Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The term came into use in American Television in the early 1990s, as a variation of the term season finale, which indicated the end of a television season. Prior to that, ending episodes were referred to simply as the final episode or last episode. As a common use term, the term "series finale" does serve to distinguish between a planned final episode (one which includes resolution) and the last episode of a show which was cancelled after the last show was filmed. The majority of television programs are cancelled with little advance warning, so the occurrence of a series finale is relatively rare in comparison. In some cases, (Jesse, for example) a network buys a show, puts it on a hiatus, and then decides to cancel it; if any remaining episodes from the original production order make it to air, the last one is billed as a series finale. Another special case will be Star Trek: Enterprise, which cancellation was announced before the 4th season was finished being written; since Enterprise will make it to the end of its current season, its last episode will be billed and written as a series finale.
A planned series finale often occurs only for shows that have distinguished themselves, developed an audience and persisted for at least several seasons. Shows canceled after two or three seasons rarely get such honors.
Finales started becoming popular in the 1970s, after The Fugitive's closing episode became one of the most highly-rated of all time. Prior to that, most series consisted of stand-alone episodes without continuing story arcs, so there was little reason to provide closure. Today, a series finale is an event for both fans and creators of the show and always draws higher ratings.
Usually, a series finale is a dramatic conclusion to the basic premise of the series. Final episodes frequently feature fundamental changes in the central plot line, such as the union of a couple, the resolution of a central mystery or problem, the separation of the major characters, or (frequently) the sale of a home or business that serves as the series' primary setting. Indeed, in a final episode it is also possible to do things that would be considered jumping the shark at any other point in the series' run.
Final episodes often include looks into the future or detailed looks into the series' past, or sometimes both (as in Star Trek: The Next Generation's finale). Characters who have left the show often return. Characters may finally accomplish things they have never done, running gags are brought to an end, and unseen characters are revealed. There may also be allusions to other shows that have gone on into television history, and sometimes a character or two may be set up for a sequel series (i.e., Cheers begetting Frasier, Friends and Joey) in which characters from the series being concluded just might show up from time to time for a visit. Shows that feature a character who confronts villains on a regular basis often build their finales around a final, no-holds-barred confrontation between the hero and the most notorious villain he or she has faced.
Series finales for shows that are cancelled suddenly are sometimes seen as making relatively haphazard or rushed conclusions, or sometimes having merely reflective feeling rather than tying up loose ends.
Some feature film series have had the equivalent of series finales in which the producers claim would be the final film. However, often times if that supposedly final film is particularly successful, the series will continue regardless.
Since the 1980s, series finales for especially popular programs are often much longer than a regular series episode, in anticipation of higher ratings as former viewers who may have stopped watching the show return one last time and people who never really watched do so.
Famous series finales
- The Fugitive (1967) - Dr. Kimble finally confronts the one-armed man. The two of them do battle atop a water-tower. The one-arm man is the eventual winner, but before he can kill Kimble he is shot and killed by Lt. Gerard (who finally believes Kimble's story). Kimble's name is cleared, he and Gerard make their peace, and Kimble's days of running are finally over.
- Mary Tyler Moore Show (1977) - The staff of the TV station find themselves bought out and fired except for Ted Baxter.
- Blake's 7 (1981) - After being absent for two years, Blake returns and has apparently turned traitor (though this is in fact a ruse). In a misunderstanding, Avon shoots Blake dead, then the rest of the crew are gunned down by Federation troopers. The final shots show Avon surrounded by troopers and raising his gun, then gun shots are heard...
- WKRP in Cincinnati (1982) - WKRP rockets to 6th place, but Mr. Carlson's Mom, the owner of the station, decides to convert 'KRP into an all-news station. The plot is foiled when Johnny Fever discovers the the station was a tax writeoff, designed to fail. Fever convinces Mama Carlson to let the station try to succeed, rather that have Mr. Carlson find out.
