Memorable TV Finales
Tony Soprano sat down with his wife, Carmela, and dunderhead son, A.J., at a local diner in the closing moments of the final episode of David Chase’s landmark series and viewers around the world leaned in, drooling not because of the onion rings the family consumed, but for the prospect of finally seeing the amoral Soprano finally get what was coming to him. And then…the screen went dark. Nearly everyone thought their cable had gone out. But no, it was just Chase’s confounding and ambiguous ending to his series that never went for easy answers. After the initial outrage, the conclusion has gone on to become a classic ending and the final moments (before the blank screen) have been pored over more times than the Zapruder film. Who’s the man in the bathroom? What’s the eucharistic symbolism of the onion rings? Did Tony get whacked? Only Chase will ever know for sure.
The last episode of “30 Rock” was two finales in one: The show hinged on the ending of fake sketch comedy “TGS with Tracy Jordan.” “TGS” employees are moving on to other projects — Jack finds his happiness in transparent dishwashers, while Liz finds hers in family and Grizz’s new sitcom. Other highlights: Jenna, not yet a Broadway star, highjacks a Tony moment, and after much effort, Lutz gets to pick lunch. And the series turns out to be a pitch for Liz’s future granddaughter to Kenneth, the ageless head of NBC.
The second, more contemporary retelling of the story of a ragtag fleet of spacecraft — chased by killing machines that they created — ended with an epic flourish. Hand-to-hand battles, spaceship-to-spaceship fighting, genocidal arguments … all within a dangerous asteroid field and being pulled into a star. It was a science fiction-based show dropped in a bit of the supernatural at the end, with major characters dying, an enemy becoming an ally, possible angels (still being debated), and a crew that had been on a ship-turned-pressure cooker finding Earth (or an Earth-like planet) and settling down.
‘How I Met Your Mother”
After nine long seasons of dating and waiting, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) reveals both the long and short versions of the story of how he met the mother of his two children in an hour-long finale that aired March 31, 2014. It tied up each of the gang’s story lines but delivered two major shockers (salute!). The short version: They come face-to-face at the Farhampton train station as he bows out of Barney and Robin’s wedding. The two bonded over their shared history involving the mother’s yellow umbrella, which was woven throughout the series. “Funny how sometimes you just find things,” the mother (Cristin Milioti) says, revealing that her name is Tracy McConnell, “TM,” like Ted Mosby. Yes, they’re soul mates. The long version: “See kids,” he tells them, “right from the moment I met your mom, I knew I have to love this woman as much as I can, for as long as I can and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. … And I carried it with me when she got sick.”
‘Six Feet Under’
After killing off one of its main characters two episodes prior to the series finale, “Six Feet Under” needed something more than young Claire Fisher moving to New York to offer closure. In a quick montage backed by soothing electro-pop, the earthly finales of each one of the series’ major characters is revealed, spanning over 60 years in a few short minutes.
Ross, Rachel. Rachel, Ross. For 10 years the sitcom practically revolved around whether these on-again off-again “friends” would ever wind up together, waiting until a much anticipated series finale to reveal their future. Three guesses on how that turned out.
The gold standard (at least from a ratings perspective) in series finales, the end of the 4077th came with the end of the Korean War. The most watched episode in television history, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” ended with B.J. Honeycutt (Mike Farrell, center) leaving a farewell note to his helicopter-bound friend, Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda, left).
In a two-part resolution that spanned divergent timelines and parallel universes, the cult sci-fi series “Fringe” wove together key elements from all five of its seasons. It said farewell to fans in thrilling and poetic fashion as Walter Bishop, who once jeopardized two worlds for his family, sacrificed himself to save the future and his family, saving humanity from a conquering force and giving his son Peter and friend Olivia Dunham their daughter back.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’
Filled with returning characters and violent confrontations, the end of Joss Whedon’s cult favorite even featured the entire town of Sunnydale completely disintegrating. Here sisters Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Dawn (Michele Trachtenberg) share a moment of relief after their escape.
After six years and many thousands of promises that all would eventually be revealed, “Lost” fans tuned into the series’ two-and-a-half-hour finale with the expectation they’d come out the other side indoctrinated in the island’s every secret. What they got — some feel-good mumbo jumbo and a whole lot of half-answers — divided the fan community into two camps: those who left satisfied and those who continued to sit in front of the screen long after Jimmy Kimmel had signed off later that night saying, “That’s it? Seriously? That’s it? Come on. Really?”
‘Friday Night Lights’
“Friday Night Lights” scored a touchdown with its series finale. After five years of spending time with the beloved inhabitants of Dillon, Texas, the NBC series proved that Coach Eric Taylor knew what he was talking about: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” The ending tied up all loose ends and gave us a heartwarming glimpse into the future of our favorite football players, their families and the unforgettable Taylors. As Tim Riggins likes to say, “Texas forever.”
Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer found themselves on trial for crimes against human decency in the finale of the “show about nothing.” Though many of the episode’s 76 million viewers were let down by the show’s incarcerated conclusion, the ending offered an opportunity to revisit many of the series inside jokes and characters for a final time—at least until the next syndicated episode.
‘Mary Tyler Moore’
Betty White, Gavin MacLeod, Edward Asner, Georgia Engel, Ted Knight and Mary Tyler Moore signed off in style in 1977, when everyone in the newsroom (except for the clueless Ted Baxter) was fired. The episode was regarded as the “gold standard” of finales by one of the creators of “Friends.”
One of the most popular sitcoms of the ‘80s, “Cheers” saw its last call come in 1993 after 11 years. Known as much for the surrounding hype (which included a “pre-game show” hosted by Bob Costas) as the finale itself, the episode featured a return of Sam Malone’s (Ted Danson) long time love interest, Diane Chambers (Shelley Long).
Shown with producer Bruce Paltrow, St. Eligius hospital ended its televised life in a manner that still confounds fans today. After transitioning to a shot of one of the “doctors” coming home in construction clothes, the series ends on a shot of a snow globe held by autistic child Tommy Westphall. Containing a tiny replica of the hospital, some have argued this points to the entire series existing only in the child’s imagination.
Television veteran Bob Newhart teamed with Mary Frann in this ‘80s sitcom about a writer-turned-rural innkeeper in an increasingly quirky Vermont town. Voted the most unexpected moment in TV history by TV Guide, the show ends with Newhart waking up next to Suzanne Pleshette, wife of Newhart’s ‘70s sitcom character Bob Hartley. “Honey, you won’t believe the dream I just had,” Newhart says.
Destined to be compared to HBO’s “The Sopranos” in the annals of TV history, FX’s harrowing cop drama “The Shield” also wound down its run without a word. But while Tony Soprano’s life was cut with a literal blackout, Vic Mackey’s (Michael Chiklis) mask finally comes off for four lonesome minutes of guilt self-realization setting in. Mackey is alone in the world. But then, in the show’s final moment, the office lights go down on his cubicle and the mask goes back up. A career-defining episode for series creator Shawn Ryan and star Chiklis.