How do you end a great TV show? It’s a question as old as TV itself. You take a show that’s been on several years and has garnered a strong fan base, and the series finale’s caliber could determine how the entire series is remembered. Every fan has his or her own interpretation of how the end should come and as a writer; you have to try to at least appease everyone. With perennial fan favorite Chuck wrapping up this week, rather than give you guys the tried and tiresome “best finales ever,” I’d rather showcase the finales that for better or for worse have divided fans of the show for as long as they’ve been gone. Some of them we might have even changed our minds on over the years, and some will continue to confound for eternity.
Seinfeld, “The Finale;” May 14, 1998 In just nine years time – from 1989 to 1998 – Seinfeld went from a show that was, at best, a blip on the radar, to a cultural phenomenon. So, when Jerry Seinfeld announced that the ninth season would be the last, the actual shooting of the series’ last episode was overhyped to the Nth degree. Anyone who got the chance to attend the taping had to sign a confidentiality agreement. The media were shut out as well, and speculation as to how the “show about nothing” would end rose to a fever pitch. Would Jerry and Elaine finally realize they’re made for each other? Would George die? Would Kramer traverse the globe, “Kung-Fu” style? None of the above happened, and instead, what fans actually got was a clip show. Now, I love Seinfeld as much as the next guy, but the first time I saw the finale, I was slightly cheesed. I don’t think I need to summarize the events of how the fab four were put on trial, and a cavalcade of characters from the show’s history came back as witnesses for the prosecutors. Looking back, sadly there was really no other way to end the series that could have done it justice. Jerry and Elaine marrying? On a show that featured not one iota of sentimentality? Not going to happen. The last hour might not be Seinfeld’s best, but plenty of shows have found worse ways to end. Read on true believers. St. Elsewhere, “The Last One;” May 28, 1988 The characters and events that happened at St. Eligius Hospital during St. Elsewhere’s run helped forge the path of the hospital drama in years to come. In the early- to mid-eighties, plenty of some of today’s most respected actors and actresses strolled through the teaching hospital in Boston, most notably Ed Begley, Jr., Helen Hunt, Howie Mandel, and Denzel Washington. Yet, the series-ender is still one of the most argued about in TV history. Besides paying homage to other famous finales like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, and The Andy Griffith Show, in the final scene, the camera pulls back revealing snow falling on the hospital, and the scene changes to the son of Ed Flanders’ Dr. Donald Westphall: Tommy who has Autism. Tommy is playing with a snow globe when his dad, who now is wearing a construction uniform strolls into the room pondering what goes on inside Tommy’s head. Inside Tommy’s snow globe is a replica of St. Elgius. With that reveal, it has been debated ever since if the entire series took place inside the mind of a boy with Autism – I’d cue the Lost “whah” sound, but it’s about 18 years too soon…or is it?
