Revisit 5 greatest TV series finales ever

What TV shows have the most memorable endings?

Published On: Sep 22 2011 02:34:30 PM CDT   Updated On: May 21 2012 01:00:00 AM CDT
TV remote with static on television

Some fans would be fine with certain television shows going on forever. There is a relationship that is built between the audience and the characters that can evolve into a strong emotional bond.

However, there are times when things must come to an end. For fans of shows like "Desperate Housewives," "House" and "CSI: Miami," that time has come.

A few shows have managed to go out gracefully while they were still relatively popular. Others have limped along before they were mercifully put to death by the network.

People measure a great finish in different ways. Some look at the number or percentage of viewers. Others look for resolution, or in some cases more ambiguity.

For most, a finale must be something that people talk about the following day and remember into the future. If this is going to be the end, then it had better be good. With that in mind, here are five of the greatest TV series finales of all time ...

MASH finale

No. 5: "M*A*S*H" - Feb. 28, 1983

Was "M*A*S*H" a comedy or a drama? Some people split the difference and call it a "dramedy" because it made people laugh and it also touched their heart at times.

This show portrayed a rag-tag group of doctors and nurses who are trying to deal with the realities of war in an army hospital. Coming after 11 seasons -- eight years longer than the Korean War itself -- the two-and-a-half-hour episode first aired on CBS on Feb. 28, 1983.

The final episode was arguably a bit sappy and at times drew out the long, tearful good-byes that accompanied the end of the war. However, the show had been on for a long time, so it was probably fitting that it pay tribute to itself.

Fans made "Good-bye, Farewell and Amen" the most-watched show in television history with more than 100 million people tuning in -- a record that stood until Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010.

After watching a show like that, some people may have needed to stop by their favorite bar for one last drink ...

Cheers Cast

No. 4: "Cheers" - May 20, 1993

The show "Cheers" provided people with a warm, friendly atmosphere and lots of good laughs.

Certainly there were moments of drama, but as with other situation comedies, they were quickly resolved in 30 minutes. It was easy to like the cast of the show, and the audience could almost feel as though they had a seat at the bar during each episode.

"Cheers" bowed out after 270 episodes and 11 seasons on May 20, 1993, with more than 80 million viewers tuning in for the 93-minute "One for the Road."

The last hurrah for the "Cheers" gang was similar to a lot of finales, where the main characters must decide if life will change or if it will continue on as it has always been.

Fans enjoyed this episode because it included a time for sitting around, reminiscing, and philosophizing about what life is all about.

People can relate to this sort of scene, but can they imagine waking up from a dream and realizing that a show might never have happened?

Newhart finale episode

No. 3: "Newhart" - May 21, 1990

Bob Newhart is a comedy legend and he actually had two successful shows, one in the 1970s and one in the 1980s. The 1980s show was simply called "Newhart," where Bob plays Dick Loudon, a Vermont innkeeper.

The show allowed Newhart to play the straight man surrounded by a community of oddball characters, including Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, three backwoods brothers who lived in a shack and were always introduced by Larry with the unforgettable line "Hi, I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl."

After eight seasons, "Newhart" came to a close on May 21, 1990, in a series finale known for its memorable final scene.

After a flying golf ball from the course next-door hits Newhart, he wakes up in bed. What the audience sees is Bob Newhart as the character from his previous show, "The Bob Newhart Show." Next to him in bed is his wife from that show. Even the set had been rebuilt to look like the older show.

The audience is led to believe that this is still the earlier show, and the show Newhart was all just a strange dream.

Of course, this next show was not a dream, but rather a long, frantic chase ...

The Fugitive TV series finale

No. 2: "The Fugitive" - Aug. 22-29, 1967

Though modern audiences may be more familiar with the feature film version, older audiences will remember how compelling it was to watch "The Fugitive" in the 1960s.

The final episode was actually a two-part finale with the first part airing Aug. 22, 1967, and the second part a week later on Aug. 29, 1967. After four seasons, audiences had to wonder what would happen to the main character, Richard Kimble. Would he find the real perpetrator and be exonerated? Or would he be on the run forever?

Part two of the finale was the most-watched television series episode at that time. It was viewed by 25.7 million households (about 46 percent of American households with a television set and a 72 percent share. That record would hold up for more than 13 years until the "Who Done It" episode of "Dallas."

Finally, the audience could exhale as Kimble is found innocent, and he is able to live happily ever after.

It is good to go free, but it is also wonderful to walk away from a show on top ...

Bette Midler and Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show

No. 1: "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson" - May 21, 1992

"The Tonight Show" is not the same as a scripted drama or comedy series, but the last episode featuring Johnny Carson was no less compelling.

Carson was not the first host of the show, nor did the show end after he departed. However, Johnny was so much of what made "The Tonight Show" successful, and it was hard for some people to say good-bye after 30 successful years.

His final guests on May 21, 1992, included Robin Williams and Bette Midler, whose emotional serenade turned into an impromptu duet with Carson.

Technically this wasn't his last episode since a retrospective show, taped before a by-invitation-only studio audience, was aired one night later. But it's the night before and his final guests that's most remembered.

After a heartfelt and sincere speech that included a hearty word of thanks to the audience, Johnny walked away from the show and from television. It was a fitting end for a great comedian -- and a highly entertaining era of the show.