10 best and worst series’ finales
With ìLostî finally getting off the TV island and ì24î ticking down its final seconds, fans of these shows are wondering if their conclusions can possibly live up to high expectations. But their last episodes are destined to place these series among either the greatest farewells in TV history, or among the worst.
So with these major finales on the horizon, we decided that now would be a good time to look back at the best and worst of television swan songs. With any luck, next month will make the best list crowded with smoke monsters and secret agents ó and leave the worst list just as it is.
ìGoodbye, Farewell and Amenî (02/ 28/83)
The finale was the most watched TV show in history until this yearís Super Bowl. This full-on emotional farewell saw Hawkeye Pierce lose his mind after inadvertently causing a woman to smother her own baby; and, in the seriesí biggest surprise, Sergeant Klinger, who spent 11 seasons in tacky dinner dresses trying to get sent home, remain in Korea after meeting his one true love. At the end, when Hawkeye saw B.J. Hunnicuttís ìGoodbyeî note, spelled out in rocks, from his helicopter, there wasnít a dry eye in the country.
ìThe Last Newhartî (05/21/90)
Sadly, the ìlast season was all a dream/fantasyî device gained great traction in the eighties, but ìNewhartî used it to great effect, creating one of the most hilarious moments in television by making the entire eight-season run a dream of his characterís from his previous series, ìThe Bob Newhart Show.î When Suzanne Pleshette, who played his wife on that show, popped her head out from under the covers in their bedroom, this episodeís classic status was secured.
3.) THE FUGITIVE
ìThe Judgmentî (08/22, 29, 67)
Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen, above) ran from the law for four years while hunting the man behind the crime for which he was convicted ó his wifeís murder. With the killing of the one-armed man, Kimble found salvation. This ìFugitiveî kept Americans glued to their seats.
4.) MARY TYLER MOORE
ìThe Last Showî (3/19/77)
Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) was the first television character to portray the challenge of being an independent single woman in America. The final episode included a brilliant and darkly comic statement on corporate stupidity, as Richardsí employer, WJM-TV, was sold, with the new owners firing everyone but the incompetent Ted Baxter. The emotional group hug at the end reminded viewers of the depth of the showís heart.
ìOne For The Roadî (05/20/93)
A goodbye drink at a bar where everyone knows your name should offer both humor and sentiment, and ìOne for the Roadî had it all, driven by the return of Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), who engaged in a hilarious game of deceptive cat vs. lying mouse with her old flame, Sam Malone (Ted Danson). Between that, the gangís usual bar talk, monitored by bartender Woody Harrelson, far left), and Samís final words of ìSorry, weíre closed,î ìCheersî said goodbye exactly the way an old friend should.
6.) THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON
(05/21, 22/92) Johnny Carsonís farewell, after 30 years as Americaís favorite talk-show host, featured Carso sitting alone on a stool, sharing some of his most personal moments and bidding his viewers farewell with the words, ìand so it has come to this.î But the real heart-grabber came the night before, when Bette Midler serenaded the late-night legend with ìOne for My Baby,î as genuine and touching a moment as youíll find in the annals of TV history.
7.) SIX FEET UNDER
ìEveryoneís Waitingî (08/21/05)
Itís only fitting that a show that dealt with death so poignantly should usher off its characters accordingly, with creator Alan Ball taking us through the future to see the deaths of each of his showís major characters. In a breathtaking six-and-a-half minute sequence, Ball showed us their final moments in fully-realized scenes, from Ruth Fisherís passing in a hospital bed to a cataract-laden Claire passing similarly in 2085. This finale was haunting and epic, and a vivid example of powerful storytelling whose triumph was really quite simple ó Ball created art by choosing to end his story at the end.
ìLunar Eclipseî (05/14/89)
The finale seemed perfectly ordinary until, with 10 minutes left, Bruce Willisí character returns to his office to find his furniture being hauled off. A man introduces himself as an ABC executive and explains that the show has been cancelled. Willis and co-star Cybill Shepherd then try to save their lives as TV characters as their props, even including the view from their artificial window, are carted out. The ending was funny, strange, and surprisingly meta before meta was hip.
9.) TWIN PEAKS
ìBeyond Life and Deathî (06/ 10/91)
After solving the murder of Laura Palmer, ìTwin Peaksî ran out of gas, until the finale in which Agent Dale Cooper is captured by the evil BOB, and, in the showís final shot, cackles maniacally after smashing his head into a mirror, with BOB laughing similarly in the image across from him. Weíd expect nothing less than this creepy victory for evil from series creator David Lynch.
10.) MURPHY BROWN
ìNever Can Say Goodbyeî (5/18/ 98)
The finale had just the right mix of comedy, celebrity, pathos, and resolution, as Murphy beat breast cancer, Bette Midler appeared as the last of Brownís 93 secretaries, and Murphy, who made waves in the 1992 presidential election about her being a single mother, left the stage as classy as ever.
