Series finale

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"Final Episode" redirects here. For the song, see Final Episode (Let's Change the Channel).
Not to be confused with Cancellation (television).

A series finale refers to the last installment of a series with a narrative presented through mediums such as television, film, and literature. In many Commonwealth countries, the term final episode is commonly used in regard to a television series. While the term itself is usually applied to series that were able to make their final episodes according to plan, it is also used when a show already knows it's been cancelled, or has a strong feeling that it will not be renewed, as was the case with Medium. Episodes labeled "series finale," or ones leading up to it, often include remarkable events in the overall series story arc. An extended length episode, or television or theatrical film may serve as the series finale. The finale may also be used as a device to create a spin-off series.

Typical plot devices[edit]

Series finales frequently feature fundamental deviations from the central plot line, such as the resolution of a central mystery or problem, the separation of the major characters, or the sale of a home or business that serves as the series' primary setting. Some alter the entire premise of the series, such as in St. Elsewhere and Newhart.

The final scene often takes place in the show's primary setting, such as in That '70s Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Martin, Little House on the Prairie, Full House, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, One Day at a Time, Lost, Boy Meets World, Friends, Knots Landing, and One Life to Live.

Series finales often include looks into the future or show clips from the series' past, such as in Six Feet Under, Star Trek: The Next Generation, How I Met Your Mother, and Guiding Light.

Cast members who have left the show often return, such as:

Unseen characters may be revealed, such as Eddy's brother (who had only been referred to) in Ed, Edd n Eddy and millionaire Charlie Townsend on Charlie's Angels, whose voice was only used previously, appears in a clip show only. Characters may make cameo appearances such as Huckleberry Hound in Johnny Bravo. Series finales can also serve as a lead-in to a spin-off series such as the finale of The Andy Griffith Show "Mayberry R.F.D." Many series finales often kill off several of the main characters, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Roseanne, Medium, Sisters, and Star Trek: Enterprise.


Most series in early television consisted of stand-alone episodes without continuing story arcs, so there was little reason to provide closure at its end. Early series which had special ending episodes were Howdy Doody in September 1960 and Leave It to Beaver in June 1963.

In early 1964, when Route 66 ended its four-season run, it became one of the first dramatic series with a planned wrap-up. The series was about two young men traveling the United States by automobile. In the two-part finale, the journey ended and the two friends went their separate ways, with indications about what each would be doing in the future.

Considered to be "the series finale that invented the modern-day series finale,"[1] the 1967 final episode of The Fugitive, "The Judgment: Part 2", attracted a 72% audience share when broadcast.[2] This finale received the highest viewing figures in American history prior to being surpassed by the Dallas episode "Who Done It" that resolved the Who Shot J.R.? story (among regular television series episodes; the final episode of the miniseries Roots topped The Fugitive first).

In some cases a series finale proves to be premature, as a subsequent season is created, such as with Here's Lucy, Charmed, 7th Heaven, Sledge Hammer!,[3] and Babylon 5.[4][5]

Scrubs aired its two-part finale episode billed simply as a "My Finale" in May 2009 as the show's renewal or cancellation had not been decided as of its airing, and so it was not known whether the episode would conclude just the season or the entire series; Scrubs would eventually be renewed for one additional season, which became a spin-off series titled Scrubs: Med School.

Futurama has had four designated series finales, due to the recurringly uncertain future of the series. "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings", "Into the Wild Green Yonder (Part 4)", "Overclockwise", and "Meanwhile" have all been written to serve as a final episode for the show.[6][7]

The series finale of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (itself an epilogue to I Love Lucy) was unintentionally fitting: stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were about to divorce and end the show, a fact that the show's guest star for what would be the final program, Edie Adams, did not know when she chose the song she would sing on the program. Prophetically, the song was named "That's All."[8]

Notable series finales[edit]

By audience share, the highest rated finale to date was from the series M*A*S*H in 1983. The episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen", gained an audience share of over 77%. In the extended-length episode, the Korean War ends, and the characters of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital make their goodbyes and finally go home. Another famous series finale is that of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which aired in 1977.

Friends ended in 2004 with 52.5 million Americans watching, making it the most watched entertainment telecast in six years. The finale was the second most-watched television show of the year, behind the Super Bowl. Named "The Last One", it showed all six main characters starting new lives: Rachel moving to Paris but later returning after Ross says he loves her, Monica and Chandler finally having children when their surrogate gives birth to twins, Joey is still living in his apartment with a job on Days of Our Lives, while Phoebe and Mike decide to have children. The show ends with all six friends standing in Monica's empty apartment, before going to get some coffee.