The Sopranos, “Made in America;” June 10, 2007 If you want to talk about a divisive series finale, there aren’t many that get bolder and brasher than the finale of David Chase’s epic mob story. I am sure that millions of people inundated their cable providers with calls wondering if their cable went out, because there is no way a series that reinvigorated cable TV could end that abruptly. With Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” pumping and the members of the family, sans Meadow (who evidently cannot parallel park), sitting down to eat, the tension was rising to a crescendo and then – nothing. While the finale was a waste of everyone’s time, albeit a well-written waste of everyone’s time, the last few seasons were a waste of my time. With a mob war being teased for nearly two-and-a-half seasons that finally culminated in just one episode – the penultimate “Blue Comet” – we were privy to the nothing-out-of-the-ordinary-happened-in-the-life-of-Tony-Soprano kind of ending, which would have been acceptable if we got a better resolution to the DiMeo/Lupertazzi crime war. If you want the real end to The Sopranos, look no further than the trilogy of episodes that ended the fifth season: “The Test Dream,” “Long Term Parking,” and “All Due Respect.” These episodes recapped all of Tony’s fears that his cousin, Tony B., would spark a mob war; the emotional murder of Adrianna; and Tony finishing a job that he should have finished a long time ago. Even the final image of “All Due Respect” would have served as better lasting image than ten seconds of a black screen: Tony emerging from the woods unscathed. The X-Files, “The Truth, Parts 1 & 2;” May 19, 2002 Speaking of shows that overstayed their welcome, The X-Files was originally conceived as five- to six-season series that would culminate with a movie. But we all know that television is a big business and at the time, not many shows were bigger business than the conspiracy laden X-Files. And just like our first entry on this list, The X-Files ended with a trial. Fox Mulder was out on trial for the murder of Knowle Roher, but his guilt was impossible because Rohrer was transformed into an alien Super Soldier. Despite Scully’s autopsy, which concluded that the body was not Roher’s, Mulder is sentenced to death for the murder of a military officer. The story would conclude with Mulder’s escape and he and Scully fleeing to New Mexico to meet with the Cigarette Smoking Man, who details the end of society as we know it and the colonization of Earth, which will begin on Dec. 22, 2012 (mark your calendars people). The finale was more of a pilot for a series of movies than it was a fitting end for a show that many people considered revolutionary. It is credited with igniting the serial drama movement. Anyone who has dared to sit through the second X-Files film, I Want to Believe, knows whole-heartedly creator Chris Carter lost the controls of this train a long time ago, leaving fans scratching their heads, wondering if there will ever be a true conclusion to one of the best TV shows of all time. That '70s Show, “Love of My Life”/That 70’s Finale;” May 18th 2006 With stars Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher either gone completely or barely there, That '70s Show was forced to forge ahead without them in the eighth and final season, although Kutcher’s Kelso would make a few appearances. The finale season was pretty bad compared to the first seven; it was clear that Josh Meyers’ Randy Pearson was not a suitable replacement for series' star, Topher Grace. And the finale proved that deficiency, exemplified by the fact that Randy doesn’t even appear in Part Two of the episode. Like any show in which a main character leaves, the finale seams anticlimactic. The amount of the two-part episode that centered upon Eric’s return from Africa just proved how integral the character was to the lives of the other characters. It’s just too bad Eric’s return took place in the last five minutes of the show. As for the rest of the humdrum finale, Red and Kitty are contemplating moving to Florida, Jackie contemplates actually being with Fez, and – dare I say it – proverbial pothead Hyde contemplates giving up the grass. For a series so well-received to end so dully was just a crime and proof positive that money-be-damned, networks need to know when to end their series.
