Sunday, June 2, 2013

Television Insights

Why TV Pilots Crash And Burn: 2012 Fall TV Preview
(By Hank Stuever, Washington Post, 13 September 2012)

So many TV shows are bad right from the very start, in the first few minutes, and just about everyone can tell. It’s a horrible feeling, a sadness — even for cruel TV critics who write dismissive reviews based on a single episode. So many pilots crash and burn on takeoff. Viewers can smell the fear.  And yet someone put his or her whole heart into creating this piece of trash. Someone pitched it, someone bought it. Some actor is hoping for steady work out of it, a comeback, a big break. (See: “Animal Practice,” “Malibu Country,” “The Mob Doctor.”) Some low-level production assistant will be out of work in a month because of a bad pilot. You are witnessing a disaster (“Made in Jersey,” for any example) that layers of producers and executives, even at the top of the ratings game, felt secure enough and enthusiastic about to put on the fall schedule. Often they are thwarted by the dubious science of test screenings, which identify “problems” that are “fixed” in edits and reshoots.

And it’s terrible. You know it almost as soon as the characters start talking. But how do you know? Is it the script? Is it the premise? Is it the cast? Is it the look? Usually it’s an intangible combination of all those.  Mostly, however, it’s in the self-consciousness of the a first episode. It’s a blind date who sweats too much, knowing he’s only got a few minutes to sell you, and then trying way too hard, which only makes it worse. That is what I loathe about watching pilot after pilot after pilot this time of year — not that the show might be bad or cliche or insultingly stupid (I am, after all, paid to watch plenty of bad television), but that pilots try too hard to cover up their faults.
My real problem with the whole concept of a pilot episode? That it has to be first.  Network TV shows might be better off if they started with the second episode, or the third. The best TV shows (most of them on cable) launch themselves into what seems like the middle of a story. People have been watching TV nonstop for 60 years; surely we’ve learned how to figure our way around a basic premise and a set of characters by now. Why drag us through the unnecessary clumsiness of a beginning, an origin story?  Why not use the pilot only as a private means to persuade network executives to greenlight a series — and then use what’s left for hype, for serving up appetizing Internet clips? Use the pilot as something to show to potential advertisers and TV bloggers who insist on seeing (and posting) a little of something, anything. Shoot a pilot, but then stick it on a shelf, and air it only if the series becomes a cult hit and the fans clamor to know: How did this all begin?

Otherwise skip the pilot’s dependence on set-up and exposition, and (please!) skip the voice-over narration, in which the character tells you his or her life story up to now. This has to be the laziest way to write a TV script yet shows up in a few too many shows this fall. (Even when a pilot is charming, like “The Mindy Project,” it reveals its insecurities when the lead character starts in with the voice-over.)  Often what’s most clear from a pilot is that the people who made the show don’t trust you to figure out what they’re trying to do. Everything is overstated. The jokes are driven too hard. The premises are flattened until they are far too broad. The characters come in explaining who they are and what motivates them. The drama is overcooked and supplied with its blandly meaningful rock ballad. There may as well be a text crawl across the bottom of the screen, containing the many, many notes from an unseen army of producers: Does her name have to be Cassandra? How about we call her Alex? Should the neighbor be black? Should there be more sexual tension between the leads? Can you change this line? Can you change that one? We need to recast the little girl.