- M*A*S*H- Goodbye, Farewell & Amen (1983) - As the Korean War draws to a close, the 4077th ponder their respective futures. After all these years, the war finally gets to Hawkeye as he deals with the trauma of having ordered a woman to smother her own crying baby in order to survive an enemy ambush. Winchester teaches a group of captured Chinese P.O.W.s to play classical music, and is devestated when his erstwhile orchestra is killed in the last moments of the war. Klinger, the man who has spent so much time and energy trying to escape Korea, ends up marrying a local Korean woman and staying behind after the end of the war. B.J. and Hawkeye are unable to say goodbye to each other face-to-face, but as Hawkeye's chopper lifts off and flies into the sunset, he sees that B.J. has used rocks to spell out the words "GOODBYE" on the ground near the camp.
- Three's Company (1984) - The three roommates find themselves going their separate ways: Janet gets married and moves in with her new husband, Terri goes to Hawaii to work with children, and Jack moves, along with his girlfriend Vicky, to the apartment above his restaurant.
- Alice (1985) Mel sells the diner, and Alice finally gets a recording contract.
- Family Ties (1989) - Alex moves to New York, having been offered a financing job there.
- Newhart (1990) - Bob Newhart awakes in bed. It turns out the entire series was just a dream of the character that he portrayed on The Bob Newhart Show.
- Mama's Family (1990) - Naomi finally gives birth to her baby, a beautiful girl. They name her Tiffany Thelma Harper so that both Naomi and Thelma will be happy about the name. Iola gives up her long-standing passion for felt handicrafts and begins making masterpieces out of dryer lint.
- Dallas (1991) J.R., having lost Southfork to Bobby over the course of the season, finally loses control of Ewing Oil as well. Depressed and drunk, he contemplates suicide. He is stopped by a character played by Joel Grey, who, in the tradition of It's A Wonderful Life, shows him what would have become of most of the show's characters had he never existed, and then at the end urges him on to suicide as his eyes glow red. The last scene is Bobby walking in on J.R. and a gunshot sounding off-camera (Viewers were led to believe J.R. had indeed shot himself, but a later reunion movie revealed that he had instead shot his own image in the mirror).
- Twin Peaks (1991) - Agent Cooper pursues his former-partner-turned-killer Windom Earle into the Black Lodge, leading to a final confrontation with the evil entity BOB. BOB is confirmed as the killer of Laura Palmer, and proceeds to kill Earle and launch a psychological attack against Cooper. In the end, Cooper is unable to prevail against BOB, and his soul is trapped in the Black Lodge while his evil BOB-controlled doppelganger takes his place in the real world. Cooper nonetheless manages to score a small victory, in that his sacrifice allows Annie's soul to be set free.
- The Cosby Show (1992) - Theo graduates and Denise reveals she is pregnant.
- Macgyver (1992) - Macgyver teams up with his long lost son, Sam-Sean Mcgyver, to help a fugitive Chinese dissident. In the end, Macgyver thanks everyone for their support, then leaves the Phoenix Foundation in order to spend time with his son. Macgyver also receives a phone call from his long-thought-dead arch-nemesis Murdoc, who laughs maniacally.
- Cheers (1993) - Diane receives an award for a screenplay she has written. Sam and Diane lie to each other about having spouses and families, until, in a moment of weakness, Sam invites her back to Boston. Before long the passion between Sam and Diane is back on and they are on a plane headed for California. At the last minute, however, Sam realizes that he is happy working at the bar and gets off the plane.
- The Wonder Years (1993) Reflecting on how everyone eventually grows up and how childhood comes to an end, Kevin and Winnie have one last passionate day together before going their separate ways once and for all. Winnie goes to Europe to study art, while Kevin stays in the States, gets married, and has a son. The two write to each other for eight years. Kevin's father dies of a heart attack, and his brother takes over the family business. The fates of many supporting characters are resolved, and the narrator (adult Kevin) tells us that no matter what happens, his memories of his childhood will always be with him.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation (1994) - Captain Picard learns that the Q Continuum's trial to justify the existence of humanity did not end at Farpoint, but has been on-going for all these years. Picard's omnipotent nemesis Q presents him with one final challenge, warping Picard to 3 different time periods (the Enterprise's first voyage, the present, and several years in the future where the crew has gone their separate ways) to see if he can prevent humanity from never having existed. Picard ultimately triumphs thanks to a mental revelation that allows him to think in 4 dimensions, and Q reveals that it is the enlightenment of the human mind, and not the exploration of space, that is the true "final frontier".
