In 1983, more than 121 million viewers tuned in to watch the series finale of M*A*S*H, marking the largest American television audience in the history of the medium. That’s more viewers than any Super Bowl, political convention, or Kardashian sister has ever managed, a feat that is plausibly insurmountable simply because of how vast TV has become, as it overflows with one season wonders. It’s remarkable that Hawkeye, Hot Lips, Radar and Klinger were so special to people that more people than the populations of Italy and England combined made it a priority to send them out in style.
How did M*A*S*H do it? The producers, writers and actors held nothing back and they put together a powerful closing performance that captured the show’s humor and drama in a satisfying way, or at least good enough that everyone felt content with the outcome. Then again, the Internet wasn’t available in 1983 for bloggers and anonymous commenters to rip the finale to shreds, so who knows how it would have turned out today. The point is that 27 years ago, writers knew what the viewing audience wanted. They stayed true to their vehicles and rewarded fan loyalty with quality endings, as opposed to making viewers think their power went out, or even worse – cancellation.
While the series finale has certainly become an endangered species, we’ve seen enough over the past few decades to have a sense of which treated their viewers properly and which pooped all over their dedication. Unfortunately, most of my favorite shows left me baffled and heartbroken. As a writer, I always hope that my peers in the TV industry will do what’s right. When they don’t, I’m disappointed and I often wonder what I would have done differently. In fact… *strokes hairless chin*
How It Ended: The gang at Cheers are watching the cable ACE awards… at a bar… that famously only has one TV… and they see their old friend and Cheers employee Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) accepting an award for Troop Beverly Hills, and Sam Malone (Ted Danson) decides to call her because he has no pride remaining apparently. Sam finds out that Diane is married with kids and he lies and says he’s married with kids, and invites her to bring the family for a visit to Boston, because men are really stupid enough to go after a chick who has been squirting out kids. Anywho, she indeed visits, Sam’s fake marriage to Rebecca Howe (a still hot Kirstie Alley) is exposed and then Diane’s “husband” turns out to be a gay guy pretending as well.
Sam and Diane decide to get back together, but then they break up again at the airport and they say goodbye once and for all, because if they didn’t they were going to make everyone puke. Sam returns to Cheers and Norm, Cliff, Frasier and all the customers leave Sam to close up for the night. A final customer comes to the door and Sam says, “Sorry, we’re closed.”
How It Should Have Ended: Sam is exposed for having used performance enhancing drugs while with the Boston Red Sox, causing him to fall off the wagon and become a violent drunk. He sees Diane on TV, becomes enraged and takes it out emotionally on Rebecca, who then finds salvation in Scientology and six square meals per day at the Golden Corral. After a serious bender, Sam awakens in a dark room, sick and confused. He turns on the light and sees a lifeless Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) next to him. Realizing that he had slept with and murdered his most loyal female friend, Sam decides he needs to flee the country to avoid spending his life in prison. However, his horrible drinking spree has left him penniless, leaving him to his only recourse – calling in Norm’s tab. Overwhelmed at this financial burden and the betrayal by his idol Sam, Norm unsuccessfully turns to prostitution. Cliff Claven arrives at the bar, dressed in a black trench coat and wielding an AK-47. He proudly announces to the customers, “This postman… only rings once.” Fade to black as only gunfire and screams are heard.
How It Ended: *takes a deep breath, crosses fingers* The finale featured two endings – the flash-sideways ending and the original timeline ending. Both of the endings involve some magical white light, which I suppose is the answer to every question. What’s up with the smoke? White light. Vicious polar bear? White light. Hurley’s inability to lose weight despite not being exposed to fatty foods? White light. How they never addressed the reality of no deodorant after all those years? You guessed it – white light. In the flash-sideways ending, everybody is dead and in their happy afterlife place. The whole gang is at a church for Christian’s funeral, but it’s not really a funeral, and all the Lost people play grabass one last time.
