Why _don't_ people ever say "Bye" on the phone on TV?

It’s a well-known observation that, in stark opposition to reality, no one on television ever says “Bye” or any other natural farewell at the end of a phone call. (Movies generally do the same thing, I think, though I haven’t been paying as much attention to those). Yet, what I can’t for the life of me figure out is why this should be so consistently the case. It’s not just a matter of diminished frequency; in all my attempts at observation, I have never witnessed a counterexample.

Is it that it just takes up valuable screentime that would be better spent otherwise? It’s such a little thing; if people are really gunning for efficiency that ruthlessly, I imagine this would have all kinds of other noticeable effects as well, but none come to mind. So, what is the explanation?

(There seem to be a fair few screenwriters on this board, as evidenced in the threads about the WGA strike. Surely they have access to the definitive answer…)

It doesn’t advance the plot or tell a joke. (Unless it does, of course, but those are the exceptions.)

Writers get paid by the word.


It’s one of those Hollywood conventions that just has a lot of inertia. Like the equally infuriating practice of actors holding the receiver in front of their chin so the camera can see their beautiful lips move. Man, that’s $@#*ing infuriating. YOUR VOICE DOES NOT COME OUT OF YOUR CHIN, DOOFUS! HOW CAN THE OTHER GUY HEAR YOU?!


A tangent, but how do those annoying ear phone things work with your mouth so far away from the damn thing?

I saw a guy fighting on the phone with someone the other day while walking in the park.

I just thought he was insane.

The mic does not have to be right in front of your mouth to pick up the sound of your voice. Sound waves travel in all directions.

So… their communiques can hear me mock them as well as they do?

I now return you to your regularly scheduled thread.

To be fair, I would like to point to a little known fact that former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s smooth baritone was produced in part by his chin acting like a bass bin.

On a more serious note, my own personal observations have been that you tend to hear people say “bye” on the phone much more often in sitcoms than in dramas. I always thought that perhaps the reason you rarely see it in dramas is because those who are shown talking to someone on the phone are usually main characters, who usually occupy positions of import in their fictional career, and thus their conversations are shown to be very curt, with little or no unnecessary banter, which includes not bothering to say goodbye – because important people don’t do that.

That was just my theory though.

I tried to get a trend going in college. I had some friends in on it. I’m pretty sure it started when X-Files first came out - Mulder was much to cool to finish a cellphone converstion with a “bye”, he would just hang up the phone.

It was my interpretation that saying “bye” is pretty much the same as asking permission to end the conversation. It gives the person on the other end of the line a chance to continue the converstion if the deem it necesarry.

However, if you’re cool like agent Mulder, you are the one who dictates when the conversation is over. When you’ve gotten what you need out of the call, you simply hang up.

I did it for awhile, but it never caught on. More times than not, the other person would call me back and say that my cell phone cut out. So, it really didn’t save me anything and I gave up on it.

Woah! I always assumed (because I only ever saw this phenomenon on US shows) that all US people didn’t say ‘bye’.

My ignorance has been fought! Well, a little bit.

I like how characters in a movie or TV show repeat what the other party is saying for the benefit of the audience.

“What?” “You say I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer and have six months to live!”

Good writing dictates that you enter a scene as late as possible and exit as soon as possible. When you get to “okay, see you, alright, alright, okay, later, thanks, bye”, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. That’s why nobody adjusts their rear-view mirror when they get in a car, unless somebody’s hiding in the back seat. And you never see someone tie their shoes, unless they have OCD or a learning disability.

Agreed - for the same reason, hotly pursued protagonists don’t generally pick up and use the weapons of downed henchmen - because they could just turn around and shoot their pursuers and that would be that. (I watched Mr And Mrs Smith last night and it was refreshing to see them take and use the guns off the bad guys after incapacitating them).

I would buy that if the scene ended prior to the actors hanging up the phone but when the scene continues long after the phone is hung up it seems silly to think the writers are trying to not waste time.

Exactly. Unless it’s relevant to the story, nobody in the movies ever says, “Sorry, I missed that, could you say it again”, or “Uh, sorry, just wait a second, I thought I heard the phone” or “Yeah, that was in New Orleans, no, wait a second, I mean Baton Rouge, damn, why to I always get them mixed up” or any of those other things that people say all the time in real life. The key in scriptwriting is to give the impression of real life, without the boring stuff.

On soap operas, they always say hi, bye, how are you, and a few other “filler” lines every time the phone rings. And they usually let it ring more than once and say “who could that be?” & “I don’t know” or “Could you get that?” & “Sure, shall I tell them you’re out?”

A phone call on a soap should give you enough time to check on the baby without missing anything :wink:

Also, if the recipient intends to answer the phone, it will ring indefinitely. If they don’t intend to answer it, the caller will give up after three rings.

Well, I guess this was the explanation, but it still seems so odd and less than entirely rational; it’s not like everything else is cut to the bare “No two seconds spared” minimum. You could cut a second out of the couple walking around here, you could shorten the establishing shot there, you could reword this conversation to use shorter words.

Granted, there’s no need to show people tying their shoes or occasionally stuttering on words or excusing themselves to the bathroom for non-plot reasons or whatever; no one needs that much realism. But no one notices the lack of that, either. Whereas, with the abrupt phonecall ending without any indication, it always strikes me as really jarring; it takes me out of what I’m watching, since it’s so very odd, especially if what I’m watching is the sort of show which prides itself on a certain level of realism in other matters.

Ah, well. I guess that’s tradition, for you.

Yeah, that’s sorta how I feel about it.

It’s not no one ever says bye, but yeah it happens infrequently enough to be noticeable. Sometimes it’s just not necessary and flows better without it. Sometimes it’s for dramatic effect - they just found out something important and they have to put down the phone and make a freeze frame pondering face. Personally I’m always wondering why no one wears seat belts.

That said, it’s not unheard of in real life! I work with someone who never says goodbye before hanging up. At best, he’ll say “ok” with a slightly stronger hint of finality than the other "ok"s in the conversation. But sometimes he just expects it to be obvious from the flow of the conversation. It used to bug me, but I wrote it off as a cultural thing (he’s from China), and whether or not that is really a typical Chinese thing to do (I find Chinese take out speaker to also be somewhat “abrupt” seeming but they so say goodbye), it allows me to accept it and move on gracefully. I think I’ve encountered it with one or two “regular folk” from time to time too though. Which I write off as variety of upbringing styles.