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A series finale or a final episode is the very last installment of a television series, usually a sitcom or drama. The term is typically used to refer to a planned ending, as opposed to an unplanned one when a series is suddenly cancelled by its network . Something labeled as a "series finale" is usually a high-profile event for a show's creators, fans, and sponsors. The phrase "series finale" is mainly used in North America. In the United Kingdommarker and the Commonwealth, final episode is more commonly used.

The word finale comes from the , which means final (in this case, episode).

Typical formats

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 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. 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. The series finale does not always have to be an episode, but a television or theatrical film.

Another trend involves acknowledging the fundamental unreality of the series, as St. Elsewhere and Newhart did.

Sometimes in finales, the final scene takes place in the show's primary setting, as That '70s Show, Friends, The Bernie Mac Show, and The King of Queens did.

Sometimes, music heard in the first episode of the show will play again in the final scene of the final episode.

Final episodes often include looks into the future or detailed looks into the series' past, or sometimes both, such as in Star Trek: The Next Generation's and Guiding Light '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 (e.g., Cheers begetting Frasier) in which characters from the series being concluded might show up from time to time. 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 merely having a reflective feeling rather than tying up loose ends.

An anticipated series finale will often wrap up loose plot threads that have lingered throughout a show's run, or at least its final seasons. It is very common for actors that have long since left a series to return for one last appearance, as did Shelley Long of Cheers, Dylan McDermott in The Practice, Kristy McNichol in Empty Nest, Tisha Campbell in Martin, David Duchovny in The X-Files, Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher in That '70s Show, Jessica Biel in the "intended finale" of 7th Heaven, Linda Gray and Steve Kanaly in Dallas, Rob Lowe in The West Wing, Denise Crosby in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Michael Shanks in Stargate SG-1's "intended finale" (the show was renewed for a seventh season following production), Joan Van Ark, Donna Mills in Knots Landing, David Boreanaz in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series finale, Scott Weinger in Full House, George Clooney in ER, Estelle Harris in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Caroline Rhea in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Nicole Sullivan in The King of Queens finale.

Occasionally, a show is cancelled without warning, but its last two or three episodes are simply combined to comprise something billed as a "series finale" -- as has happened to one-time hits such as Married with Children and Full House, both of which became too expensive to produce and thus ended on an anticlimactic note.


Finales started becoming popular in the 1970s , after The Fugitive's closing episode in August 1967 became one of the most highly rated episodes 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. Other series had included special ending episodes much earlier, however, including Howdy Doody in September 1960 and Leave it to Beaver in June 1963.

Notable series finales

Some series have ended with finales that have won critical acclaim and higher audience figures.

Considered to be "the series finale that invented the modern-day series finale","The Judgement", the final episode of The Fugitive, attracted a 72% audience share when broadcast. This finale received the highest viewing figures in American history prior to being surpassed by the Dallas episode and then the final episode of M*A*S*H. The series ended with a conclusion to Doctor Richard Kimble's attempts to evade Lt. Gerard, after being wrongfully accused of his wife's murder. The true murderer's guilt is proven by an eye witness to the event and Kimble is cleared.

Two finales top the list of most watched telecasts in the US. By share of the television audience, the highest rated finale to date was from the series M*A*S*H. The final episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen", gained an audience share of over 77%. In the extended episode, the cast leave the setting for the series, the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea and make their goodbyes. Second to this final episode was the Dallas episode, Who Done It that resolved the "who shot J.R.?" storyline.

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, which he himself had written. 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. 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".

Finales may win awards for critical acclaim even if they do not win significant ratings. The final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "All Good Things...", won the 1995 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.. This was the second such award for the series.

Notable shows that had a premature series finale

There have been shows that were given a series finale only for the series to be given a reprieve or to be revived years later.

The series Sledge Hammer! was given a finale for the end of the first season after poor ratings, with an episode, "The Spa Who Loved Me", killing off the cast. When it was unexpectedly granted a second season, the new episodes were set five years before the first season.

The BBC announced the end of production of Doctor Who after the episode Survival ended the 26th series in 1989. Prior to its broadcast, series producer John Nathan-Turner had then-Doctor Sylvester McCoy record a brief epilogue that was added to the final episode for transmission, intended as a final message to end the series. Following a made-for-TV film in 1996, the series resumed production in 2005 and is considered a continuation of the original show.

Due to the imminent collapse of PTEN, the producers of Babylon 5 were unsure if it would be picked up for its final season. Faced with the possibility that the previously-planned five-season story arc would not be concluded, the producers heavily modified Season 4 and commissioned two television movies plus a series finale episode to ensure the major plotlines of the series would be completed. When TNT picked up the show for a final season, a new Season 4 finale was rushed into production and the original series finale was shown at the end of Season 5.

Scrubs aired a two-part season finale in May 2009, at the end of Season 8, called "My Finale", only for the series to be continued in the next television year, albeit without some main cast members (such as the show's star Zach Braff) and with some replacements. (Scrubs had previously kept its entire main cast intact from Seasons 1–8.)

See also

External links


  1. DVD Verdict, The Prisoner
  2. The Hugo Awards by Year, World Science Fiction Society website, accessed 29 January, 2008
  3. Survival DVD release (2 Entertain/BBC Video, 2007)

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