you have to watch the next episode! Whoops...no, I mean next week's episode. No, next week's! I promise, we'll resolve it by the end of the year! And after about three years of this, you begin to wonder why you are still watching this stupid tv show. The writer is never going to deliver on the goods, they are just going to tease you indefinitely. And stupid you are going along with it.
Now, here's the thing - that novelists know, which is that it is possible to write tragedy without teasing the reader for 250 pages. You can actually put the characters together, have them declare their love for each other, and have one die tragically...and satisfy the reader. Yes, shocking, but possible.
I personally found the Sam and Diane relationship on Cheers to be an exercise in frustration. Same with Moonlighting and Remington Steel. And no, all the tension in the series did not disappear the moment they got together. It disappeared before then, during the constant will they or won't they dance. Seriously you'd think the entire series was just about whether they'd get together or not. A good writer can create dramatic tension and sexual tension without relying on gimmicks. That - is how you can tell the difference between a good writer and an average one. Look at the Good Wife or how about Parenthood and Friday Night Lights? Or The Wire - which created excellent male/female relationships.
As much as I loved Farscape, I agree with Ben Browder and Claudia Black who bemoaned the writers insane insistence on keeping the leads apart, and all the cartwheels they did to break them up in order to keep up the "romantic tension". It was unrealistic and silly in places. Buffy? It was fun for a bit, then I got bored of the Angel/Buffy angst and just wanted the two characters to move on already. Buffy/Spike entertained me up until the damn comics. It had gotten old. A bit too much like a daytime soap opera - in daytime soaps, characters get together, they have a wild romance, they are happy, then the writers get bored and break them up over some stupid thing, usually one or the other is presumed dead or goes nuts, then skip a year or so, they come back to life and we start the whole thing all over again. Farscape did it over the course of four years. They'd get together, one character either went nuts or died, then they'd come back, and we'd start the process again. Battlestar Galatica did it with Starbuck and Apollo. RT Davies did it with Doctor Who and Rose Tyler. And Stephen Moffat subverted the trope in a humorous fashion with River Song and Doctor Who - who are together back to front. They are happy off-screen in a weird eternal loop-de-loop. Meanwhile the true ship Rory and Amy are happy together off and on-screen throughout. Moffat doesn't appear to have any problems writing sexual tension between happy couples.
I've read stories where the romance ends tragically, but it works. Because they get together, they are allowed to be happy for a while, and we're allowed to enjoy it. See Doctor Who and River Song for an example. Or Amy and Rory, who do endure a tragedy, and in some respects a far more touching one because it is far less predictable.
We all know the inevitable will happen, one or both will die. But that happens to everyone. All life ends in tragedy. That's a given. Teasing the audience...will they or won't they...forever and a day, gets a bit dull. We've all seen it before. After a while you just want to smack the dang writer upside the head and say, okay just shit or get off the pot. Otherwise I'm going to wander over here and watch this tv show instead. Audience's tend to have a short attention span. And there are writers now who don't need a carrot or gimmick to get their viewers to tune in.
Same thing goes for comic books.