Some positive critical reviews come from shows that have controversial or twist endings. The finale of The Prisoner, "Fall Out," caused controversy by providing a cryptic end to the series. The lead actor of the series, Patrick McGoohan, wrote and directed the final episode. He recalled in an interview years later that the final episode attracted a large audience, who demanded a clear resolution to the series. McGoohan recalled having to hide from fans immediately afterwards because of the reaction to the ending.[9]

The episode "The Last Newhart" ended the series Newhart, by revealing the run of the series to be a dream conjured up by the main character of The Bob Newhart Show. In a similar vein, the series St. Elsewhere ended with the suggestion that the entire series is a fantasy of a small boy in the episode "The Last One".[10]

The series finale of Seinfeld, "The Finale", was seen by 76.3 million viewers. The episode has the four main cast members facing most of the show's minor characters as they testified against them in a criminal trial; the four had been charged with, and would be convicted of, violating a Good Samaritan law. The episode ended up with mixed reviews, with its supporters believing that it summarized the series perfectly and its detractors stating that the finale was inadequate for fans who had watched the series for nine years.

The final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "All Good Things...", won the 1995 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.[11]

The 2005 series finale of Six Feet Under, "Everyone's Waiting", was ranked as episode #22 on TV Guide's list of "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time", and was also named one of the best TV moments of the decade.[12][13]

The series Lost picked up 13 Emmy nominations in the 2010 Emmy Awards, seven of which were for the series finale "The End".

The Sopranos finale caused millions of viewers to temporarily believe they had lost cable service due to an abrupt blackout finale; the final scene left open the fate of Tony Soprano (series creator David Chase had wanted the cut to black to last for several minutes and take the place of post-show credits, so that the first thing the audience would see was an HBO notice, but the network refused this and there was a very short jump from the final shot to the credits).

The 2013 series finale of Breaking Bad, "Felina", had the highest ratings of any episode of the series and received critical acclaim, praising the proper conclusion of a series that ties up all loose ends and a wrap-up that proved to feel conclusive and satisfying. The finale also set records on the social media network Twitter, with 1.24 million tweets from 601,370 unique users during the live broadcast of both the EST and PST telecasts. The Breaking Bad finale hit a peak of 22,373 "tweets"-per-minute as the final episode began on the East Coast.

Use as spinoffs[edit]

Series finales are sometimes used as a platform for spinoff shows. Examples include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "TV's All-Time Best Series' Finales". Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  2. ^ "Top 100 TV Shows of All Time". Variety. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  3. ^ "Show History". The official Sledge Hammer! Web Site. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  4. ^ J. Michael Straczynski (1996-12-18). "From jms re: yr 4/5". Compuserve. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  5. ^ J. Michael Straczynski (1997-05-21). "How will this play out". Compuserve. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  6. ^ Cortez, Carl (September 1, 2010). "Exclusive Interview: 'FUTURAMA' CO-CREATOR DAVID X. COHEN BLOWS OUT THE 100TH EPISODE CANDLE AND TALKS ABOUT THE SEASON SIX FINALE". If. Archived from the original on 2010-09-07. Retrieved March 19, 2012.  Archived by Wayback Machine from the original on September 7, 2010.
  7. ^ Zalben, Alex (June 22, 2010). "Exclusive: Futurama Creator Spills on Special Last, Last Episode! (Page 3)". UGO. Retrieved August 25, 2010. 
  8. ^ Kanfer, Stefan, ed. (2004), Ball of fire: the tumultuous life and comic art of Lucille Ball, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 384, ISBN 0-375-72771-X, retrieved 12 January 2012 
  9. ^ DVD Verdict, The Prisoner
  10. ^ Schneider, Michael (2007-06-15). "Going Out With a Bang". Variety. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  11. ^ The Hugo Awards by Year, World Science Fiction Society website, accessed 29 January 2008
  12. ^ "tv guide magazine, TV Guide Magazine, Entertainment Entertainment and Celebrity News, TV News and Breaking News |". Retrieved 2012-10-24. 
  13. ^ "Top Moments of the Decade". TV Guide. Retrieved 2010-10-17.