Oh, that feeling when you start a brand new TV show. You become friends with the characters and feel like you’re actually a part of their story. You laugh when they do, cry when they’re sad, and plot revenge when they’ve been wronged. We’ve all been there. The worst part? When your favorite show comes to an end. Here’s the good, the odd, and the ugly of TV finales. Fair warning: spoilers ahead.
TV Finales Facts
1. Friends: “The Last One”
52.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the last episode of Friends in 2004. The two-parter saw all six friends leaving Monica and Chandler’s apartment together, everyone leaving their key behind. The pair were moving with their brand new baby twins, Jack and Eric, to a new home. Ross and Rachel finally ended up together, after 10 years of on-again-off-again on-screen angst. Phoebe and her husband Mike decided they were going to try for a baby.
And Joey? He went on to have his own short-lived show. The cast admitted to trying to stall production for this episode, as no one wanted it to end.
2. St. Elsewhere: “The Last One”
This finale left a few questions. Fans were left to question whether or not the entire series, which ended in 1988, happened in the imagination of Donald Westphall’s autistic son. The final scene pans out to show Tommy looking into a snow globe with the miniature hospital inside. Was it all in his head? Even the cast seemed a little confused by the ending, and a little sad too. With this ending. there would be no chance the series would be picked up again, further down the line.
3. Angel: “Not Fade Away”
The companion series to Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to an end in 2004. Angel and his crew were in the midst of a battle with thousands of demons, but there was no resolution at the end—the screen fades to black mid-fight. Who lived? Who didn’t? No one knows…Unless you’re a fan of comic books. After the finale aired, a comic book series was announced, and it picked up where the show left off.
Demons still abound, and Angel is still committed to saving people.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Chosen”
The aforementioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended just one year prior to Angel. The show, which followed a vampire-fighting, cheerleading teenage girl spawned from the movie of the same name, which released in 1992. What made Buffy different from the rest was her realism and empowerment of women. Women of all ages were able to get on board with this hero, not heroine, as creator Joss Whedon likes to point out.
Where Angel left questions of who is left after the big battle, Buffy fans get that closure. Viewers see the destruction left behind, get to mourn the fallen, and ponder with Buffy what may come next.
5. Seinfeld: “The Finale”
Co-creator Larry David, who left the series after the seventh season, returned to write the “The Finale,” which aired in 1998. The plot left many fans wanting, as the core four were found guilty of failing to help a carjacking victim and were sentenced to a year in prison. The episode brought back many favorite characters, but it wasn’t enough to help fans feel they got the closure they had been looking for.
Even still, “the show about nothing” lives on in syndication.
6. Six Feet Under: “Everyone’s Waiting”
Where Seinfeld left viewers wanting more, the creators of Six Feet Under did the complete opposite in 2005. Every major character had their fate revealed through flash-forwards, and shows their ultimate ends—appropriate for a show about a funeral home. The show also lets fans in on one last plot point—for all five seasons, the show was seen through Claire’s eyes. Her story also just happens to be the last we see, as her eyes close and the screen goes to black.
7. Roseanne: “Into That Good Night”
It was all a dream. Sort of. In the final season, the Connors win $108 million in the Illinois state lottery and we see how that affects their lives. The only problem? It never actually happened. Dan passed away after his heart attack, and Roseanne turns to writing as a coping mechanism. She imagines her life as she wished it could have been, and that’s what gets played out on screen. Of course, the reboot brought him back without explanation—but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
8. Will & Grace: “The Finale”
Another TV show that is making a comeback, and re-writing history, is Will & Grace. The show’s series finale aired in 2006, but was brought back in a new incarnation. The original finale had Will and Grace go their separate ways—for two decades. Grace gets back together with her ex-husband, and Will finds love with Vince. Both couples have kids and raise them separately, something that the two hadn’t contemplated doing—they had wanted their kids to grow up together.
The 2017 version negates all of that, and Will and Grace are still living together in harmony.
9. Breaking Bad: “Felina”
When this series began, Walter White finds out he has cancer. In an effort to take care of his family, he starts cooking up some real illegal substances. During the 2013 finale, Walt still makes sure his family is taken care of before his passing, but admitting to his wife what cooking was for him—that he enjoyed it and that it kept him going.