- Dinosaurs (1994) - WeSaySo Corporation's enviromental exploitation results in ecological imbalance. The Dinosaur society's attempts to solve the problems only create new problems (i.e. breeding a plant to solve severe mosquito overpopulation results in a weed that ends up covering entire cities). Finally, WeSaySo bombs every volcano on the planet in order to wipe out the annoying species, only to create a nuclear winter that slowly kills off all life on Earth. The final scene shows the Dinosaur family barricaded inside their house, as the world outside is covered in constant snowfall. Baby asks Earl if they're going to die, and Earl tries to reassure his son that dinosaurs have always been and will always be the world's dominant species. (Although filmed, the last 7 episodes of the series, including the series finale, were never syndicated or shown on ABC).
- Gargoyles (syndicated series) (1996) - "Hunter's Moon" - The clan is hunted by the latest generation of Hunters, who are convinced that the Manhattan clan is in league with the renegade gargoyle, Demona. In the conflict, the clan's clock tower home is destroyed and they are revealed to the public once and for all by the Hunters to create a public panic. In one final battle, the warring groups fight in an abandoned church while Demona attempts her grandest scheme of global genocide in the building. Although the groups make partial peace and stop Demona, the clan is trapped by the NYPD until their former enemy, David Xanatos, rescues them and takes them to safety. Furthermore, he allows them to live in The Ayrie Building's Castle Wyvern once again with his family as their patrons for their protection operations in gratitude for saving their son from certain death in Demona's scheme.
- Picket Fences (1996) - Carter & Sue and Kenny & Max get married. Waumbaugh and his ex-wife end up getting re-married. The triple wedding creates a bond between Jimmy and Jill Brock, and reverses the breakdown of their disintegrating marriage. All the surviving townspeople who managed to avoid dying a bizarre death over the course of the series get together for one last group photo.
- Forever Knight (1996) - Tracy dies in the line of duty. Faced with her own mortality, Natalie asks Nick to turn her into a vampire by making love to her. Nick does so, but changes his mind later and stakes Natalie before she can rise so she won't have to live the cursed life of the undead. Nick then has LaCroix stake him, finally bringing Nick's suffering to an end, and leaving LaCroix as the last (and only) man standing.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1996) - The Banks clan decides to move back east, and they sell their house to George and Louise "Weezie" Jefferson. Hilary and Ashley move to New York, Geoffrey is released of his duties as the Banks' butler, and Carlton finally gets his wish to attend Princeton. Even Will gets a place of his own.
- Beavis & Butthead -Beavis & Butthead Are Dead (1997) An erroneous report that Beavis and Butt-head have died causes massive celebration among, teachers, staff and fellow students at their school. Daria even briefly returns. However, when the boys show up, Principal McVicars drops dead of a heart attack.
- Married... with Children (1997) - After a prolonged hostage stand-off against Bud's prison pen-pal, Kelly ends up getting engaged to one of the hostage takers. Al ruins the wedding, leaving the Bundy family with a $10,000 wedding debt.
- Roseanne (1997) - Roseanne's monologue reveals that Dan had died from the heart attack at the end of season 8, and season 9 was mostly her imagination. In fact, none of the people we've known for all these years are actually real, but rather characters in Roseanne's book meant to help her deal with the events of her life.
- Seinfeld (1998) - After a mid-air brush with death, the cast ends up in a small town and mocks a man who is being robbed on the street, rather than help him. They are arrested (due to the town's Good Samaritan Law), and a lengthy trial follows in which all the people whose lives their self-centeredness have ruined over the years appear to testify as to what lousy human beings they are. In the end, they are sentenced to one year in prison... for doing nothing.
- Due South (1998) - With the help of the Canadian mounties, Fraser and Kowalski save the world from Cyrus Bolt's militia and Muldoon's nuclear submarine. The ghost of Fraser's father is finally put to rest after father and son team up to arrest Muldoon, the man who betrayed the mounties and killed Fraser's mother.
- Cowboy Bebop (1999) Spike finally defeats Vicious and his syndicate, but at the cost of his own life and that of his former lover, Julia. Jet is left without a partner, and Faye is left an emotional wreck with no purpose in life.
- Trigun (1999) Vash defeats Knives. Vash ditchees his symbolic red coat, vowing to still look for Rem Saverem, but to live by his own words. The series ends with Vash coming back to Milly and Meryl to stay.