1.) THE SOPRANOS
ìMade in Americaî (06/10/07)
One of the singlemost frustrating endings in history. The final scene of this brilliant, much-revered show left viewers thinking their cable had gone out. While Journeyís ìDonít Stop Believingî played in the background, Tony and his family sat in a New Jersey diner, and …what? Got rubbed out? Ate pie? Weíll never know, because creator David Chase left the cut-to-black ending intentionally vague, seemingly to make the point that when you choose a Tony Soprano-like lifestyle, uncertainty reigns. Many viewers and critics, though, felt that Chase should be able to properly end his story. So after eight years of fealty, many ìSopranosî fans stopped believing in David Chase.
ìInto That Good Nightî (05/20/97)
The last major show to use the ìit was all a dreamî device ó for good reason. After the Conner family won the lottery, the finale revealed that Roseanne had fictionalized her life to distract her from a drab reality. The last scene was a voiceover, as she stared at her typewriter. For a series praised for its portrayal of blue-collar life, the finale seemed like a betrayal.
ìThe Finaleî (05/ 14/98)
When a show becomes one of the best-loved shows of all-time by being, essentially, a show about nothing, it should stay that way until the end. But ìSeinfeldî ended its run instead by sending its characters to a Massachusetts jail, a head-scratching decision that felt forced. Combine that with their trial, which had characters from throughout the series reminiscing about the selfishness of the main characters, and ìThe Finaleî felt more like a marking of time by a show that had run out of ideas than a brilliant wrapping-up of what had become, despite their apathy toward much of the human race, four of the funniest characters in TV history.
4.) ST. ELSEWHERE
ìThe Last Oneî (05/25/88)
ìSt. Elsewhere,î while never dominant in the ratings, was enough of a critical favorite that it lasted six seasons and won 13 Emmys, and made stars out of cast members such as Denzel Washington and Ed Begley. But the final episode turned out to be another ìit was all a dreamî disaster, when we learned that the entire six-season run was merely a figment of an autistic childís imagination, as that child had apparently spent six TV seasons staring into a snow globe, where the ìSt. Elsewhereî cast really lived.
ìThe Truthî (05/19/02)
The final episode of ìThe X-Filesî couldnít help but disappoint, since the final season had been a dud, with main cast members such as Gillian Anderson out the door by then. While David Duchovnyís Fox Mulder returned to be tried for his supposed crimes, he neednít have bothered: The series that promised that ìthe truth is out thereî offered very little of it in its finale.
6.) LIFE ON MARS
ìLife is a Rockî (04/21/09)
Maintaining credibility in a series about a cop who travels from 2008 to 1973 was challenging enough. But the creators of ìLife on Mars,î based on a hit British series, punted the ending. While the U.K. show sent him back to present time, the U.S. version made him an astronaut who lived in the future ó making his lives in 1973 and 2008 computer-generated fantasies he entertained on his spaceship. Got it? Thatís all right ó neither did the creators.
7.) LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE
ìThe Last Farewellî (02/26/84)
ìLittle House on the Prairieî was a hit for over nine seasons for its portrayal of hard-working people of small town America in the late 1800s. What better way to pay tribute to these fine, upstanding people than to have them completely destroy their own town? The Michael Landon series finally said goodbye to Walnut Grove by having a developer buy the town, and then having the people revolt against him by blowing up their own homes. Nothing like a little home-grown terrorism to send the message, ìDonít tread on me,î and to send off a beloved show with exactly the wrong kind of bang.
8.) QUANTUM LEAP
ìMirror Imageî (05/05/ 93)
Instead of solving the mystery of how and why Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), leapt through time and into other peopleís bodies to help them face obstacles, the series ended with Beckett taking one final leap into nowhere, followed by the on-screen graphic, ìDr. Sam Beckett never returned home.î Loyal viewers were left in the lurch.
9.) THE JAY LENO SHOW
(02/09/10) ìThe Jay Leno Showî was the equivalent of a FEMA disaster. It almost destroyed NBC with dismal ratings that slashed affiliate newscast viewership almost in half. Leno made scant mention that his show was leaving the air ó he merely threw it to the local news and was quickly cut off, as if everyone involved in this nightmare wanted to forget it as quickly as possible.
10.) THE PRISONER
ìFall Outî (09/21/68)
This cult hit starred show creator Patrick McGoohan as a former secret agent kidnapped by a secret society that refers to him as Number Six, and to their mysterious leader as Number One. In the finale, Number Six wins back his identity, and eventually encounters Number One, whoís wearing a mask. Six pulls off the mask to reveal an ape face. He then pulls that off, only to reveal his own face. Then Six heads on home. Thatís it ó no explanations about ape face or anything. McGoohan had to hide from outraged fans.
10 best and worst series’ finales