The Most Anticipated TV Finales Ever
The finale of Game of Thrones — no matter its quality — was one of the most anticipated events of 2019. When one of the most influential shows in the past decade finally came to a close, many wondered if there would be another show that would capture this much sustained fanfare.
In the past, other beloved TV shows have kept fans on the edge of their seats for decades. So, when the time comes to say goodbye, everyone who ever watched turns out to see what happens in the end.
Until 2010, the most-watched TV event of all time was the series finale of M*A*S*H. An unbelievable 105.9 million people tuned in to watch the final episode, entitled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”. It was only topped by the 2010 Super Bowl. Even then, they only had it beat by 100,000 thousand viewers.
The two-hour-long episode aired in February 1983. It chronicled the final days of the 4077th MASH division, ending with them heading back to America after taking down their camp. The episode was directed by Alan Alda, one of the show’s stars, and was written by many collaborators.
No scripted TV series has come close to having that many viewers since.
Entitled “One for the Road”, the final episode of Cheers attracted 42.4 million viewers when it aired in May 1993. The show neatly tied up all the storylines, which included bringing back actress Shelley Long as Diane Chambers to reunite with her on-and-off-again love interest, Sam Malone. Long had left the show six years prior, so the thought of her returning sparked a huge buzz in the media before it was confirmed.
The episode was promoted endlessly before it aired, with many nationally syndicated newspapers running entire sections on the history of Cheers. There were even talks about having then-President Bill Clinton as a guest star, but he pulled out at the last minute.
In May 1998, around 76 million people tuned in to see the two-part series finale of Seinfeld. Larry David, the show’s co-creator, returned to pen the episode. As part of the sendoff, the creators brought back a ton of beloved guest stars, like the Soup Nazi, Mabel Choate, and the Bubble Boy.
The two finale episodes remain some of the most controversial because of how the creators chose to handle the ending. All these guest stars actually came back to testify at the trial of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer, after they were arrested under a Good Samaritan law. It was a strange departure from the regular tone of the show and saw the lead characters getting punished for just being themselves, which felt odd after nine seasons of them being lovable jerks.
The two-part Friends series finale — entitled “The Last One” but also known as “The One Where They Say Goodbye” — aired in 2004 to an audience of 52.5 million viewers.
Most fans were extremely happy with how the show ended. It wrapped up all the storylines neatly and included just enough moments of nostalgia without the episode becoming completely saccharine. Ross’s run to the airport was heart-clutching and viewers were given a satisfying moment of all the friends together before their paths diverged.
The Friends finale was the end of an important era of television. There hasn’t been another TV episode with as many viewers since.
The reason why we have notable season finales today is because of one TV show — The Fugitive.
In 1967, when the final episodes aired, The Fugitive had been on the air for four seasons. During that time, audiences became entranced by Dr. Richard Kimble’s desperate fight to find his wife’s killer before he was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit.
When the show was wrapping up, executives at ABC had to be convinced that a finale was even necessary. They figured that they could just air a regular episode and walk away. Thankfully, they were convinced that the show should have a real resolution.
25.2 million people — almost 50 percent of people with a television at the time — tuned in to watch “the day the running stopped”. Now, almost every show on the air tries to be like The Fugitive, ending their shows on a memorable moment.
The series finale of Dallas in 1991 marked the end of a 14-year reign of primetime. The show has been a mainstay of the television industry for over a decade. Plus, the Dallas writers practically invented the cliffhanger.
Although the series finale didn’t get as much hype as the season 4 episode “Who Done It” — which finally revealed the mystery of who shot J.R. — the finale still pulled in a 38 percent audience share. However, Dallas’ finale remains one of the most confusing to this day.
The entire double episode was structured like It’s a Wonderful Life, except in reverse. J.R. becomes so despondent that he decides to shoot himself — or did he? All the audience knew is that J.R. put the gun to his head and there was a gunshot. It was revealed in a reunion movie five years later that J.R. had anticlimactically shot a mirror.
50.7 million people tuned in to watch the series finale of Magnum, P.I. in 1988. The two-part series finale did a great job of wrapping up the eight-season show. In particular, it tied up loose ends in storylines about Magnum’s daughter and his future in the military. After the end credits, people who stuck around were treated to a fourth-wall-breaking moment of Magnum sitting watching TV, then turning to the audience and saying, “Good night.”
Since it ended in 1988, Magnum P.I. been rebooted by CBS with actor Jay Hernandez in the title role. The reboot is currently in its second season. However, it doesn’t have nearly as much influence as the original did.
Even though it isn’t one of the highest watched TV episodes of all time, “Felina”, the series finale of Breaking Bad, is widely considered one of the best episodes of TV ever aired. In fact, it was watched by 10.28 million people in America alone and one of the most discussed topics on Twitter that week. The creators of the show managed to make the finale dramatic while remaining true to the characters.
The name of the episode, “Felina”, is a great play on words. It’s a transliteration of a name mentioned in one of the meaningful songs played in the episode and an anagram of the word “finale”. It also contains the three symbols from the periodic table — iron (Fe), lithium (Li), and sodium (Na) — which are nods to Walter’s history as a high-school chemistry teacher.
One episode of TV that’s never been fully understood is the series finale of The Sopranos. The mob drama lasted for six seasons and remains one of the best dramas of all time. It put James Gandolfini and Edie Falco on the map and paved the way for other amazing anti-heroes like Walter White and Don Draper.
The final scene of the episode “Made in America” featured Tony Soprano along with his wife and son at dinner, making inane conversation as they waited for daughter Meadow. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” plays loudly over the whole scene. Just as the lyrics hit the words “don’t stop”, the bell over the door rings, Soprano looks up and the screen cuts to black. Show creator David Chase has avoided giving interviews about his interpretation, preferring to leave it to fans to decide for themselves.
How I Met Your Mother
For fans of How I Met Your Mother, the finale was a long time coming. The last episode of the show finally gave fans the answers they were looking for about the identity of the mother, how she and Ted got together, and why she wasn’t around anymore.
12.9 million viewers tuned in to see what happened after Barney and Robin’s wedding. The entire episode is full of flashbacks and flashforwards. Unfortunately, many people felt that the timeline jumping was too much of a gimmick.
The Mother, played by Cristin Milioti, was in the show so briefly but was such a hit with fans that they had a hard time supporting the fact that the show killed her off so quickly. The show tied up all the loose ends but sacrificed its believability.