- NewsRadio (1999) Jimmy James sells WNYX and asks Dave to come with him to his next station ownership gig.
- Babylon 5 (1999) - In 2281, President John Sheridan prepares for his expected day of death at the expiration of the twenty year lifespan extension by Lorien. As he visits his old friends, they gather to witness the scheduled demolition of the now vacated Babylon 5 station.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1999) - The final battles of the war with the Dominion are fought, and many dangling storylines are resolved. The Alpha Quadrant alliance eventually wins, thanks to a last minute change of sides by the Cardassians after the Dominion destroys one of their cities in a failed attempt to instill obedience. Odo merges with the Founder Leader to give her the cure to the Section 31 plague, and convinces her to end the war. Captain Sisko has his final battle with Gul Dukat, who is attempting to revive the Pah Wraiths and destroy the galaxy. The two eventually cancel each other out, with Sisko ascending to live with the Prophets and Dukat being imprisoned alongside the Pah Wraiths. Many of the remaining characters move on to new things, continuing arcs that began over the course of the series.
- Home Improvement (1999) - Tim records his final Tool Time. Morgan offers Tim more money and an executive producer credit to stay with the show, but Tim rejects the offer. Jill decides to take the job in Indiana. Wilson and Tim take down their fence to make room for Al and Trudy's wedding. (This was actually the final story of the series; the true series finale was a retrospective look at 8 years of the show, complete with cast interviews, never-before-seen bloopers and ultimately the revealing of Wilson's face.)
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1999) - Hercules and his long-time nemesis Hera end up unintentionally helping each other save Olympus from the invincible titan Atlas. Zeus and Hera kiss and make up, and Hercules and the alternate-universe Iolaus walk off into the sunset, much to the chagrin of the war god Ares.
- Red Dwarf (1999) - The Red Dwarf is destroyed by a living blob of acid, and the main cast, with no place to escape, disappear in the chaos. Only Rimmer remains, collapsed on the floor and awaiting the inevitable end. But when the Grim Reaper arrives for him, Rimmer musters enough strength to kick Death in the groin.
- Sliders (2000) - Rembrandt goes off to his homeworld with a virus to defeat the Kromaggs. Diana, Maggie, and Mallory are stranded in a parallel earth where the Sliders are celebrities. Their only hope of finding out what happened to Rembrandt disappears when the Seer dies. The remaining Sliders have no way of knowing whether the Seer's prophecy of their next slide causing their deaths has been changed or not.
- Big O (2001) Roger and Big O are unable to defeat Alex Rosewater and Big Fau, but Angel's discovery of her true past and her decision to restart Paradigm City (which is just an empty stage) nullifies the whole thing. The series ends with a restaging of the first scene from the first episode, but with minor differences.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun (2001) - The mission ends and the Solomons go back home. Despite the newfound kinkiness of dating an alien, Mary ultimately can't bring herself to follow them into space, so Dick eases her pain by erasing her memory of him with a karate chop to the head.
- Star Trek: Voyager (2001) - After a decades-long journey to reach the Alpha Quadrant, Admiral Kathryn Janeway makes a bold decision to change the past in an attempt to undo the toll taken on the crew during their arduous journey home. As a result, the Voyager crew make use of the Borg's trans-warp technology to return home, while the 'future Janeway' remains to ensure the destruction of the Borg Queen. Voyager is then escorted back to Earth by a Starfleet Armada which was assembled to combat a possible Borg invasion.
- Xena: Warrior Princess (2001) - Xena dies in order to defeat a Japanese demon lord. She's been dead before, so that's no big. However, this time, Xena can't be brought back to life, as that would condemn to eternal torment a few thousands souls she killed back when she was still a bad guy. Long story short, Gabrielle sails off into the sunset alone to continue the work, although Xena's spirit stands beside her. Almost all of series' re-occurring characters had died already, so they couldn't make it to the finale.