In the general timeline’s ending, Locke is trying to destroy the island at its source, but he needs Desmond to do so. Desmond, though, is in a well, which makes sense because I always hide in wells. He was probably there for some other reason, but I don’t care. Fake John Locke and Jack lower Desmond into the magical glowing pool, and he pulls the plug on the giant fancy bathtub. Turns out Jack was wrong and the island is about to be destroyed. Jack and fake Locke have a final battle to the death, even though Locke keeps telling him it doesn’t matter because the whole island is going to sink, and Locke stabs Jack in the chest. But before he can stab Jack in the neck, Locke is shot by Kate’s fine ass. Then Jack kicks him over the edge of the cliff, stumbles around while everybody else escapes and then dies next to Vincent the dog.
(And I can’t wait to be told how wrong I am about all that nonsense.)
How It Should Have Ended: As the finale approaches, new mysteries begin to pop up in each episode. Forget answering old mysteries, this is about creating the ultimate mindf*ck and really throwing the ultimate curveball at your loyal viewers. I’m not talking about a terrible ending, I mean something great that they can really remember. The stranded characters begin to hear strange noises that become louder and louder, as if the island is being invaded by mutants or aliens or ancient mystical creatures. Jack and Sawyer step up to take on this pending doom, and they lead their friends into what seems to be a final battle for the island, only… IT’S SPRING BREAK! Thousands of horny coeds and crazy frat boys invade Hydra Island for an entire week of unadulterated hijinks. Claire and Kate end up in a highly publicized lawsuit with Joe Francis and Girls Gone Wild, while sadly, Jack still dies. Of syphilis.
How It Ended: Picking up with the plotline of Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza (Jason Alexander) as the writers of a TV pilot, Jerry receives a call from NBC that the network is picking up his show about a man who is forced to be the butler of another man because he didn’t have car insurance. While that seems more like a CBS project starring Tony Danza and Andrew Dice Clay, Jerry and George are offered the network’s private jet for a vacation to any destination of their choice. But that Kramer, boy is he bonkers! He’s got water in his ear still from a previous trip to the beach and his jumping around causes the plane to nearly crash. The gang ends up stranded in a small Massachusetts town, where they witness a fat man being mugged and don’t do anything to help him. This violates the state’s new Good Samaritan Law, and they wind up in court, facing serious jail time.
The prosecution paraded a number of the show’s most famous characters, from the Soup Nazi to library detective Bookman to Mabel “Marble Rye” Choate, in order to prove that Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine Benes are truly terrible people. The jury and judge Art Vandelay eventually find in favor of the state and sentence them to five years in prison. We close with the four friends arguing away in their private cell.
How It Should Have Ended: I was always very fond of this Saturday Night Live sketch:
However, the prison sentence plot didn’t really resonate well with the show’s massive audience, and it left a bitter taste in the mouths of the fans of arguably the best comedy in TV history (my vote is News Radio, argue below). I liked the idea of the crew having to atone for their sins, especially with their destiny controlled by the many characters that they wronged along the way. I would have liked to have seen the plane crash and the gang die, an incident that they could have undoubtedly pulled off with great comedic flair. Instead of a Massachusetts courtroom and a jury, Jerry and Co. land in purgatory and have their sins weighed for judgment between Heaven and Hell. It’s certainly more controversial, what with an imposed religious aspect, but it’s just more… final. Obviously they’d be damned to hell, each paired with their own form of torture. Jerry would spend eternity with Newman, Kramer would be employed, George would be married, and Elaine would have a throng of Jewish men endlessly wooing her. And they’d all be forced to settle for fattening yogurt while everyone else ate delicious mulligatawny soup.
How It Ended: After nine years of allegedly being working class America’s sitcom, the story of Roseanne Conner came to a close in the most ridiculous fashion imaginable. The show had long forgotten what comedy was, as it mirrored Roseanne Barr-Arnold-Whatever’s real life fall from grace. But it wasn’t the finale that sucked, it was the phenomenally terrible 8th season, which featured the family winning the lottery and dealing with a new social status. The finale reversed all of that, though. In fact, it reversed so much of the show’s ridiculous developments, that it ultimately became the joke. Roseanne’s husband Dan (John Goodman) suffered a heart attack but had originally survived. In the finale, he’s dead. The daughters are both married, but in the finale they’re married to their brothers-in-law. Basically, Roseanne reveals that everything that has happened in the nine seasons of the show has been a figment of her imagination, because she’s writing a book about her life. Make sense? Of course it doesn’t. There’s so much more asininity to the finale that would only leave you begging for release from this wretched existence, so I’ll spare you.
