The 10 Best TV Series Finales I Ever Saw
In honor of the last episode of ‘The Game of Thrones,’ I decided to make a list of what I’d call my favorite TV series finales that I’ve watched.
In the series finales of television shows, producers can go one of two ways. They can either tie up all of the loose ends or they can end on a huge cliffhanger.
The nostalgic part of me prefers the former, even if it means I may have to grab a Kleenex or two!
I’ve never watched an episode of Game of Thrones, but in honor of its final curtain, I decided to compile a list of the best series finales I’ve watched over the years.
I just rewatched this episode the other night and it still packs the same emotional punch after all these years. When it aired in 1983, wrapping up 11 seasons of the series about an American medical camp in South Korea during the Korean War, it gave viewers everything they could have asked for.
All of the major players got their moments in the spotlight. There were laughs and tears. There were poignant moments. And there were a few surprises that still stay with us.
The final goodbyes at the end, as everyone departs the 4077th to head for the next chapters of their lives still gets the tears flowing, right up until the final shots when B.J. Hunnicut, who’s been unable to actually tell Hawkeye “goodbye,” leaves that one-word message spelled out in stones for him to see as the final chopper takes off from the helipad.
2. ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’
This two-hour episode featured Capt. Jean-Luc Picard jumping back and forth between the present, the past and the future where he had to solve a mystery affecting all three time periods and threatening life as we know it.
The show beautifully recreated the look of the first season while giving us a peek into the U.S.S. Enterprise of the future and giving us an idea of what becomes of the cast.
But it ends with, of all things, a poker game, a perfectly routine ritual, in which everyone gathers for a final round of play. If you were a fan of the show, this one was worth watching.
3. ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’
The finale of this show was treated like a normal episode but there was definitely a feeling of finality to it. Ray has to have surgery to remove his adnoids, and for a split second, nurses have difficulty bringing him out of anesthesia. Once everyone catches their breath, everyone is fine, but the challenge for the rest of the episode is to make sure neither Ray nor his mother learn of the near-disaster.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a sitcom if they didn’t find out.
After nine seasons of complaints about how much Ray’s parents, brother and sister-in-law are always over, it ends quietly the next morning at the breakfast table with everyone crowded around.
“I think we need a bigger table,” Raymond says as the camera slowly pulls back.
In the finale, Monica and Chandler take their twins and prepare to leave for the suburbs and the gang reflects on their time over the past 10 years in the now-vacant apartment.
When Monica tells Chandler that she promised the landlord they would leave their keys, all six get up and place their keys on the kitchen counter, a testament to how involved and how much a family the six friends have been to one another.
Rachel asks if they have time for coffee before they leave once and for all. As they approach the door, Chandler asks, “Where?” which, if you watched the show, is funny because of how much time was spent at Central Perk, the neighborhood coffee shop.
As the friends leave, the camera pans across the apartment, giving one last look at the place fans had gotten to know so well.
5. ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’
There has never been another late-night talk show host like Johnny Carson and I’m confident in predicting that there never will be. After 30 years, Carson retired and for a final show, there were no guests.
The show reminisced over all of the many people who’d joined Johnny on stage and had a nice few final moments with announcer Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen.
For the final goodbye, Johnny returned to the spot where he opened each show for an emotional goodbye.
The band played one of Johnny’s favorite tunes, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and credits ran over a beautiful sunset photo taken by Johnny’s son, Rick, who had died the year before in a car accident.
6. ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’
Moore’s Mary Richards had landed her dream job at WJM-TV in Minneapolis, working in a television newsroom with a strange collection of characters. The program was groundbreaking because, as Wikipedia put it, “a central female character who was not married or dependent on a man was a rarity in American television in the early 1970s.”
After seven seasons, the show came to an emotional end as the owner of the station decided to fire everyone except the bumbling anchor, played by Ted Knight, who was the first one who should have been fired for ineptness alone.
But the occasion gave Mary a chance to give a tearful thank you to her co-workers and start a group hug.
They all composed themselves long enough to march off together singing the old World War I song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as Mary pauses long enough to turn off the lights in the newsroom.