Roseanne, “Into That Good Night;” May 20, 1997 This finale was not just a head-scratcher of an episode capping off a head-scratcher of a season, but a horrible way to end nine seasons of a mostly great sitcom. Roseanne was a show that was hallowed as being a fairly realistic look at the lower middle-class way of life. While every other late eighties sitcom family was one of privilege, like the Huxtables (The Cosby Show), or just too damn perfect looking, like the Seavers (Growing Pains), the Conners were a family just like yours. They were struggling to pay bills, parent their children, lose excess weight, and deal with kids all jockeying for their favor while finding their own places in the world. The series was a stark contrast to the sitcoms of its time and often played more like a serial comedic drama than a sitcom. The ninth season was in conflict with everything Roseanne was about, and had plenty of outrageous and unrealistic moments due to the Conners winning the lottery. However, Dan’s affair and the heartwarming episode, “The Miracle,” in which Darlene’s baby is born, would serve as shots of realism that the show was known for. But by the time the series finale aired, we would all learn the truth: the entire series was a memoir that Roseanne Conner was writing about her life and she changed the parts that she didn’t like. The Conners had never won the lottery; Jackie was gay as opposed to her mother, Bev; Mark & Darlene and David & Becky were really the Conner-Healy couples. It was definitely a strange way to end a series, saying many of the things we knew to be true were either sort of true or not true at all. For that reason, “Into That Good Night” remains one of the oddest sitcom finales ever. Lost, “The End, Parts 1 & 2;” May 23, 2010 Way back in the first season of the new millennium’s first truly can’t-miss TV series, many fans had surmised that the Island was actually purgatory for our crash survivors. I bet those fans felt vindicated and cheated at the same time while watching “The End.” They may have felt vindicated because while they were wrong about the Island being purgatory, the “flash-sideways” world was a close second to their original hypothesis. They could have felt cheated because nearly every unanswered question was still left unanswered in favor of a more character-driven two and half-hour conclusion. For a series so hell-bent on piling on the questions its habit of deftly, if not sparingly, dishing out answers angered many fans – "The End" is no exception. So, here’s my theory on what happened: Creators J.J. Abrams, Carlton Cuse, and Damon Lindeloff had a grandiose vision for a series. Their TV series would incorporate all kinds of pop culture, literal, and biblical references. Then it dawned on them that concluding a series this saturated with mystery and mythology would not be able to be done in a way that could truly explain everything, and decided to focus more on the characters themselves than silly numbers, button pushing, Others, or Waaaaalt. Six Feet Under, “Everyone’s Waiting;” August 21, 2005 I know that this column is highlighting some of the most divisive series finales ever, but how could we not include a series finale that is hands-down, universally accepted as perfect. For five years, Six Feet Under was one of HBO’s if not all of TV’s boldest series, tackling the reality of death, amongst many other taboo subjects. With eldest son, Nate, dying at the end of the very excellent episode, “Ecotone,” the series would have to carry on without him for a few more episodes, although he would occasionally pop up in the minds of his family members. Even though it was the perfect way to end the series, “Everyone’s Waiting” was still a hard sell, every character dies at the end, and not in a Lost kind of way, they all actually bite the big one in a heartbreaking montage of life and death set to Sia’s equally moving song, “Breath Me.” Speaking of emotional, according to TVLine.com, Chuck’s creator, Josh Schwartz, predicts that there will be “very few dry eyes…I think every Chuck fan is going to be very satisfied,” when the series ends its five-season run on NBC tonight. Tonight may prove Schwartz right, and I hope everyone enjoys the finale. As always you can follow me on twitter @CouchForceOne.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
The Writers Guild of America has announced its nominations for outstanding achievement in screen in 2002.
Antwone Fisher, Bowling for Columbine, Far From Heaven, Gangs of New York and My Big Fat Greek Wedding have been nominated for the WGA's best original screenplay award.
About a Boy, About Schmidt, Adaptation, Chicago and
The Hours meanwhile will contend for best adapted screenplay.
Antwone Fisher, Written by Antwone Fisher; Fox Searchlight
