Of course we love happy endings. We love that those passengers experienced a miracle on the Hudson, that the JetBlue plane landed safely, that baby Jessica was pulled from the well and grew up to have a baby of her own. But it's the disaster that didn't happen that makes us watch. If we don't feel it, then we don't really care.
We watched by the millions as humans journeyed into space and took their first steps on the moon, feeling so close to astronauts who were so far away. But then shuttle launches became routine. They just didn't seem dangerous enough. Then the Challenger explosion stunned and saddened the nation. Attention turned again to the space program, for a while anyway.
In some cases, suspense is missing. Thanks to improved polling, political elections can seem anticlimactic. Much of sports also lack suspense. When it's the Yankees playing the Washington Nationals -- really? Who cares? We pretty much know the outcome. (Sorry, Nats.) But any game that's bases loaded at the bottom of the ninth with a tied score -- we're captivated again.
So the balloon, live and unpredictable, had everything to make us watch. Everything, that is, but a boy onboard, thank goodness.
But if we'd known that all along, would anyone have cared?