How It Should Have Ended: How about simplicity? Darlene and Becky are married to their respective husbands, have their kids and they move into their own houses close by, with the promise to visit with the grandkids all the time. D.J. goes to college or something, and Dan and Roseanne get a dog and settle into their new quiet existence. Boring? Hell yeah! But it’s certainly better than a two-part ending that features an a capella rendition of the show’s theme song and a sermon on the working class woman from the source of the most famous desecration of the National Anthem in American history.
How It Ended: TV’s most beloved medical drama ended with a solid tribute to the first season, and mainly to the show’s very first episode. The final episode featured the show’s doctors in little situations that represented the original doctors, such as a doctor being woken up by a nurse and especially the patients that were being treated. It’s difficult to find faults in the finale of a show that changed so much over 15 seasons. Nonetheless, the show went out with powerful stories – a mother gives birth two twins but dies during surgery, a teenager is treated for alcohol poisoning (based on the real life and death of a producer’s daughter), a HIV-positive homosexual male learns that he has cancer and chooses not to fight it, a child swallows a rosary, two women are treated for injuries after a drunken fight at a wedding, and a rush of patients are admitted after an industrial explosion. Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) reveals that he’s opened his own clinic for poor people and he recruits Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle) to work with him, having apparently sold his share of his family’s Soul Glo enterprise.
How It Should Have Ended: Forget the whole clinic for poor people nonsense. That stuff is so cliché. Let’s go the other way and send Carter off to meet up with his old friends Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney) and Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) after he receives a cryptic letter from them with a plane ticket to Thailand. When Carter arrives, he is chauffeured by a black limo to a lavish but well-protected compound. Inside, he is told to make himself at home while ushered into a private room. The room is nearly empty, almost plain with only a TV, DVD player and table. On the table is a large box with a DVD taped to the side and a simple note that reads: “Play me.” Upon viewing the DVD, Carter learns from Ross and Greene that they have been working a very private practice throughout China and the Koreas, and they’d like him to join them. Their sole practice? Organ trading. They tell him that if he’s in, he can open the box. Inside the box, Carter finds $1 million in cash and a syringe with a small vial. Ross continues to explain that in the next room Carter can find his first patient. He enters the next room and finds a young man strapped to a table, unconscious. He turns to his waiting assistant and coldly says, “Scalpel.”
Sex and the City
How It Ended: First of all, it bears pointing out that this was a show that wanted us to believe that a journalist could lead a lavish lifestyle of partying and drinking in Manhattan. Dead on, is what I always think as I’m folding my underwear at the laundromat. Despite the existence of two horrible movies, the Sex and the City series finale featured Carrie Bradshaw (Seabiscuit) questioning the fate of her love life as her beau Aleksandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov) keeps ditching her. Samantha is dealing with her cancer and subsequent chemotherapy, and has lost her desire to have sex so she lets her man go have sex with other women. Charlotte and her dork invite an expecting couple from North Carolina to visit because they’re looking to adopt. Miranda gets stuck with her man’s mother-in-law after she suffered a stroke, and Big takes off to Paris to slap a saddle on Carrie and ride off into the sunset.
How It Should Have Ended: Oh sweet Buddha, where to begin on this one? First of all, I know it’s TV, but these characters are so amazingly unrealistic. It’s like they created the four horsewomen of the menstrual apocalypse. These women are the Voltron of female issues. It’s like the writers collectively asked, “What four ridiculous situations can we pile on these women this week?” before writing each episode. But here’s how I would have ended it – Carrie is laid off after Vogue magazine goes under for paying writers apparently exorbitant salaries. She latches onto Big so she can suckle at his financial teat, while never working again. After three years of marriage she files for divorce and squanders his fortune. Miranda breaks up with Steve, because who the hell would volunteer to take care of someone’s mother-in-law? Samantha’s health insurance drops her because of her cancer treatment bills so she goes into MILF porn. And Charlotte’s adopted baby grows up to hate her. I know, way too realistic.