Another bummer about pilots: Often it’s all that the TV critic gets to see before he or she has to write a review — which isn’t much to go on. (Isn’t that right, “Go On”?) No matter how badly we’d love to see another episode (or two, or three) of a new series before we commit opinion to laptop screen, the fact is that further episodes usually haven’t been finished by deadline.  This is why critics feel compelled to go back and review a show again, sometimes to say that it’s worse than we originally thought. A good pilot can be such a welcome sight in the fall TV onslaught that critics sometimes overpraise the effort, only to discover that it got stale fast. (Which is probably why I overpraised “Once Upon a Time” last fall, based on its pitch-perfect pilot.) Sometimes we dial back to say that a show turned out much better than the pilot originally seemed, which is why I had to admit that I was mostly wrong about “Community.” Its pilot failed to convey (to me and others) the layers of nuanced snark and absurdity that were coming.
If only pilot episodes knew how to play it cool.  I don’t mean “cool” in the Ryan Murphy sense, though Murphy can make beautifully hip, pop-culturally-savvy pilot episodes, such as those for “Glee,” “American Horror Story” and, this year, “The New Normal.” (If Murphy created only pilots — without ever making a second episode — he would be an undisputed genius. As it is, “Glee” is still torturously on.)  By cool, I mean remaining calm. There is so little on TV now that comes across as calm and assured. Stop letting us see how nervous you are about cancellation, about the future of television, about the future of your career. Put on a show as if you don’t care that it could be canceled after two episodes. (Which is all any of us ever saw of Fox’s beautiful “Lone Star” two years ago. I like to think that by dying young it remained a fantastic TV show, which I praised in print and will happily stand behind. Had it gone on, it would surely have devolved into an outlandish soap opera.)

Be a brave pilot. Begin your story with the delusion that there will be 100 more episodes and a safe landing in syndication. Begin with the delusion that you’re the head of HBO or AMC. Begin with the delusion that television is once again in a glorious age, that it is the only entertainment medium worth talking about (still, in 2012) and that America is watching raptly. Take flight without calling so much attention to your fancy wings. Assume you are soaring right up until you hear the splat.

The Olympics, Reality Shows, And Canadian Cop Dramas
Why broadcast TV is so lame in the summer and how cable nets like USA pick up the slack with sunny, perfect shows.
(By June Thomas, May 29, 2012)

The 2011-12 TV season officially ended last week, leaving the broadcast schedule simultaneously overfamiliar and unrecognizable. Overfamiliar, because if a show is in the same time slot it’s occupied for the last eight months, it’s bound to be in reruns. Unrecognizable, because the network lineups are suddenly full of reality competitions, Canadian imports, and sports. If you want to see new scripted television, the cable networks are the place to go: In the coming weeks, buzzy new series like HBO’s The Newsroom (Aaron Sorkin!), USA’s Political Animals (Sigourney Weaver!), ABC Family’s Bunheads (Amy Sherman-Paladino!), and FX’s Anger Management (Charlie Sheen!) will debut alongside returning favorites such as Breaking Bad, True Blood, and Louie.

Why have the broadcast networks never truly embraced summer? Americans, especially the young ones advertisers most want to reach, spend more time away from their televisions when the nights are light, the weather is warm, and the kids are on vacation, so TV advertising is at its cheapest. With less money coming in, the networks abandon pricey original dramas in favor of budget programming: dating games, talent shows, and cops in oddly nonspecific North American cities talking aboot catching criminals.  If June, July, and August are of any use to the big six networks, it’s as a period of experimentation—many staples of the regular broadcast season, especially reality mega-hits like American Idol, Survivor, and Dancing With the Stars, got their first trial airings in summer. These months can also provide a second chance for sitcoms. Vacations and outdoorsy activities, which keep people away from their TVs, mean that heavily serialized dramas fare poorly, but sampling-friendly comedies can thrive. Onetime NBC chief Warren Littlefield’s new book Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV reveals that Cheers and Friends blossomed in summer reruns, and more recently ABC’s Happy Endings found its audience in second, warm-weather showings.
With the broadcast cats away, the cable mice will play. Ted Linhart, senior vice president of research at USA Network, which has ruled the cable ratings for six straight years, told me that the relative quiet of broadcast-network schedules in the summer months means that “a large magnet of viewers is turned off.” It’s no coincidence, then, that most cable hits are launched when there’s no R in the month. “The summer break from broadcast gives cable networks an opportunity to get people hooked,” Linhart said.  And what kinds of shows do summer viewers latch onto? Just as we reach for lemonade rather than hot chocolate when the weather turns warm, light, bright shows appeal more than the dark, tense dramas of the main broadcast season. USA series like Burn Notice, set in Miami, and Royal Pains, in the Hamptons, are all sun, swimsuits, and seersucker. The heroes are smiling and stylish—White Collar’s Neal Caffrey and Suits’ Harvey Specter are the best-dressed men this side of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce—and they’re always surrounded by a loyal coterie of friends and family. They’re exceptionally good at their jobs, sometimes freakishly so—Suits’ Mike Ross has a magnificent memory that allows him to find the tiniest flaws in arcane legal documents after a quick perusal, while Covert Affairs’ CIA agent Annie Walker has to do little more than pass through customs to pick up the local language—and best of all, you can miss an occasional episode and still know exactly what’s going on.

