By Charles Apple
When a TV series ends, does it go out with a typical episode? With a “clip show,” revisiting moments over the life of the series? Or does it take the premise of the series a step further and make a creative leap that leaves fans aching for more?
Thirty years ago tomorrow, the sitcom “Newhart” aired its series finale with one of the more memorable sendoffs TV has ever seen. Here’s a look at 14 final episodes that you might remember – or you might wish you remembered.
Caution: There are lots of spoilers here...
March 19, 1977 - CBS
The new station manager of WJM-TV fires the entire Six O’Clock News team – all except for doofus anchor Ted Baxter. After their last broadcast, the gang engages in a group hug – and a group shuffle for a box of tissues – and march out singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”
Feb. 28, 1983 - CBS
The sitcom about a war that lasted three years itself lasted 11 seasons. In the series finale, each of the major characters gets a turn playing a dramatic moment, they say their goodbyes and go their separate ways. 121.6 million viewers watched the final episode, setting a record that would stand for 23 years.
May 25, 1988 - NBC
After a dramatic series of goodbyes and exits, the camera pulls back of snow falling on St. Eligius hospital to reveal the hospital building is a miniature building embedded in a snow globe owned by an autistic boy – suggesting the entire six-year run of the show was all in the little boy’s mind.
May 21, 1990 - CBS
After eight seasons playing an author and owner of a Vermont bed-and-breakfast, Bob Newhart pulled off one of the all-time greatest TV gags in the season finale of his second sitcom, “Newhart.”
After a foreign firm buys the entire town – except for the Stratford Inn – and turns it into an enormous golf resort, Bob grows frustrated with his old friends as they come back to visit. He’s then hit in the head by a stray golf shot.
When he wakes up, he finds himself in bed with Suzanne Pleshette. The audience howls with delight as they recognize the scene as a familiar one from Newhart’s previous sitcom, “The Bob Newhart Show,” which had run for six seasons beginning in 1972.
Bob recounts to Pleshette’s character, Emily, his dream about owing the Inn and the eclectic personalities that surrounded him. She blames the whole thing on a bad choice of food at dinner.
May 20, 1993 - NBC
Sam reunites with Diane – who had left the show six seasons before. They get engaged and Sam makes plans to leave for Los Angeles. But while sitting on the plane, Sam realizes he can’t leave his first true love: His bar, Cheers. The finale ends as Sam straightens up the place and tells a customer: “Sorry, we’re closed.”
May 23, 1994 - Syndication
Captain Picard’s nemesis, the omnipotent being Q, causes Picard to leap among three time periods in his lifetime to unravel a key mystery of the universe. Most fans thought this finale was a better story than the movie that followed.
Oct. 19, 1994 - CBS
The environmentally unfriendly WESAYSO company has accidentally killed a species of insects, setting off a chain reaction that brings on a new ice age. Which means death for everybody. It was a pretty dark ending for a sitcom and one featuring Henson-designed puppets with huge kid appeal.
May 14, 1998 - NBC
Nine seasons of the “show about nothing” come to a close when Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer are arrested for cracking jokes at a man being carjacked and then, after testimony from a parade of former guest stars, are convicted of “criminal indifference” and sent to prison.
May 24, 1999 - NBC
Twenty-two years in the future, Paul and Jamie’s grown-up daughter, Mabel – played by Janeane Garofalo – is filming a documentary about her parents showing their split and then rediscovering their love for each other. “Mad About You” would be revived in 2019 for Spectrum on demand.
Aug. 21, 2005 - HBO
The series about a family of undertakers ended with a premature birth and then family members making future plans and saying their goodbyes. The final moments of the finale tracks each major character into the future and shows their deaths – shot in a robbery, a heart attack, of old age in 2085.
June 10, 2007 - HBO
The ruthless mobster arranges to meet his family in a diner. Every time someone enters, Tony Soprano looks at the door – an occupational hazard in the death-dealing business he’s been in for six seasons. A man walks in and... sudden cut to black. Bonus points for use of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Sept. 29, 2013 - AMC
Knowing his days are numbered because of his cancer, Walt evades the national manhunt for him, distributes his $9.72 in drug money to a trust fund for his son, frees his former partner Jesse, mows down the bad guys with a jury-rigged machine gun and then dies – with a smirk – as police rush in.
Feb. 19, 2015 - CBS
In a surreal ending to 12 tumultuous years, Charlie, played by another actor standing in for Charlie Sheen, shows up unexpectedly but – Bam! – a piano falls on him. The camera pulls back to reveal series creator Chuck Lorre, who says: “Winning!” And then – Bam! – a piano falls on him, too.
May 17, 2015 - AMC
Advertising executive Don Draper – at the end of a multi-episode identity crisis and meltdown – finds himself seated in the lotus position at a spiritual retreat. As he meditates, a sly smile crawls across his face. He’s had a brilliant idea for a TV campaign for key client. We won’t spoil which one.
Sources: Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, CBS News, Business Insider, Esquire magazine, the Internet Movie Database, TV Maze, BestLife.com