Charles In Charge
How It Ended: Sarah Powell (Josie Davis) is bummed that her class can’t go to Boston for some nerdy reason, so she plans a variety show to raise money for the trip. Ah, the 80s, when people actually had to do corny things to raise money instead of offering sexual favors on Craigslist or selling family heirlooms on eBay. Charles (Scott Baio) agrees to direct for her, despite never having a last name during the entire duration of the show. I’m just saying, I’d be pretty pissed. The Powell family, including Jamie’s (Nicole Eggert) hot self, and Charles’ best friend Buddy Lembeck (Willie Aames) all pitch in to help and all looks well for the family, whose parents are rarely ever home, mind you. But Charles is waiting to find out if he’s been accepted to Princeton, which is odd because he’s like 30 and has been in community college for six years. Charles bails on the variety show because he has to meet with a Princeton professor, but then he bails on the professor because of his obligation to Sarah, who ends up calling the professor to get him to come to the show, at which he welcomes Charles to Princeton.
How It Should Have Ended: Pretty much how anything with Nicole Eggert ended – with full-on nudity. Considering the final season of Charles in Charge featured at least three possible spin-off pilots, this show was way overdue to end. Hell, they had a running plot of Charles being hit on the head and turning into sleazy, womanizing Chaz, which Family Matters unceremoniously stole, by the way. But the lack of reality in this show makes it ultimately clear what should have happened, and it involves Charles going away to jail for a very long time and eventually having to introduce himself to new neighbors.
How It Ended: Using a terrible version of It’s a Wonderful Life, an angel shows a drunken, suicidal J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) what life would have been like if he’d never been born. Of course everyone would have been so much worse off without J.R. in their lives, so he reconsiders his suicidal thoughts and decided he can’t pull the trigger. But the angel turns out to be a minion of Satan and he encourages J.R. to paint the walls red, and J.R. wakes up and it’s all a dream… but it’s not! Because the demon is in the mirror now, and he’s telling J.R. to do it already, and J.R. puts the gun to his head and we here a gunshot and that’s it. That is, until five years later when the Dallas TV movie was aired and we find out that he only shot the mirror. Whatever.
How It Should Have Ended: The way everything ends in Texas – with violence and guns! Distraught over losing control of the family oil company, JR sets the Southfork mansion ablaze, pouring barrels of oil all over the estate and guarding the inferno with a shotgun, while wearing only a bathrobe, boxers, and a cowboy hat and matching boots. His family and firemen arrive to stop him and the fire but he fires off round after round at all of them. He rides off in a monster truck and isn’t heard from for a decade, when he resurfaces as the CEO of BP.
The Brady Bunch
How It Ended: The Brady Bunch didn’t actually have a traditional finale, because with the kids growing up into awkwardness and everyone in the cast having off-screen sex like drunken rabbits the show was already in a downward spiral. The show’s final episode featured Bobby (Mike Lookinland) trying to sell a homemade hair tonic. Greg (Barry Williams) accidentally uses it before his graduation commencement, leaving him with a giant orange afro. The stupid plot caused Robert Reed, who played the father Mike Brady, to question the writing and production, which led to him being written out of the episode. Ultimately, it was the final unraveling of the show.
How It Should Have Ended: Cousin Oliver. A gas can. A blowtorch. And a devilish ginger grin.
How It Ended: Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) spent the final season on a murderous rampage, exacting his revenge on the people who wronged him, including the Russian President and former U.S. President Charles Logan. When not outrunning Freddie Prinze, Jr. and his hellaciously inconsistent New York accent, Jack kills a bunch of people and finally gets his rifle sights on Russian President Yuri Suvarov, but then Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) talks him out of it and he has her shoot him so no other CTU agents will kill him. After President Allison Taylor has a breakdown over her knowledge of the assassination of President Omar Hassan, she orders the release of Jack. But Jack’s medical transport has already been intercepted by the Secret Service or some other black ops group, and right as Jack’s about to take one to the dome, President Taylor gets through and orders him set free. The show ends with Jack running off, out of camera view.
