Fade to Black: Revisiting Eight Monumental TV Series Finales
WARNING: May contain Spoilers!
Few TV shows go out on their own terms. Fewer go out well. And even fewer go out and become cultural touchstones. We look in on the legacies of the most watched, the most hyped and the most memorable codas in TV history.
“The Last Newhart,” CBS (May 21, 1990)
Viewers: 29.5 million
How It Ended: “Honey, wake up. You won’t believe the dream I just had,” Bob Newhart tells Suzanne Pleshette, his TV wife from The Bob Newhart Show, revealing that Larry, Darryl and Darryl were just indigestion.
How It Holds Up: Still brilliant, if not the best ever. We blame it for giving us “all a dream” anxiety for every series finale since.
Six Feet Under
“Everyone’s Waiting,” HBO (Aug. 21, 2005)
Viewers: 3.89 million
How It Ended: Claire (Lauren Ambrose) drives off into her future, and a beautiful flash-forward montage reveals characters’ life milestones — and their eventual deaths.
How It Holds Up: Alan Ball’s darkly funny funeral drama will live a long, full life. We should all shuffle off this mortal coil to Sia’s “Breathe Me.”
“The Finale,” NBC (May 14, 1998)
Viewers: 76.3 million
How It Ended: Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards) are sent up the river for doing nothing.
How It Holds Up: Not well, and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s 2009 Seinfeld reunion episode admitted as much. Still, will a broadcast show’s finale be that big of an event again?
“The Last One,” NBC (May 6, 2004)
Viewers: 52.5 million
How It Ended: Ross (David Schwimmer) gets Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) — for real this time! The friends leave the keys to the empty apartment and head out for coffee.
How It Holds Up: The stars outgrew the series and the series outlived its relevance, but “The Last One” gave devoted fans the satisfying, feel-good finale they wanted.
“One for the Road,” NBC (May 20, 1993)
Viewers: 80.4 million
How It Ended: Diane (Shelley Long) returns after six years, and she and Sam (Ted Danson) have one last fling before calling it off.
How It Holds Up: It’s as fitting a finale as the show could have. Sam doesn’t get the girl, but he comes back to what Norm (George Wendt) calls his “one true love.” It’s the bar, right? It’s gotta be the bar.
“The Last One,” NBC (May 25, 1988)
Viewers: 22.5 million
How It Ended: The events at St. Eligius Hospital were all in the mind of autistic Tommy Westphall (Chad Allen) gazing into a snow globe. ROSEBUD!
How It Holds Up: Both hailed and derided (even the cast is split on this), the provocative medical drama’s finale was far ahead of its time. Twenty-seven years later, few series have been as daring.
“Made in America,” HBO (June 10, 2007)
Viewers: 11.9 million
How It Ended: Tony (James Gandolfini) meets his family at a diner, puts a little Journey on the jukebox and then … hey, is the TV broken?
How It Holds Up: Still divisive, still unresolved and still one of the best. Is Tony whacked or ain’t he? Doesn’t matter. Don’t stop believin’.
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” CBS (Feb. 28, 1983)
Viewers: 105.9 million
How It Ended: The Korean War-weary staff of the 4077th get their tickets home when a ceasefire is declared. B.J. (Mike Farrell) texts GOODBYE to Hawkeye (Alan Alda) in stones on the helipad.
How It Holds Up: More of a TV movie, a lot would hit the cutting-room floor by today’s standards. Henry Blake’s (McLean Stevenson) death in “Abyssinia, Henry” packed more punch. But no TV series will ever budge the ratings behemoth.
Actor Gary Burghoff turns 80 today and is the youngest of the original cast. What have they been doing?
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