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10 Unforgettable TV Series Finales

The shows that left us wanting more

By Kurt Anthony Krug     March 11, 2009

10 Unforgettable TV Series Finales
© Mania/Bob Trate


One of the traits of a good, successful TV series is having a memorable finale that allows it to go out in the proverbial blaze of glory. While there have been fine TV series since the dawn of television, there have only been a few that ended with a big bang.


10. Dallas

The night-time soap opera ends its 13-year run with “Conundrum,” a different take on another It’s A Wonderful Life riff. A despondent J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), the show’s antagonist, wants to kill himself. But the mysterious Adam (Joel Grey) shows J.R. what life would’ve been without him had he never been born. Turns out Adam’s a demon, not an angel, and his boss (the devil, obviously) really likes J.R. Adam encourages J.R. to blow his brains out. Off-screen, you hear a gun fire as a horrified Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) rushes in and shouts, “Oh my God!” J.R.’s fate is unclear, although it was revealed in a reunion telefilm that J.R. didn’t shoot himself, undermining a decent finale. Then again, this was the series that resurrected Bobby via the shower, so what do you expect?

9. St. Elsewhere

“The Last One” was definitely a WTF moment that inspired plenty of water cooler talk the following day. Turns out the events that went on at Boston-based St. Eligius Hospital (a.k.a. St. Elsewhere) was nothing more than the product of a daydream of Tommy, the autistic son of Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders), who in reality is a construction worker and not a doctor. Tommy has a snow globe with a replica of St. Eligius Hospital inside. Notice the boy’s name is Tommy, which is a homage to The Who’s Tommy. Since St. Elsewhere was referenced in other shows (Cheers) and mentioned characters from other shows (M*A*S*H, Chicago Hope), were those shows products of Tommy’s imagination as well? The things that make you go “hmmm…”

8. Star Trek: The Next Generation

In “All Good Things,” Q (John DeLancie) puts humanity on trial once again like he did in the very first episode, “Encounter at Far Point,” with Captain Jean-Luc Picard serving as its sole representative. In order to save humanity, Picard skips through time, arriving in the past (particularly during the events of the first episode, smoothing out some of the rough edges of an uninspired first season), the present, and the future. Denise Crosby, a regular from the first season, returns as Lt. Tasha Yar. At the very end, once Picard saves humanity, he is seen joining his command crew for a game of poker. This marks the first time Picard plays cards with his compatriots in a poignant conclusion.

7. The Shield

In “Family Meeting,” corrupt cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) really gets his comeuppance. Although he strikes a deal to stay out of prison for his long list of crimes and is granted immunity, he might as well be in the big house. His ex-wife Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) fears for hers and their children’s lives, and have gone into the Witness Protection Program to get away from him; Vic has no clue where they are. He is relegated to a desk job and taken off the streets. He is also blackballed within the police department; his co-workers despise him and have ostracized him. Ol’ Vic is truly alone and he realizes that karma can be a very harsh mistress.

6. Angel

The WB cancelled the successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off days after the 100th episode aired. In “Not Fade Away,” creator Joss Whedon ties everything together and crafts an unforgettable ending. Lorne (the late, lamented Andy Hallett) shoots dead villain Lindsey McDonald (Christian Kane). Wesley Wyndham-Price (Alexis Denisof) meets a gruesome death, but he’s comforted by Illyria (Amy Acker) posing as his beloved Fred (also Acker) in his final moments. Angel (David Boreanaz) throws quite the monkey wrench in evil law firm Wolfram & Hart’s plan for the apocalypse. In the end, Angel, Illyria, Spike (James Marsters), and a mortally wounded Gunn (J. August Richards) face down an army of demons. “Let’s go to work!” Angel declares, swinging an axe, then everything fades to black. The point of this cliffhanger ending is Angel’s never done fighting per the DVD commentary. Thankfully, IDW Publishing produced a canonical sequel to this story in comic book form.

5. Battlestar Galactica

The Galactica crew finally reaches Earth after their final battle with the Cylons in “Daybreak, Part 2,” a sad yet uplifting finale. However, there is no advanced technology on Earth and the human beings are primitive. Abandoning technology, the crew spreads out across the planet. President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) succumbs to cancer, leaving behind a grieving Adama (Edward James Olmos). Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) disappears when Apollo (Jamie Bamber) looks away for an instant, feeling her job is done. It’s been debated that Starbuck was an angel. The cool twist is that 150,000 years pass and the scene cuts to “our” Earth, specifically New York City of the 21st century. Number Six (Tricia Helfer) says that all of the technology running rampant reminds her of Kobol, hinting that history is doomed to repeat itself as Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” plays in the background.

4. The Sopranos

“Made in America” shows the aftermath of a brutal gang war between various mafia families. With the aid of the FBI, mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) negotiates a truce with the rival families. Afterwards, things return to some semblance of normalcy for Tony and Carmela (Edie Franco). In the last scene – told from Tony’s POV – Tony and his family are eating at New Jersey-based Holsten’s diner with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” playing in the background. Tony gets up to use the bathroom in what is a Godfather tribute, looks up, and then… nothing. The music is abruptly cut off and the scene fades to black for several seconds. This scene is open to some debate with regard to Tony’s fate – is he dead or alive? Many schools of thought believe he’s dead, that someone whacked him. This scene has been parodied throughout pop culture, most notably Family Guy.