- Daria (2001) - Is it College Yet? - Daria and her classmates prepare for graduation while Daria decides to end her relationship with Tom (but they remain friends) and Quinn faces her own problems that demand an unexpected maturity. Daria and Jane both go to Boston-based colleges (Raft and Boston Fine Arts College, respectively). Tom goes to Bromwell, where many members of his family were alumni. The Fashion Club (all of whom advance to senior year at Lawndale High as do Joey, Jamie, and Jeffy) breaks up, but they continue to be a social circle. Mack goes to Vance, while Jodie goes to black-dominated Turner. Brittany goes to Grand Praire State, while Kevin flunks senior year and has to take it again.
- Ally McBeal (2002) - Ally leaves Boston and the law firm to go to New York and start a life with her daughter. Tears are shed and many goodbyes are exchanged between Ally and her friends. Ally concludes that some of the saddest times in her life were also the best.
- Earth: Final Conflict (2002) - Sandoval is fed up with Howlyn, but goes after Renee for personal revenge. Renee and Sandoval have their final showdown, in which Sandoval is killed. As he dies, Sandoval says he has no regrets and would gladly do the past 5 years all over again. Meanwhile, Howlyn attempts to activate the Atavus mothership to attack Earth, but his impatience results in the engines overheating and exploding. Howlyn's warriors finally realize what an idiot he is, and their leader fights and kills him, only to be killed by Renee who shows up a few seconds later with a huge energy cannon that conveniently vaporizes the previously invincible Atavus. Howlyn's son vows to return his people to their homeworld, where they won't have to feed on humans. In the end, Howlyn's son, Renee, Liam Kincaid, and Ra'jal (the last Taelon) leave aboard the Taelon mothership to explore the universe together.
- The X-Files (2002) - Mulder uses a keycard to break into Mount Weather and learns the date of the alien invasion using a misappropriated password. He is attacked by the indestructible Rohrer alien, but manages to fight him off with Krychek's help. Mulder is later captured and put on trial by the government, and his surviving allies (including Skinner, Scully, Spender, Doggett, Reyes, Marita, and the Gibson boy) come together to testify on his behalf. The trial is rigged, however, and Mulder is sentenced to death. Director Kersch has a last minute change of heart, and helps Mulder and Scully escape. Meanwhile, Reyes and Doggett return to Washington to discover that the X-files have been closed once and for all. Mulder and Scully go to a New Mexico arroyo in search of a wise man who knows the final truth. That individual turns out to be the Cigarette Smoking Man, who supplied the keycard and password to Mulder. Doggett and Reyes also show up at the arroyo and are confronted by Rohrer, who intends to kill everybody but is destroyed by some natural mineral in the arroyo walls (suggesting there may be hope against the aliens after all). Black helicopters ultimately arrive and vaporize the entire arroyo, including the Cigarette Smoking Man. The agents escape, and Mulder and Scully hold each other and ponder the future.
- The Brak Show (New Year's Eve 2003) Brak wishes to the God of Generosity that the entire cast be transformed into penguins. (Not billed as a series finale)
- Brookside (2003) Drug dealer Jack Michaelson gets killed by a number of regular characters, who had been at the receiving end of his vile ways in previous episodes, an idea subtly suggested by Barry Grant, who makes a return to the Close along with Lindsey Corkhill. The final shots show Jimmy Corkhill adding a 'd' to the street sign, so that it read 'Brookside Closed'.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2003) - Buffy learns that she doesn't have to be the only active Slayer, and her dream of a somewhat normal life is realized. The First Evil is defeated, but that was more or less a given. A couple of the recurring characters die in the final assault on the Hellmouth (Anya gets stabbed by some random demon, and Spike sacrifices himself to seal the Hellmouth), but a surprising number survive to move on to new things.
- Dawson's Creek (2003) - Jen dies, leaving her daughter to be raised by Jack and his boyfriend - Pacey's cop brother, who turned out to be gay after all. Joey takes Pacey back to New York with her, leaving Dawson back in LA producing his autobiographical series, "The Creek".
- Touched by an Angel (2003) - Monica has her final assignment which will lead to her promotion taking over Tess' position.