This summer will be a little different, since at least one broadcast network is guaranteed a ratings smash between July 27 and Aug. 12. NBC paid a whopping $1.18 billion for the right to broadcast the London Olympics and will spend untold millions more crafting sob stories about the athletes. NBC lost $223 million on the 2010 Vancouver Games, but there are no eight-gold-medal swimmers or plucky pixie gymnasts in the Winter Olympics. The Summer Games are typically a ratings juggernaut—the 2008 Opening Ceremony was seen by nearly 35 million U.S. viewers—and the 17 nights of prime-time telecasts will provide a great promotional showcase for NBC’s fall programming. After all, Americans tend to watch live—who wants to discuss swimming events when the action has moved to the track?—which means that unlike during most shows these days, during the Olympics people watch commercials. During the first week of the Beijing Games, telecast ratings saw a DVR jump of just 5 percent, compared with a 41-percent increase for, say, an episode of Big Brother.*

The Games also cause scheduling headaches for the cablers. As USA’s Linhart told me, when a network has a slate of hit shows running in the summer, it’s tough to shut everything down for a sporting event, and it’s even harder to bring the audience back when it’s over. USA, which is part of NBCUniversal, hasn’t yet announced its Olympic plans, but back when USA broadcast U.S. Open tennis, Linhart says, “We had to take a break of two or three weeks, and we would see that the numbers for the next [episode after the hiatus] would be low, because people weren’t really aware that the show was back.”

Apart from the Olympics, there are other signs that summer habits might be changing. According to the Los Angeles Times, 58 percent of U.S. homes watched prime-time television in August 2011, up from 56 percent in August 2009. Some of the change is surely driven by all that new cable content, but there is a technological component, too. Patricia McDonough, senior vice president of planning policy and analysis at Nielsen, told me that increasing adoption of DVRs—about half of U.S. households now have one—means the summer ratings dip is less pronounced than in the past: “At 8 o’clock we may still be outdoors, but by 9 or 10, we may be in and watching programming. Now we don’t have to miss our favorite show if it’s on at 8, because we can DVR it and watch it when we get back.” And it’s not just DVRs. TV catch-up service Hulu has announced 10 original or exclusive programs that will unspool over the summer. What’s more, as of 2012, most mobile phones are smartphones, which means viewers can take their TV habits beyond the living room. “If I’m out in the backyard barbecuing, I can still be watching the ball game. So the television is going with us this year probably more than ever before, and that’s a trend that will continue,” says McDonough. Right now, TV networks can’t sell advertising against that al fresco viewing, because it doesn’t show up in the standard Nielsen ratings, but the company has recently established a smartphone panel and other cross-platform measurements, so that may soon change.

Although this is the only time of year that’s seeing increased viewership, there’s still no incentive for the networks to invest in summer dramas, at least not until the young audience grows significantly, bringing with it increased ad revenues. Until then, USA and TNT—home of The Closer, Leverage, and Rizzoli & Isles—are there to satisfy viewers’ cravings for characters. But don’t weep for the broadcast networks. They’re putting the warm weather to good use: Five of last season’s 10 most-popular shows were reality contests that got their start in the summer months.

