Every life has many endings, and so does every TV show. With last week's sad death of actress Suzanne Pleshette, both came into strong focus. Shows that are lucky enough to last into a final season - and know it - often try to go out with a wrap-it-all-up, what-happens-to-the characters kind of finale that few programs get a chance to do.
Most are cancelled before the writers - when they're not on strike - can wrap everything up. And some get a big goodbye, but don't live up to the hype - like "Seinfeld", "Friends" or "Cheers." Others, such as "Third Rock From The Sun" or "Frasier", are satisfying but hardly history making.
But sometimes, there are magical moments, when a beloved series gets to leave on its own terms, before the axe falls. With the late Ms. Pleshette in mind, here's a look at a completely subjective list of the greatest TV farewells in history. Some will surprise you. Others you will never have seen on a list like this before. And a few you'll violently disagree with - although chances are, the top two are the same in just about anyone's TV guide.10) Cop Rock (1990)
Maybe the worst show with the best final ending. This was a rare Steven Bochco ("Hill Street Blues", "La Law", "NYPD Blue") flop, in which the police and criminals would break out into song several times in the middle of each program. It was quickly cancelled, but not before Bochco managed to work in a surprise ending. About 54 minutes into the last episode, one of the characters starts talking about how the show has been cancelled - and then everyone breaks into a chorus of the Roy Rogers theme, "Happy Trails To You, Till We Meet Again." The show and its surreal ending have rarely been seen since, much to the relief of critics who roundly condemned every episode.
One of the strangest and most cerebral single season TV shows in history. Patrick McGoohan played a former spy (assumed by many to be his character John Drake on the previous Danger Man/Secret Agent Man series) who resigned suddenly without explanation. He was kidnapped and exiled to a mysterious 'village' until he'd spill the secret behind his actions. But "Number Six" steadfastly refused to reveal the reasons, and the show became an allegory about the individual against society. In the final convoluted but still fascinating 17th episode, Six's quest to find out who Number One is, is finally realized - the person he's been battling all this time appears to have been himself.
The finale ends with him going back to his London apartment, followed by the mysterious butler from the Village and the telltale automatic door opening - a prisoner still?
An exceedingly strange ending to an exceedingly strange show, but one they would eventually give college courses to study.
For half a Wonder-ful decade, this series waxed nostalgic for a more innocent time, when first kisses and zits were the thing you had to worry about most. But in the final episode, Kevin Arnold (narrated as an adult to perfection throughout the entire run by Daniel Stern) finally revealed what happened to all the characters, only to conclude with "after all these years, I still look back, with wonder."
The voice of his own son is then heard asking him to play ball outside, to which he replies, "I'll be right there."
The most creative doctor show in history had an ending reviled by viewers and critics. Yet those who had a deep seated appreciation for its unorthodox approach to TV (including hidden in-jokes and references to the TV industry sprinkled throughout its clever dialogue) should have expected nothing less.
In the last episode, St. Eligius Hospital is slated to be torn down and the doctors relocated. Suddenly, the building starts to shake, but not in the way you'd expect from a demolition. The scene suddenly switches to a cheap apartment living room, where one of the chief physicians enters wearing a hard hat and speaks to another who died in a previous episode, as he reads a newspaper.
Both watch the younger man's autistic son as he stares at and shakes up a snow globe with the hospital inside it. "I just don't understand this autism thing, Pop," the former Dr. Westphall tells his Dr. Auschlander-turned-father. "He sits there all day long in his own little world, staring at that toy. What's he think about?" The implication - the entire series was in his imagination.
Viewers were aghast but in retrospect, it was the perfect finish for a show that specialized in irreverence.
Most will complain about lumping these in together and only reaching number six. But both were on the same cable network and both enjoyed an incredible reputation for quality. In the former, the finale shows how all the main characters associated with a funeral home eventually die, a fitting ending to their profession, their lives - and their show.
In the latter, the screen goes to black right before an apparent whack, leaving hundreds of thousands of viewers screaming at their cable company. The show stopped at that point, with the final moments of mafia kingpin Tony Soprano and his family forever frozen in mystery.
This show, based on the real life murder case of Dr. Sam Sheppard and later made into a big budget blockbuster starring Harrison Ford, concerned the plight of Dr. Richard Kimble, who was convicted of killing his wife despite knowing a one-armed man did it. He escaped and went on the run for four seasons, always followed by the detective who originally caught him hot on his heels. And then came August 28, 1967, "the day the running stopped", as intoned so dramatically by the show's narrator, William Conrad.