Bowling for Columbine, Written by Michael Moore; United Artists/Alliance Atlantis/Salter Street Films/Dog Eat Dog Films
Far From Heaven, Written by Todd Haynes; Focus Features
Gangs of New York, Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, story by Jay Cocks; Miramax Films
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Written by Nia Vardalos; Gold Circle Films/HBO/MPH Entertainment/Playtone
About a Boy, Screenplay by Peter Hedges and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz, based on the novel by Nick Hornby; Universal Pictures/Studio Canal/Working Title Films/Tribeca Productions
About Schmidt, Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Louis Begley; New Line Cinema
Adaptation, Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean; Columbia Pictures
Chicago, Screenplay by Bill Condon, based on the musical play, book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb and the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins; Miramax Films
The Hours, Screenplay by David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; Paramount Pictures/Miramax Films
Animation--any length--one airing time (new category)
"The Bart Wants What It Wants" (The Simpsons), Written by John Frink & Don Payne; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Blame It on Lisa" (The Simpsons), Written by Bob Bendetson; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Godfellas" (Futurama), Written by Ken Keeler; 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Jaws Wired Shut" (The Simpsons), Written by Matt Selman; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"My Own Private Rodeo" (King of the Hill), Written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck; 20th Century Fox Television Productions in association with Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgmental Films and 3 Arts Entertainment; Fox
Santa Baby! Written by Peter Bakalian & Suzanne Collins; Rankin/Bass; Fox
Original Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
Dor to Door, Written by William H. Macy & Steven Schachter; Turner Pages, Inc.; TNT
The Gathering Storm, Teleplay by Hugh Whitemore, Story by Larry Ramin and Hugh Whitemore; a Scott Free Production in association with HBO Films; HBO
Sins of the Father Written by John Pielmeier, based on the magazine article that appeared in Texas Monthly by Pamela Colloff; Artisan; FX
Strange Relations, Written by Tim Kazurinsky; Showtime; Granada Entertainment; Showtime
Adapted Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
"Batogne" (Band of Brothers), Written by Bruce C. McKenna, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose; DreamWorks/Playtone/HBO; HBO
Hysterical Blindness, Teleplay by Laura Cahill, based on the play by Laura Cahill; Hysterical Films, Inc.; HBO
Last Call, Screenplay by Henry Bromell, based on the memoir Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald by Frances Kroll Ring; Room 520/Barnstorm Films; Showtime
Mark Twain's Roughing It, Teleplay by Steven H. Berman, based on the book Roughing It by Mark Twain; Larry Levinson Productions; Hallmark Channel
Episodic Drama--any length, one airing time
"Game On" (The West Wing), Written by Aaron Sorkin & Paul Redford; John Wells Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television; NBC
"In Place of Anger" (Six Feet Under), Written by Christian Taylor; Six Feet Productions; HBO
"Nino Del Polvo" (Resurrection Boulevard), Written by Robert Eisele; Showtime; Viacom Productions, Inc.; Patagonia House; Showtime
"On the Beach" (ER), Written by John Wells; Constant C Productions; Amblin Television; Warner Bros. Television; NBC
Pilot (The Education of Max Bickford), Written by Dawn Prestwich & Nicole Yorkin; 20th Century Fox Television; CBS
"Whoever Did This" (The Sopranos), Written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess; Soprano Productions, Inc.; HBO
Episodic Comedy--any length, one airing time
"Change of Address" (Sex and the City), Written by Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"I Heart NY" (Sex and the City), Written by Michael Patrick King; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
Pilot (The Bernie Mac Show), Written by Larry Wilmore; Regency Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television; FOX
"My First Day", (pilot, Scrubs), Written by Bill Lawrence; Touchstone Television Productions; NBC
"Plus One is the Loneliest Number" (Sex and the City), Written by Cindy Chupack; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"Rooms With a View" (Frasier), Written by Dan O' Shannon & Lori Kirkland & Bob Daily; Grub Street Productions in association with Paramount Pictures; NBC