7. ‘The Fugitive’
The premise of The Fugitive demanded almost exactly the ending the series received. Almost.
For four years, viewers watched Dr. Richard Kimble (played by David Janssen), who had been falsely convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to death, avoid capture while searching for the real killer.
That real killer was the elusive “one-armed man” who Kimble saw leaving the vicinity of the Kimble home just before Kimble found his wife dead.
Kimble managed to escape from a train headed to the death house after his conviction. He escaped while in the custody of Lt. Philip Gerard, who mercilessly pursues him week after week.
In the next-to-last episode, Gerard finally captures Kimble. But they pursue the one-armed man to an amusement park where the killer and a second man, who turns out to be the Kimbles’ neighbor and an actual witness to the murder.
Kimble confronts the killer at the top of a tower. During a fight, the killer confesses but then tries to kill Kimble. From the ground, Gerard shoots the killer.
Kimble realizes the confession is of no use since he’s the only one who heard it. But Gerard pressures the neighbor to agree to testify for Kimble, which should clear him once and for all.
It was a great ending to the series except for one minor detail: we can only assume Kimble will be cleared. But given the miscarriage of justice on which the entire premise was based, that’s an uncomfortable assumption.
The Bob Newhart Show had been a hit in the 1970s in which Newhart played a psychologist who lived with his wife Emily, played by Suzanne Pleshette, in Chicago. Newhart, on the other hand, put Newhart in the role of Dick Loudon, an author who moves from the Big Apple to a small rural Vermont town with his wife Joanna, played by Mary Frann, to buy and run a bed and breakfast.
When Newhart came to an end after eight seasons in 1990, it was Newhart’s wife in real life who came up with a rich ending no one saw coming.
And as series finales go, this one remains one of the most talked about.
In the finale, a wealthy Japanese man buys up the village in which the Loudin’s inn stands with plans to turn it into a golf course and resort. As Loudin contemplates the end of his inn, he’s struck in the head by a wayward golf ball and wakes up in bed.
As he turns on the lamp on the nightstand, the studio audience, which had been kept in the dark about the final scene, began to recognize the set of his 1970s sitcom, and sure enough, it was Pleshette, not Frann, whom he woke up to tell of his strange “dream.”
The audience howls when they see Pleshette:
The secret was kept even from the crew until the last possible moment, so it was genuinely surprised by what they saw.
It remains one of the most creative ways to end a series to this day.
9. ‘St. Elsewhere’
The finale of St. Elsewhere was one of the series that influenced Bob Newhart’s wife to suggest the unique ending for Newhart.
In this episode, all of the events over the last six seasons at St. Eligius Hospital in Boston. It was not a hospital with a great reputation, despite having a perfectly capable medical staff.
In the final episode, the hospital, which had been saved from the wrecker’s ball in earlier episodes, turns out to be fictional.
The last scene inside the hospital features Dr. Westphall and his son, Tommy, looking out the window and watching the snow. The scene then switches to the outside of the hospital and then the inside of an apartment building where Westphall and his father, Daniel Auschlander, a “doctor” at St. Eligius who had died earlier in the episode, who are now talking about the challenges of raising a child with the condition.
The entire series, we now learn, was created Tommy’s mind. When Westphall tells Tommy to wash up for dinner, the snow globe is placed on a television and as the camera slowly zooms in on the snow globe, there’s a replica of the St. Eligius building inside.
10. ‘The Cosby Show’
In the final episode, Cliff and Clair Huxtable celebrate the graduation of their son, Theo. The episode features almost all of the cast from seasons past and wraps up with an unusual final scene.
Cliff tells Claire after Theo leaves to party with friends that he has fixed the malfunctioning doorbell and asks her to ring it. Fearing for her safety, she laughingly declines.
Cliff rings it and we begin to hear the first notes of Miles Davis’s “If I Were a Bell” as Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad begin dancing and then break the fourth wall and walk off the set to the applause of the audience.
That’s my list. There are certainly finales I’ve left off my list that you’d have on yours!