- Farscape (2004) - Crichton and the crew of Moya discovers that the Scarrans are preparing an invasion of defenseless Earth. Crichton rejects Scorpius' offer of a Peacekeeper alliance and uses his wormhole knowledge to seal up the wormhole leading to Earth forever, holding one last conversation with his father while standing on the moon. A Scarran scout ship heading towards Earth is destroyed as the wormhole tears itself apart. Moya sets down in an ocean on an alien world, and Crichton proposes marriage to Aeryn, who accepts. However, the the last few seconds of the episode, a strange alien craft appears, identifies the pair as "intruders" and reduces them to dust. This cliffhanger and several other loose threads from the series are resolved in the minseries "The Peacekeeper Wars".
- Friends (2004) - Erica gives birth to twins and Rachel and Ross finally get together. Rachel avoids getting a fashion job in Paris so that she can get back with Ross.
- Frasier (2004) - Ronnie and Martin wed, Daphne gives birth to a son, David Crane. Roz gets promoted to station manager of KACL. Feeling increasingly distant from his family and Friends, Frasier accepts a new radio job in San Francisco. But in the end he is flying to Chicago to catch his new love. The story is somewhat open ended.
- The Practice (2004) The firm closes.
- Sex and the City (2004) In Paris with Petrovsky, Carrie comes to realize that his work will always come first and that she misses her friends. Back in New York, Samantha is depressed about the effect of the chemotherapy on her libido and tells Smith he can have sex with someone else while on location filming a movie in Canada. Miranda and Steve realize that his mother's mental capacities have taken a serious decline and that she can no longer live alone, so they have her move in with them. After their attempt to arrange an open adoption with a couple from North Carolina falls through because the woman has found out she will be having a daughter, Charlotte and Harry get referred a Chinese orphan girl to adopt. After sending her unbloomed flowers at work, Smith comes home in the middle of the night and tells Samantha he forgot to tell her he loved her on the phone. She tells him not to have sex until he gets back. Carrie finally confronts Petrovsky and after he accidentally slaps her, she goes looking for a hotel room, only to find Big there in the lobby. After talking him out of attacking Petrovsky, they return to New York where she is reunited with her friends. She concludes that happiness in love means that you have to love yourself and find someone who loves that self as much as you do. In the last scene, she is walking along a street when Big calls and the caller ID on her cellphone at long last reveals his name: John.
- Angel (2004) - Team Angel plans to defy the Senior Partners by destroying the Circle of the Black Thorn, their influence on Earth. Each team member is assigned a Black Thorn member to assassinate, while Angel gets into a final bang-up showdown with Hamilton, the Senior Partners' liason. The team succeeds, but Wesley dies on his mission and Lindsey is killed by Lorne to prevent him from taking the Black Thorn's place. The Wolfram and Hart building crumbles to dust after Hamilton is killed, but the Senior Partners are angered and send their full might against Angel and Co. The final scene is Angel, Spike, Ilyria, and a mortally wounded Gunn about to fight what appears to be a hopeless battle against a massive army of hellspawn (plus assorted giants and one flying dragon). On the plus side, Lorne the singing demon manages to get away, having left the group earlier for parts unknown, and Angel lives on through his son Conner.
- The Drew Carey Show (2004) - Kellie accepts Drew's marriage proposal and gives birth to a baby.
- Home Movies (2004) After Brendon, Melissa, and Jason decide that their films are unwatchable, Brendon's camera gets destroyed. The show ends with Brendon, Jason, Melissa, Brendon's mom, and Coach McGuirk going to a fast-food place, functioning as if they were a family unit.
- NYPD Blue (2005) Andy takes over as squad commander and takes the heat from his superiors as he and the detectives press ahead with an investigation of a wealthy and well-connected man for the murder of a prostitute. Greg drops by briefly. Leutenant Bale stops by to get his things and he tells Andy that he'll be a good squad commander. The rich man gets arrested. Andy gets yelled at by the chief of police who says that if he screws up one more time he'll regret. At the end of the episode Andy is shown sitting at his desk going through paperwork finally content and happy with his life as the squad members come one by one telling to congratulate him on his new position and say goodbye. The camera focused on Andy slowly moves out from his desk through the empty squadroom and out of the door. Then the screen fades to black, showing that life has not ended at the 15th precinct; we just won't get to visit every week.
Notable shows that ended without a series finale
- Star Trek: The Original Series (1969)
- Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers (1990)
- TaleSpin (1991)
- Sonic the Hedgehog (1993)
- The Lone Gunmen (2001)
- John Doe (2003)
- Futurama (2003)
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