3. Six Feet Under

“Everyone’s Waiting” has won critical acclaim from publications such as “Entertainment Weekly” and “TV Guide,” and it is regarded as one of the best series finales ever made. In it, the episode begins with a birth and not a death, which is a nice twist. What happens next is all the characters move on with their lives; to get into detail would take up too much space. The kicker is that the viewer is given a glimpse into the future of what happens to each and every character, ending with their respective deaths (it is a series about a family that runs a funeral business, remember).

2. M*A*S*H

While M*A*S*H is arguably considered a sitcom (it’s really a dramedy before the term was coined), it makes the list because the series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” was the most-watched single television episode ever, bringing in 105.9 million viewers. It was dethroned – just barely – over a month ago with Super Bowl XLIV bringing in 106.5 million viewers. The Korean War ends after 3 long years (although the series itself lasted 11 years) for the personnel of the 4077 as Hawkeye (Alan Alda) regains his sanity. Each main character gets a memorable send-off, climaxing with BFFs Hawkeye and B.J. (Mike Farrell) saying farewell to each other. As Hawkeye’s chopper takes off, he sees that B.J. has spelled out “GOODBYE” with stones – bidding adieu to not only Hawkeye, but also to the audience – as “Suicide is Painless,” the show’s theme song, plays in the background.

1. The Fugitive

“The Judgment” was the highest-rated series finale until the M*A*S*H finale in 1983. About 25 million people tuning in to see the final showdown between Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), Lt. Gerard (Barry Morse), and the One-Armed Man (Bill Raisch). In the end, Kimble is cleared of murdering his wife and starts a new chapter in his life with a possible new love interest by his side, making his peace with Lt. Gerard. This series inspired a 1993 blockbuster movie of the same name with Harrison Ford and a short-lived 2000-01 TV series remake of the same name with Tim Daly.
If you are a fan of TV, check out the 12 hottest women of Genre TV. If you are wondering how LOST is going to end, check out Joe Oesterle and Tara Perry in a special edition of The Movie Maven.   You should catch up on the latest Lost news and reviews HERE as well.

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BIGGKIDD 3/11/2010 12:41:25 AM

Personally I think MASH should have been #1.  I remember watching it when it first aired what a great send off to a great series.

sportwarrior 3/11/2010 12:47:22 AM

I agree with biggkidd...  MASH's original airing was before my time, but I saw a majority of the show through midday re-runs while I was working on homework and/or studying in college.  The finale was executed perfectly, I thought.  Great way to end the series.

Then again, I never once have seen The Fugitive, so I guess it's possible MASH was one-upped somehow... but I doubt it.

tiberiuscan 3/11/2010 4:01:57 AM

Since you are including non-genre TV shows I would vote for the Newhart finaale. Bob wakes up in a familiar bedroom next to his TV wife Suzanne Pleshette, to discover the entire series of Newhart was a dream and he is still in 'The Bob Newhart Show'. The minute I saw the lamps I knew what was coming. :)

dbrock06 3/11/2010 5:11:38 AM

The Sopranos ending really left me unfulfilled.  I am not sure I would have included it on this list.

The Everybody Loves Raymond Finale actually ended the Series on a nice note.  As much bickering as there was, they realized that they loved and needed each other. 

The Shield finale should be number one.  If you have not seen this show, you can got o your library and rent it.  I couldn't stop watching.  Literally 4-5 episodes a night, and they are 45 minutes long.  It was a great way to end a great show.   Do yourself a favor and watch it.  It is most definitely worth it.

EagleManiac 3/11/2010 5:16:00 AM

MASH should be #1, but Star Trek: TNG should have been #2!

karas1 3/11/2010 5:25:40 AM

And where is Blake's 7?  Our Heros are killed off one by one in a gun battle and only Avon is left surounded by enemies.  He smiles, raises his gun and it cuts to black.  There is one gunshot, then a dozen more (as, one presumes, Avon is torn to shreds by gunfire), more poingant as it is left to the viewers' imagination.

Kara S

acidsquall73 3/11/2010 5:40:19 AM

I love everything Joss Whedon, and I loved Angel. But if it's series finale was on here, then the Buffy series finale most definitely should've been. That is still one of my favorite finales of all time hands down. Epic in many ways and a worthy ending to an awesome series.

But if I'm going by the given list, I agree that M*A*S*H should've been #1.

hanso 3/11/2010 5:55:11 AM

This article reminds me of how much I miss The Sopranos, The Shield and Battlestar Galactica :(

al2551 3/11/2010 6:04:15 AM

It's a shame that other great TV series didn't have good finales.  The problem is that many great TV shows stay past their expiration dates and have mediocre endings (think Seinfeld, All in the Family and Cheers to name a few). As far as this list is concerned, the last episode of MASH should be #1 and the finale for Newhart should be here as well.

parallaxview 3/11/2010 6:19:02 AM

I'm really glad you didn't include the finale to Quantum Leap.  I loved that show, and all the endless possibilities it had.  However, I thought the final show was a slap in the face to fans, especially because it has never been picked up by any other network to truly concluded Dr. Sam Beckett's travels.  It's such a shame to waste an amazing show on such a crappy finale.

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