Ta-Ta, UPN. So Long, WB. Hello, The CW.
(By Lisa de Moraes, Washington Post, 2006)

     Fans of WWE's "Smackdown!" and "Gilmore Girls" will have a lot in common come September when UPN and the WB are shuttered and their most successful programming is used to launch a new network called The CW.  The network, announced yesterday at a news conference in New York, will be a 50-50 partnership between CBS, which owns UPN, and Warner Bros., a division of Time Warner, the majority owner of the WB.  Like UPN and the WB, The CW (named in tribute to CBS and Warner Bros., and if you think that's lame you should see the new network's logo) will chase the elusive 18-to-34-year-old viewer with such shows as "America's Next Top Model" and "Smallville."  UPN and the WB will continue to operate independently until September, reporters at the news conference in the St. Regis Hotel learned from CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves and Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer.  Dawn Ostroff, who has been in charge of programming for UPN since February 2002, was named president of entertainment for the new network. 

     And yet the list of series featured in the promo reel and news release shown at the unveiling included more WB programs than UPN ones. Shows like "Gilmore Girls" and "Supernatural," "One Tree Hill" and "Smallville," "Everwood" and "Reba," as well as the reality series "Beauty and the Geek."  The UPN shows mentioned were "America's Next Top Model," "Everybody Hates Chris," "Veronica Mars," "Girlfriends" and "Smackdown!" ("Veronica Mars," the least watched of these shows, reaches an anorexic audience of 2.6 million viewers on average. However, it's also produced by Warner Bros.)  The CW will adopt the WB's scheduling model, programming a total of 30 hours each week: Monday through Friday, 3 to 5 p.m. and 8 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m.; and a five-hour Saturday-morning animation block.  Like UPN and the WB, The CW will not program Saturday prime time. But then, as Moonves joked yesterday, neither do the other broadcast networks.  NBC reruns weekday programming and occasionally burns off theatrical inventory on Saturday nights, ABC mostly burns off theatricals and has done some "repurposing" of original programming, and CBS runs something called "Crimetime Saturday" -- just another way of saying "crime-drama reruns." Fox actually wins the night most weeks among the 18-to-49-year-olds the broadcast networks target with low-budget fare, including "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted."

     Meyer said the new network is expected to reach more than 95 percent of the country at launch. It already has lined up stations reaching about 48 percent, including the 11 major-market UPN stations owned by CBS, which have signed a 10-year affiliation deal with The CW.  Making the same long-term commitment are the 16 major-market WB stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting, which has given up its 22.5 percent stake in the WB. Tribune partnered with Warner Bros. to launch the WB network 11 years ago this month. (UPN launched that same month.)  Eleven years ago, when CBS was averaging more than 20 million viewers, ABC nearly 19 million, NBC 16 million and Fox 11 million, the marketplace was presumed capable of accommodating a fifth and even a sixth broadcast network.  These days, facing so much more competition from satellite, digital cable and other forms of distribution, neither network seems likely to ever achieve parity with Fox -- the youngest of the Big Four (it launched in April 1987).  In terms of ratings, UPN's best season was its first, when it averaged 6.2 million viewers but programmed only Monday and Tuesday nights. Its shows included "Star Trek: Voyager," the latest incarnation in the then-still-powerful "Star Trek" franchise.

     The WB's ratings heyday came during the '97-'98 and the '98-'99 TV seasons; it averaged 4.5 million viewers, programming Monday through Wednesday and adding Thursday nights for the latter season.  (CBS won the TV season that wrapped last May with an average of nearly 13 million viewers; ABC and Fox finished with an average of 10 million and NBC 9.8 million. WB and UPN trailed far behind with 3.3 million and 3.4 million, respectively.)  UPN has never been profitable and the WB turned a profit only a couple of years. This month the latter announced it would cancel its most watched program, "7th Heaven," because the network would lose about $16 million on that show alone this season.  "WB was always a strategic asset," Meyer told The TV Column, explaining that the goal was to create value for the programming produced for the network by Warner Bros. But looking at the economic realities of the network going forward, he said, "we were going to be creating less and less original programming and repurposing or repeating more and more of it." Programming produced jointly with CBS "is a much better way to serve our strategic end than to continue with WB," he said.  According to ad-buying firm Magna Global, the WB's lineup already is 51 percent reruns this season.  Or, as Moonves so succinctly put it, "Fifty percent of a winner is better than 100 percent of something that's breaking even."  He told The TV Column: "UPN had made great strides over the last couple years" but was only approaching break-even.  "Looking down the road, there wasn't great upside."  The new deal leaves in the lurch some of the biggest UPN stations, which are owned by News Corp. When UPN launched in '95, a station group called Chris-Craft provided stations in the country's three largest markets -- New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In 2001, those stations were sold to News Corp., the home of the Fox network. Nine News Corp. stations are currently UPN affiliates; a News Corp. spokesman told Reuters those stations will seek new programming. 