Kimble finally managed to catch up to the real killer and they fought it out on top of an abandoned amusement park tower, resulting in the murderer's death and a long awaited exoneration. It was the highest rated episode in TV history up to that time, attracting more than 30 million viewers - or about 70 per cent of everyone watching television.
It seems only appropriate that this show should follow the one before it, because it smashed the former finale's viewing record. After 11 years - far longer than the actual Korean War lasted - the TV series M*A*S*H* signed off with a 2½ hour finale that culminated in B.J. Hunnicutt refusing to say goodbye to his bunkmate Hawkeye. But as the latter surgeon's chopper lifted off from the 4077th for the last time, he spotted a final message written in the stones below: "Goodbye," it read.
The episode wasn't the best one in the series' storied history, but it was hyped so highly that it became the most watched regular non-sporting event in the history of the medium, attracting an astounding 106 million eyeballs - or 77 per cent of the TV audience, a feat likely never to be repeated.
An 'odd' choice for the bronze? Maybe, but rarely has a show's ending ever been so satisfying, so hilarious and so consistently true to the characters it depicted. After years of trying to get his wife back, Felix Unger finally gets Gloria to agree to remarry him. In the final episode, his roommate Oscar Madison endures countless threats that may force the cancellation of the reunion - and his chance to finally rid himself of his pesky housemate.
Felix and Oscar's dreams are both realized and it comes down to an astounding final scene between the two that neatly sums up both characters before they were sent off into rerun heaven. Felix thanks Oscar for taking him in and curing him of his neurotic ways, then salutes him by overturning a garbage can on the floor in his honour.
Oscar then tells him he's going to return the favour by cleaning it up. The two shake hands and Unger leaves to resume his old/new life. After a beat pause, Madison looks down at the mess and shrugs. "I'm not going to clean it up," he says, disgust in his voice. He walks off frame for good.
As the audience applauds, Felix opens the door to the apartment he called home for five seasons and begins to put the garbage back in the can. His final pronouncement ends the series: "I knew he wouldn't clean it up," he scoffs, as the scene - and the series - both fade to black.
The gold standard of finales and a program considered by many to be one of the greatest endings of all time. The new owner of WJM-TV has a choice to boost the ratings: keep the staff and fire incompetent anchor Ted Baxter or leave Ted alone and get rid of everyone else. He chooses the latter and in a final scene mixed with equal amounts of tears and laughter, the characters and the actors both say goodbye to each other, with a group hug that involves them moving together in unison around the newsroom.
Mary Richards (and Mary Tyler Moore) thanks them for being "her family" and they all troop out singing the First World War song, "It's A Long Way To Tipperary", the way Ted bid them farewell on their last newscast together. Mary then returns and turns off the lights, ending one of the greatest shows - and finales - in broadcast history. The episode would take the Best Comedy Writing Award at the following year's Emmys and remains one of TV's most memorable half hours.
There was one last scene which has sadly been replaced in the rarely seen reruns of the show. In the final credits, Mary is seen introducing the "finest cast in the world", who bring her flowers as they take their last bows and she breaks into tears.
Regardless of how you rate the others on this list, few will dispute this as the greatest single TV farewell in the history of the medium - which brings us full circle back to the late Suzanne Pleshette, who was such an integral part of it.
The show concerned an author-turned-Vermont inn owner named Bob Loudon, who was surrounded by an oddball assortment of characters. In the history-making last episode, a Japanese mogul buys out the entire town, with plans to turn it into a golf course. Bob refuses to sell and eventually gets hit on the head by a golf ball, causing him to lose consciousness.
When he wakes up in a darkened bedroom, he nudges his spouse and starts to tell her about this 'strange dream' he had about living in an inn, and the odd characters that populated it. And when his wife turns on the light, the audience goes bananas - it's Emily Hartley, Newhart's wife from his previous series in which he played a psychologist.
Everything, right down to the bedroom furniture, is the same. And it's Bob Hartley who speaks. "Well, I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont," he tells her as she stares at him dryly from the other side of the bed. "Nothing made sense in this place. I mean, the maid was an heiress. Her husband talked in alliteration. The handyman kept missing the point of things. And then there were these three woodsmen..."
Pleshette turns to Bob and in that famous gravelly voice tells him that's the last time she'll let him eat Japanese food before bedtime.
The surprise factor, the originality and the fact they managed to keep the big secret hidden from a nosy press and adoring public until the show aired justifiably makes it the unanimous choice amongst most critics as the most amazing TV finale of all time.
|< Prev||Next >|