How It Should Have Ended: I would have preferred a two-hour showertime spectacular with Elisha Cuthbert, but I was pretty content with how the series wrapped up, seeing as it hadn’t been good since the third season. But this was a show that had balls and took serious chances. 24 gave us a black president (Pedro Cerrano) before the White House had Barry O. In fact, I wouldn’t change the majority of the series finale, but instead of Prinze, Jr. I’d have a turtle in a roller skate trying to track Jack down. Because I guarantee that it would act circles around that dud.
How It Ended: Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) pack up and prepare for their move to the suburbs, while Joey (I don’t remember or care) comes to terms with his best friends moving away. So of course he decides to move to Los Angeles and pursue his acting career, and somehow Jeff Zucker thought this was a good idea and gave it the green light, and people wonder why he was fired recently. Meanwhile, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is taking Emma to Paris, where she’ll be working for some fashion company, because she’s so stylish and hip. Ross (David Schwimmer) doesn’t like it so he pouts and pouts and pouts and pouts and pouts until he decides to go to the airport to stop Rachel. Seriously, throughout this entire series, the guy spent more time at airports than planes. Of course she decides to stay and we all threw up together.
How It Should Have Ended: With a plane crash. For a while they had us believing that Rachel could end up with Joey, and to that I just rapid fire *fart noises*. Friends was the prime example of the show that pooped the bed when they let Ross and Rachel get together so early on. Also, there were only like two black people on the show. Ever. I actually had an argument with a girl I was dating at the time, and she believed that Rachel and Joey should have been together and Ross should have ended up with Phoebe. I disagreed with her point, and countered that the show should have ended with Marcel the monkey infecting them with a rare jungle virus, which slowly melted their organs over the span of one day, and they would spend that day in quarantine together until Gunther was allowed to pull the plug. We didn’t date long.
How It Ended: Watch the awesomeness for yourself, but basically Tony (James Gandolfini) and his family are preparing to eat at a small restaurant, as they wait for Meadow Soprano (Jamie Lynn Sigler), who is running late because she was dating Turtle from Entourage and how the hell does that happen, anyway? Seriously, what deal did he sign with Satan and how can I get a contract? Ridiculous. But as for The Sopranos, I won’t even bother with any other details because this is far and away the worst series finale in history. The suspense is there – are they going to die in a blaze of blindsided bullets? Is Tony going to tell them he’s turning himself into the Feds as a rat? Is A.J. going to come out? None of it. They cut to black and play Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” What a crock of sh*t.
How It Should Have Ended: Anything other than cutting to black and playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Seriously, Tony could have been sent up the river as the mastermind of a criminal penguin fighting empire and I would have had more satisfaction. This ending was a total slap in the face. You can’t tell, but I’m totally doing that thing with my hand and my chin like angry Italians do.
And just because I’m an all-seeing prognosticator of all things entertainment industry, I’ve talked to some of my network sources and have obtained these spoilers of how some of today’s most popular shows will end.
How It Will End: With a collective sigh from all of the men who are being forced to watch this awful show by their overbearing girlfriends and wives.
How It Will End: With Vincent Chase sitting on top of the world as one of Hollywood’s elite, young A-list thespians, the gang will run into their biggest obstacle yet. And they’ll solve it within the first six minutes of the episode and spend the rest of the show making it seem that life in Hollywood is super easy and even the biggest dipstick shoe fetishists can date hot actresses. The finale will end with Vinnie accepting the Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia 2: AIDS Harder.
How It Will End: Unfortunately, my favorite new show of the past decade will not be able to go on due to mysteries surrounding the show’s adorable, dough-eyed actress Alison Brie. It seems that someone keeps breaking into Alison’s house at night and shaving her head, subsequently leaving her humiliated. In related news, no those aren’t hair dolls on my desk.
Two and a Half Men
How It Will End: The same way it started – with nobody laughing.