     UPN's affiliation deal with News Corp. is set to expire in August; ditto WB's affiliation deal with Tribune. That became a subject of conversation between Meyer and Moonves, who goes way back with Meyer, having formerly developed hit series like "ER" and "Friends."  "We were having dinner one night around Thanksgiving and looked at each other and realized that at that moment in time we were both being pushed by affiliate groups to make long-range commitments . . . and if we were going to find a way to do this together we had to do it now or probably be separated for many years to come," Meyer said.  "We both felt it made sense . . . and went from there. We were of unified purpose."  Yesterday they said that in spite of the costs involved in launching it, they expected The CW to be profitable its first season.  They would not discuss how many people would be laid off as a result of the merger.  In Washington, Tribune-owned WBDC, currently home to the WB network, will become a CW affiliate; News Corp.-owned UPN station WDCA will not.  Yesterday, WBDC General Manager Eric Meyrowitz was doing the happy dance, telling The Post's John Maynard he is "charged up" about the news because "it gives us a better platform to serve the market."  WDCA General Manager Duffy Dyer did not return multiple calls left at his office yesterday.

Theories About 'Lost'

(By Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly)

 EW senior writer Jeff Jensen solves the show! (Or so he thinks...)  EW turns to our shadowy operative inside the world of Lost for insight. Burn this when you're done. The truth is out there.

Theory 1. THE ISLAND: It's Alive!

Our theory of Lost begins with the question posed in the pilot by smack-addled rocker Charlie: ''Guys...where are we?'' Some have argued that the island could be a hallucination — ''A Psychological Shipwreck,'' to use the title of an 1879 short story by Lost-linked author Ambrose Bierce. Or an alien twilight zone. It's tempting to go with ''limbo'' — an elastic enough idea to corral the show's incredible coincidences and odd details, like a smoke monster and a band of child-swiping Others. But we believe the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 aren't stuck in a mass delusion or a satanic mousetrap. They're alive on the island. A haunted island. And it was made that way by the Dharma Initiative.


What we know about Dharma is incomplete at best, utterly bogus at worst. According to a choppy ''orientation film'' found in the hatch, Dharma founders Gerald and Karen DeGroot established a research facility on the island in the 1970s to conduct experiments in meteorology, zoology, electromagnetism, psychology, and parapsychology — a dubious science that believes the brain houses mind-over-matter powers. (Think X-Men, Jedi Knights, and sci-fi author Robert Heinlein, whose 1941 short story Lost Legacy is about kids realizing their psychic potential under the tutelage of — COINCIDENCE ALERT! — Ambrose Bierce.) Our theory is that intentionally or not, the Dharma team pulled loose psychic powers from one of its test subjects — skip to No. 5 for the answer about who that might be — with disastrous results. How? With fear. Where? Where else, down in...

3. THE HATCH: Human Testing

The orientation film claims the hatch was originally used to study the island's ''unique'' electromagnetic energy.  Indeed, there is a curious wall that seems to be humming with the stuff. But the filmstrip also states that the DeGroots were following B.F. Skinner, a psychologist famous for his Skinner boxes: controlled environments used to study animal behavior. Folks, the hatch is a human Skinner box.  Why wasn't this mentioned in the orientation film? Because the orientation film is part of the experiment! The film was fiction, designed to induce paranoia and fear and observe the test subject's reaction. What Dharma was studying was the behavior every Lost fanatic engages in: the human imperative to organize seemingly random details into some kind of order. The problem is that someone- someone we haven't seen or met yet- was put in the hatch and had a psychic break of world-altering proportions.