"The Wedding" (Ed), Written by Rob Burnett & Jon Beckerman; Viacom Productions in association with Worldwide Pants, Inc. and NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety---Music, Awards, Tributes--Specials--any length
The Kennedy Center Honors Written by Don Baer and George Stevens, Jr., Film Sequences Written by Sara Lukinson; A George Stevens Jr. Presentation - Kennedy Center Television Productions, Inc.; CBS
NBC 75th Anniversary Special, Written by Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Charlie Grandy, Steve Higgins, Lorne Michaels, Paula Pell, Herb Sargent, Michael Schur, Michael Shoemaker; Broadway Video in association with NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety--(including talk) Series
Dennis Miller Live, Written by Eddie Feldmann, Jose Arroyo, Richard Dahm, David Feldman, Jim Hanna, Rob Z. Kutner, Kirsten McFarland, Dennis Miller, Jacob Sager Weinstein; Happy Family Productions; HBO
Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Written by Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Andy Blitz, Kevin Dorff, Jonathan Glaser, Michael Gordon, Brian Kiley, Michael Koman, Brian McCann, Guy Nicolucci, Conan O'Brien, Andrew Secunda, Allison Silverman, Robert Smigel, Brian Stack, Andrew Weinberg; Broadway Video; NBC
Mad TV, Writing Supervised by Scott King, Written by Dick Blasucci, Garry Campbell, Lauren Dombrowski, Bryan Adams, Bruce McCoy, Michael Hitchcock, Steven Cragg, Chris Cluess, John Crane, Jennifer Joyce, Tami Sagher, Devon Shepard, Rich Talarico, Jim Wise, Kal Clarke, Sultan Pepper, Bill Kelley, Maiya Williams, Dino Stamatopoulos; QDE/Girl Group; FOX
Saturday Night Live, Written by Tina Fey, Doug Abeles, Leo Allen, James Anderson, Max Brooks, James Downey, James Eagan, Hugh Fink, Charlie Grandy, Jack Handey, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Dennis McNicholas, Lorne Michaels, Corwin Moore, Matt Murray, Paula Pell, Matt Piedmont, Ken Scarborough, Michael Schur, Frank Sebastiano, T. Sean Shannon, Eric Slovin, Robert Smigel, Emily Spivey, Andrew Steele, Scott Wainio, Jerry Collins, Tom David; Broadway Video in association with SNL Studios; NBC
Guiding Light, Written by Millee Taggart, Lucky Gold, Christopher Dunn, Tita Bell, Jill Lorie Hurst, Penelope Koechl, David Kreizman, Eleanor Labine, Alan Madison, Danielle Paige, A.J. Pierce, Janet Reed Ahearn, Susan Rice, David Rupel, Melissa Salmons, Eddie Sanchez, Lisa Seidman, David Smilow; Procter & Gamble; CBS
The Young and the Restless, Written by Kay Alden, Trent Jones, John F. Smith, Jerry Birn, Jim Houghton, Natalie Minardi, Janice Ferri, Eric Freiwald, Joshua McCaffrey, Michael Minnis, Rex M. Best; Columbia TriStar; CBS
Elmo's World: Happy Holidays!, Written by Christine Ferraro; Sesame Workshop; PBS
Off Season, Written by Glenn Gers; Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Our America, Teleplay by Gordon Rayfield, Based on the book "Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago" by Lealan Jones, Lloyd Newman and David Isay; Joseph Stern Productions; All Media, Inc.; Showtime
The Red Sneakers, Teleplay by Mark Saltzman, Story by Jeffrey Rubin; Lynch Entertainment, Tom Lynch Company, RS Productions, Ltd., Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Bioterror (Nova), Written by Matthew Collins; A Nova Production by the New York Times/ Granada Factuals USA and Lone Wolf Pictures, Inc., for WGBH/ Boston in association with Channel 4 Television; PBS
The Man Who Knew (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk, Kirk Documentary Group; PBS
9/11, Written by Tom Forman & Greg Kandra; Goldfish Pictures, Inc.; CBS
Rollover: The Hidden Story of the SUV (Frontline), Written by Marc Shaffer & Barak Goodman; 10/20 Productions; PBS
Documentary--Other Than Current Events
America's First River, Part One, Written by Tom Spain; WNET/Educational Broadcasting Corp.; Public Affairs Television; PBS
Empire State Building Ironworker (A Day in their Lives), Written by Peter Hankoff; Termite Art Productions; History Channel; History Channel
Evolution of a Revolution (Founding Brothers), Written by Kelly McPherson and Melissa Jo Peltier & Allison MacEwan; MPH Entertainment Inc.; History Channel; History Channel
Monkey Trial (American Experience), Written by Christine Lesiak; WGBH Educational Foundation; PBS
News--Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
Attack on America Written by Jerry Cipriano, Paul Fischer, Thomas Harris, Hugh Heckman, Bruce Meyer; CBS Evening News; CBS
September 11th Controllers, Written by Jonathan W. Kaplan; CBS