Loose ends get tied up, and everything lines up perfectly for Walt before he faces his maker—with his cooking materials surrounding him.
10. How I Met Your Mother: “Last Forever”
After 10 seasons, fans were left heartbroken over the 2014 ending of How I Met Your Mother. Our hero, Ted, has sought out the love of his life, only for her to get sick and pass away in the final episode. His next move? Going to Robin for comfort, on all levels. As the episode is coming to a close, Ted talking to his kids, his daughter points out that his story was not about how he met their mother, but how much he loved Robin.
This left most fans upset—not enough focus on the Mother and her tragic passing—mere seconds compared to the rest.
11. Mad Men: “Person to Person”
The last scene we see in the final episode is the famous “Hilltop” ad for Coca Cola, and we, the viewer, are led to believe that Don Draper is the creator. On the whole, many fans had the belief that it didn’t quite work as a finale episode, and weren’t overly thrilled how the stories tried wrapping themselves up.
12. The Hills: “All Good Things”
Wait, you mean, it wasn’t all real? Say it ain’t so, MTV! After Lauren Conrad left the show a season earlier, MTV brought in bad-girl Kristin Cavallari to fill her spot. The final episode, which aired in 2010, has Kristin leaving town, leaving Brody Jenner behind in her wake. The last scene is emotional as her car drives her away, but then—there’s a twist.
Why is the Hollywood sign behind Brody moving? Suddenly the camera pans out and we see Brody standing on a Hollywood set. Kristin’s car returns and they hug it out. It was a way of saying that the reality show wasn’t quite reality. But then again, MTV also released an alternate ending, where we don’t get to see the Hollywood set.
Instead, Brody ends up at Lauren’s place, and she asks if he’s okay. He says he is, that he was just “saying goodbye to a friend.” “It’s hard to say goodbye,” she responds, before laughing in a knowing way.
13. M*A*S*H: “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”
125 million viewers tuned in to say goodbye to the show about the Korean War in 1983. Eight writers combined their talents to create the movie-like finale, as it lasted two and a half hours. During filming, however, a brush fire broke out, setting ablaze much of the ranch set. Instead of rebuilding, the fire was just written into the storyline where the North Koreans set off an incendiary device that caused the fire to occur.
It wasn’t even the final episode shot—that honor belongs to the second-to-last episode, “As Time Goes By.”
14. Frasier: “Goodnight, Seattle Pt. 2”
If you’re a fan of the show, the finale’s title may seem familiar. “Goodnight, Seattle” is how Frasier himself signs off his radio show. During his final show within the show, the TV show’s producers and creator can even be seen behind the soundproof glass. As a heart-wrenching nod, Niles and Daphne name their new baby boy after one of the producers, David Angell, who was killed along with his wife just three years earlier during the 9/11 attacks.
The show, which was a spinoff from Frasier’s character on Cheers, ended with a bit of twist. Though he had accepted a new job in San Francisco, when Frasier’s plane lands, the pilot welcomes his passengers to Chicago—where his potential soul mate, Charlotte, had just moved. Though fans will never know how this twist would end, they sure hoped for the best.
15. Star Trek: The Next Generation: “All Good Things…”
Trekkies unite! This installment of the Star Trek family came to an end during a two-hour movie which aired May 23, 1994. Captain Picard finds himself jumping around in three different time periods, including 25 years in the future where familiar faces have passed on, and technology has advanced even more than originally planned.
The script for this finale was written at the same time as the script for the movie Star Trek: Generations, and would often get mixed up with one another.
16. The Sopranos: “Made in America”
No one knows exactly what happened to Tony Soprano in the final episode of the show, which aired in 2007. Three theories have popped up though: the first being that nothing unusual happened, the second being that FBI agents arrest Tony, and the last that he’s killed, and the show cuts to black to emphasize his passing. This last theory has fans thinking it’s the most credible, as the screen always fades to black after a character dies, and David Chase, the show’s creator, had originally wanted the finale to have three minutes of black before the credits rolled.
Many fans even thought their cable had cut out because of the abrupt ending of the show.
17. Dexter: “Remember the Monsters?”
Long story short? Dexter fakes his own passing to evade being caught, a thought he had in the season four finale. Show producer John Goldwyn announced that Showtime, the network the show aired on, manipulated the ending of the series so that Dexter doesn’t die. Instead, he essentially pulls the plug on his sister, walking away from her as she’s dying in her hospital room.
