David Boreanz on 'Angel'
(May 4, 2006)
"Will & Grace." "The West Wing." "Alias
." "7th Heaven." "That '70s Show." "Charmed." "Malcolm in the Middle."
All these series will end their long runs over the next few weeks, with fans hoping for impactful, memorable finales. That, however, doesn't always turn out to be the case.
Thus, here are our nominees for the best and worst series finales in television history to date (listed by category and alphabetically).
"Cheers" (1993): Shelley Long returned for a final shot as Diane Chambers, who almost married bar owner Sam Malone (Ted Danson), and the other longtime regulars at the Boston establishment "where everybody knows your name" had their stories nicely wrapped up in tune with closing time at Cheers. The final words Sam uttered to a late-arriving patron -- "we're closed" -- couldn't have been more accurate nor more poignant. (Those who stuck around that night were also treated to a raucous farewell party on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show.")
"The Fugitive" (1967): Wrongly accused of killing his wife, Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) saw his four-year nightmare end when he pursued the actual one-armed murderer (Bill Raisch) up a tower -- with Kimble's own relentless pursuer, Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), playing a pivotal role in the outcome. That same satisfying ending was denied Tim Daly's 2000-01 update of the series, although the 1993 Harrison Ford movie added its own spin.
"M*A*S*H" (1983): Directed by series star Alan Alda, the Korean War comedy's 2 1/2-hour finale remains one of the highest-rated programs ever broadcast. The characters' farewells ranged from amusing to poignant, but the one that still gets us right in the throat is the respectful salute given Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan) by otherwise unmilitary Army surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicut (Alda, Mike Farrell). And the final message spelled out in stone from B.J. to Hawkeye was also meant for the show's viewers.
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1977): Moore made the decision to end her television-newsroom sitcom while it was still riding high, allowing for a beautifully crafted finale both funny and touching -- and also ironic, since self-important, much-mocked anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) became the only employee retained by WJM-TV's new management. Lou Grant's (Edward Asner) declaration, "I treasure you people" -- which preceded his staff's en-masse move toward the exit and a chorus of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" -- echoed the sentiment of countless fans.
"The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1992): Late-night television hasn't been the same since the alter ego of Aunt Blabby and Carnac the Magnificent left its landscape, and he made the anticipation of missing him greater with his final show. It was simply Carson front and center, seated on a stool and introducing memorable moments -- and thanking regulars Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen, as well as those who had watched for nearly 30 years. Simply put, a very classy exit for an extremely classy man.
"Angel" (2004): This wasn't as rough as it could have been, since executive producer Joss Whedon got ample warning from the network that the end was nigh. Still, it wasn't the happy ending some fans may have wanted. Vampire-with-a-soul Angel (David Boreanaz) and his demon-fighting team went down swinging against supernatural foes, but at the cost of some of their lives. Maybe all of their lives, in fact, since we never saw the end of the fight.
"Quantum Leap" (1993): Sometimes a producer will write a cliffhanger ending just in the hope it will inspire the network to renew the show. The plan can backfire, and that's what happened with this time-traveling science-fiction drama, causing a last-minute rejiggering that ended with the frustrating statement, "Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home." Since the point of the show was that Beckett (Scott Bakula) righted wrongs throughout time in the hope that the next leap would take him home, fans were understandably cranky.
"St. Elsewhere" (1988): This frequently loopy medical drama turned its own universe upside down in a finale that polarized loyal viewers. After many seasons of bizarre occurrences, constant in-jokes and the occasional visit to purgatory, the show revealed that all that had happened merely existed inside a snow globe -- and the imagination of an autistic boy. It probably sounded really cool in the writers' room, but on screen, it just came off as a pretentious cheat.
"Seinfeld" (1998): The comedy resorted to a courtroom format to review its characters' histories and, in this case, find them guilty of doing "nothing" and give them a bit of a comeuppance. While half the western world tuned in, the overblown, meandering episode was no fitting end for a show known for sharp writing. Spare us from all series-finale meetings that start with, "Wouldn't it be cool if they were put on trial?"
"The X-Files" (2002): Two things went wrong with this series closer, court-themed like that of "Seinfeld." First, the show should have gone out after seven seasons, when star David Duchovny was itching to leave -- but FOX couldn't kill the golden goose, so it limped along for an additional two. Second, with one feature film based on the franchise in the can and the (as-yet-unrealized) possibility of another looming, no sort of definitive finale was even possible. So we wound up with a talky, anticlimactic snore.