18. Lost: “The End”
The only two actors who knew what the finale would entail were Matthew Fox (Jack Shepard) and John Terry (his father, Christian). That’s when disaster struck. Fox almost suffered a deadly injury during filming, when his character was stabbed by Terry O’Quinn (John Locke AKA The Smoke Monster) when O’Quinn grabbed a real knife and not the fake one. Lucky for Fox, he was wearing Kevlar padding.
At an event three years following the finale’s airing, show producer Carlton Cuse answered the one big question fans wanted to know: was everyone dead right from the beginning? “The characters definitely survived the plane crash and really were on a very real island. At the end of the series, though? Yep, they were all dead when they met up in heaven for the final ‘church’ scene.” Well, there you have it, folks.
19. Cheers: “One for the Road”
As of 2007, the finale for Cheers was the fourth-highest rated series finale of all time. The big question of Sam and Diane ending up together (they didn’t) caused quite the controversy amongst the writers, to the point where Shelley Long had to go back to her other commitments, and the final scene was done without her.
That scene was also filmed with no studio audience, so a laugh track had to be added in. After the credits during the original broadcast, “Thanks for having us over on all those Thursday nights” appears onscreen.
20. Gilmore Girls: “Bon Voyage”
In true Gilmore Girls fashion, things don’t go as planned. Lorelai and Rory are supposed to go off backpacking around Europe, but Rory gets a job—get this—following then-Senator Barack Obama around during his presidential campaign. The town of Stars Hollow goes into a frenzy, with Luke organizing a graduation/send-off party that gets rained on—of course!
The show ends where it began—in Luke’s Diner, but not without a little tension. The show’s original producers left before the last season after contract talks fizzled. But then again, it picks up a decade later on the Netflix four-episode revival, A Year in the Life (with the original producers). We’re still anxiously waiting to find out if the revival will have another season.
21. Mary Tyler Moore: “The Last Show”
The eight main characters never appear together in one episode until this one, and even then, not all in the same scene. The new station manager at WJM-TV decides to fire everyone, including Mary herself, and except for Ted—who is widely perceived to be the reason the Six O’Clock News is failing. However, it’s Mary who turns off the lights and closes the door after everyone leaves singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”
After the original broadcast, Moore introduced the cast to the audience, calling them “the best cast ever.” It would be the only time that all eight appeared together.
22. Newhart: “The Last Newhart”
In an effort to keep the ending secret, a fake script was leaked, where Bob Newhart’s character gets hit by a golf ball and dies, goes to Heaven and meets God—played by George Burns, naturally. For the actual finale, Newhart’s real-life wife suggested that he wake up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the 1970s show, The Bob Newhart Show, which completely throws everyone (including the cast) for a loop.
Some 30 million viewers tuned in on May 21, 1990, to discover that the whole series ended up being a dream.
23. Pretty Little Liars: “Til DeAth Do Us PArt”
If you watched Pretty Little Liars over the course of its seven seasons, you waited for this episode like a child waiting for Christmas morning. Just when you thought you knew what was going on, the show took you somewhere completely different. And that’s exactly what happened in the series finale. Plot twist: Spencer Hastings has a twin (!) and it is she, Alex Drake (A.D.) who has been terrorizing the girls. Also, she has a cockney accent.
Series writer I. Marlene King had said in an interview that she wanted A.D. to be a series regular, but not one of the girls’ significant others. The final scene also sets up a brand new version of Liars, called The Perfectionists.
24. Gossip Girl: “New York, I Love You XOXO”
Just as Pretty Little Liars unveiled who A.D. was, we the viewer finally discover who the elusive Gossip Girl is in the show’s finale. Voiced by Kristen Bell, the audience is led to believe that G.G. is a girl. Wrong! Dan Humphrey, played by Penn Badgley, revealed himself to be the blogger who knew all, and the rest of the crew takes it surprisingly well.
The other main event? Blair and Chuck get married. Oh, and then Dan and Serena get married in a flash-forward. All’s well that ends well. XOXO.
25. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: “I, Done: Part 2”
The room gets a little dusty when you watch the final scene of this finale. The entire Banks family moves out to the east coast, but Will stays behind to finish college. He stands alone in the house where he came to know what family meant, though he had done his best to stop the house from selling. And Geoffrey? He got to go home to England to be with his son. All the feels right there. Especially when he carries Hilary’s bags out of the house for the last time…just because he wanted to.
26. Home Improvement: “The Long and Winding Road: Part 3”
There was some real-life tension on the set of Home Improvement. In fact, it got so bad that it caused Jonathan Taylor Thomas to skip the finale. According to Tim Allen, he said to Thomas that he was confused as to the reasoning behind Thomas leaving the show in the eighth season. Thomas had said he wanted to go to school but wound up doing a couple of films.
Thomas had returned to film a holiday episode for season eight, which is when this all went down. The rest of the cast wasn’t too thrilled about it, either. “It’s a pretty sore point around here,” his TV mom, Patricia Richardson, told TV Guide.
27. Everybody Loves Raymond: “The Finale”
Filming for this episode was delayed twice when both Patricia Heaton and then Doris Roberts became ill and couldn’t speak on filming days. The episode sees Ray going in for a routine surgery, but the doctors can’t rouse him from the anesthesia. The whole family (minus his mother, Marie, since she’s gone off to the bathroom) starts freaking out, but the doctor comes out and tells them everything is fine, that Ray has indeed woken up.
According to Nielson ratings, this last episode garnered the highest-ever audience for the show in its nine-year run, at 33 million.
28. Married…With Children: “Chicago Shoe Exchange”
The fate of Married…With Children was still up in the air when the finale aired in 1997. When Fox decided to cancel it, they did it in an utterly cold-hearted way. They didn’t even tell the cast. A vacationing Ed O’Neill found out from a couple who read it in a newspaper and Christina Applegate from two of her friends.
O’Neill said in an interview that he had wanted to make one final episode after learning of the cancellation, wherein the Bundy family wins the lottery but then get demolished by a tornado while celebrating. Though “Chicago Shoe Exchange” is the last episode Fox aired, many consider “How to Marry a Moron” to be the final episode.
29. Happy Days: “Fonzie’s Spots”
Howard Cunningham, played by Tom Bosley, broke the fourth wall at the end of the finale episode when he looked right at the camera and said “Thank you all for being part of our family-to happy days”. Chronologically, the episode was number 251 out of 255, due to some extra episodes airing the summer that followed its airing.
Not a bad number, considering Happy Days was almost canceled after its first season due to low ratings, it would last for 11 seasons, coming to an end in 1984.
30. Boy Meets World: “Brave New World: Part 2”
Boy Meets World ended when its ratings were the highest they’ve ever been, but Ben Savage and Rider Strong were both accepted to Stanford and Columbia, respectively, and wanted to carry on with their lives. Danielle Fishel has said that her tears during the episode were real, and to be honest, who can blame her?
The final scene with Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric in the classroom with Mr. Feeny was only done in one take, as they had all become so emotional that any more than one shot would have been too difficult. Pass us the tissues, please!
31. Growing Pains: “The Last Picture Show: Part 2”
The final scene of Growing Pains had the family gathered together in the living room, eating pizza…but there was a heartbreaking story behind it that few fans knew about. Tracy Gold, who was struggling with anorexia at the time—and missed several episodes of the final season as a result—had a really hard time with that scene, so she just pretended to eat it. “I forgot how to hold a piece of pizza,” she explained to Oprah during an episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now?
The cast would reunite for The Growing Pains Movie in 2000, where the kids all return home to help their mom run for Congress.
32. Who’s the Boss?: “Savor the Veal: Part 3”
ABC had planned on ending the show at the end of the seventh season, but producers managed to wrangle one last season, with Tony and Angela finally getting together. The writers originally pitched Tony and Angela marrying in the final episode of Who’s the Boss? but ABC executives, and Tony Danza, didn’t go for it.
The pair instead break up but come together again when Tony shows up on Angela’s doorstep, applying for the housekeeper job. Sound familiar? It should! The scene is how the show originally started.
33. Golden Girls: “One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest”
The show was going to come to an end after season five, but Bea Arthur agreed to stay on for two more seasons, despite not getting along well with her co-stars. When Golden Girls ended in 1992, it was transformed into The Golden Palace, which only lasted for one season. During the final scene, when Arthur’s Dorothy is saying goodbye, the other three Girls were told she would come back to the door to say goodbye, but instead went to the side door, resulting in surprised reactions.
After saying goodbye the second time, the Girls thought she would come back again, and them looking for her that time is completely genuine.
34. Murphy Brown: “Never Can Say Goodbye: Part 2”
Just like in Gilmore Girls with the never-ending search for a maid, Murphy Brown had a total of 93 secretaries over the ten-year run of the show. The final episode sees Brown undergoing surgery to find out if she has cancer, and while under the anesthesia she interviews God, who convinces her to keep working at FYI.
Diane English, the show’s creator, had left after season 4 but came back for the final season. In an interview with EW, she said, “I know a lot of people were afraid that she was gonna die. But we were a comedy series, so no, we wouldn’t do that.”
35. ER: “And in the End…”
In a nod to the pilot episode, the finale takes place over a course of 24 hours, with both episodes directed by Rod Holcomb. The 14th season was supposed to be the last, but because of the WGA strike in 2007-2008, producers and NBC felt like there weren’t enough episodes to give the series a proper send-off. For the only time in the series’ 15 season run, the final scene is a pan-out of the entirety of the hospital.
36. The Office: “Finale”
After the finale aired, NBC ran a series of articles online to discuss what happened to various characters. But there was a big surprise for fans during the finale. Steve Carrell also came back for the last episode, after previously stating he wouldn’t. It all came together in the end, with with Dwight and Angela getting married and everyone coming back together a year after their PBS documentary aired.
“I thought it was weird when you picked us to make a documentary,” Pam says. “But, all in all, I think an ordinary paper company like Dunder Mifflin was a great subject for a documentary. There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things.”
37. Dallas: “Conundrum”
After 14 seasons and waiting to find out who shot J.R., Dallas came to an end in 1991. Many former cast members returned for the finale, except for Victoria Principal. She believed it would be coming back for another season, and would only have returned if she knew 100% that it was, indeed, ending. It did end, with J.R. Ewing on the brink, going on an It’s a Wonderful Life-esque journey to find out what would have happened to his family if he never existed.
During the TV Guide Network’s TV’s Most Unforgettable Finales in 2011, it would rank 13th.
38. Sons of Anarchy: “Papa’s Goods”
A murder: a killing or a slaughter; a name for a flock of crows. The Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original members are commonly known as crows. The final song played in the series is “Come Join the Murder” by The White Buffalo & The Forest Rangers. We like what the show did there, very clever. When Jax crashes his bike into the truck (and dies), there are two crows in the road, just like in the premiere.
39. Sex and the City: “An American Girl in Paris: Part Deux”
What’s your name, Big? Turns out it’s John, as that’s what appears on Carrie’s cell phone. And that sidewalk that Carrie walks down while she talks to him? According to writer Michael Patrick King, it’s the same sidewalk from the opening credits, but she’s going the opposite way this time, symbolizing her coming full circle and finding love.
In an interview, show creator Darren Star felt the ending was almost a betrayal of the show he envisioned. “Unless you’re there to write every episode, you’re not going to get the ending you want.”
40. House: “Everybody Dies”
Much like other finales, House makes a small nod to its premiere episode “Everybody Lies.” In the finale, House is facing prison time, and so, as one does on TV, fakes his own passing in a building fire. His best friend, Wilson, only has a short time to live, and so the final scene has the two of them riding motorcycles down a road into the sunset.
House has that moment of self-realization, noting that he wants to change his ways, even after Wilson dies.
41. Castle: “Crossfire”
Fans weren’t happy when they found out that Stana Katic would not be returning for a ninth season, a choice made by ABC. The finale ended up being the season’s highest-rated episode and could have been enough to bring the show back even without Katic. Two endings were filmed: the first, your typical cliffhanger. The second, everything coming together. And that’s the ending that fans got, with Castle and Beckett together with their three children.
Later, the dark truth behind-the-scenes was revealed. It was also revealed after the news that Katic wouldn’t be returning, that she and Nathan Fillion (Castle) had pretty much hated each other for years. They even had to go to couples counseling together during that last season. Yikes.
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