4. THE NUMBERS: Those Damn Yankees!

It has been Lost's most baffling conundrum: the seemingly inexplicable connection between Hurley's havoc-causing Lotto picks- 4 8 15 16 23 42 - and the hatch's computer code. This is a two-part riddle. First, the original purpose of the numbers: Skinner box experiments require test subjects to execute empty tasks, like pulling levers or, say, inputting digits into a computer. The Dharma-ites chose the sequence because...they were big Yankee fans, and each number correlates to a retired Yankee jersey. But the second question is far more important: What purpose do the numbers serve now? There are lots of out-there (and fun) ways to go with this, but the truth is that the numbers don't do anything. The ''cursed'' digits are just one more sinister detail in Dharma's elaborate sleight of hand intended to freak out test subjects. The problem was that extreme stress on the subject in the hatch combined with the electromagnetic energy down there to jar loose some suppressed psychic powers. And it jarred them loose in the wrong individual. In that explosive moment, the once meaningless digits were encoded with devilish life. Hence, Hurley's bad luck, and a virus that is rewriting reality on the island.

5. THE ANSWER TO 'LOST': The Island Is Haunted by a Powerful Psychic

The Dharma experiments resulted in the creation of a potent disembodied being. A being deeply steeped in pop culture- think about all the novels, comic books, and random flotsam that make up the DNA of Lost- and powerful enough to bring those bits of pop culture to life. Someone who imprinted his consciousness on the island. Someone whose radioactive corpse was walled up in the hatch. Someone named Aaron.  So how did the Oceanic crew end up on the island? Aaron summoned them, because he has as-yet-undetermined uses for each of them...and he needed a new body. The body of a then-unborn baby. Claire's baby. Which is why the Others (Aaron's followers) have tried to kidnap her child. And why they had to snatch poor, psychic Walt- remember that dead bird from season 1?-  who was the only one with the ability to see through their plan.  Of course, the castaways could all be dead. It could be a mass hallucination. The Others could be trying to secure franchise rights to the Twilight Zone Dairy Queen. But this is our story, and we're sticking to it. At least until the next episode.


Suit Claims Actress Fired Over Pregnancy

Former General Hospital actress Kari Wuhrer sued ABC-TV, contending her character was written out of the soap opera and she was fired for becoming pregnant.  Wuhrer, 38, filed the discrimination and wrongful termination suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. She is alleging she suffered at least $3 million in damages to her earnings, career and through the cost of emotional distress.  Details of the suit were first reported by  "We have not been served and we do not comment on pending litigation," ABC said in a statement.  Wuhrer played Reese Marshall on the show.  According to her suit, she notified the writers and producers that she was pregnant so they would have time to write her condition into the script.  Instead, Wuhrer said she was fired two weeks later.  "The vile underbelly of the Hollywood Machine encourages female actors to be as beautiful and slim as possible," the suit said, adding that an actress who "dares" to become pregnant has one choice: "Terminate her pregnancy or be terminated." 
10 Best And Worst Series' Finales
(By Larry Getlen, New York Post, Sun., Apr. 25, 2010)
With “Lost” finally getting off the TV island and “24” ticking down its final seconds, fans of these shows are wondering if their conclusions can possibly live up to high expectations. But their last episodes are destined to place these series among either the greatest farewells in TV history, or among the worst. So with these major finales on the horizon, we decided that now would be a good time to look back at the best and worst of television swan songs. With any luck, next month will make the best list crowded with smoke monsters and secret agents — and leave the worst list just as it is.
10 Best Series Finales
1.) M*A*S*H
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” (02/ 28/83)
The finale was the most watched TV show in history until this year’s Super Bowl. This full-on emotional farewell saw Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda, above far left, with the cast) lose his mind after inadvertently causing a woman to smother her own baby; and, in the series’ biggest surprise, Sergeant Klinger, who spent 11 seasons in tacky dinner dresses trying to get sent home, remain in Korea after meeting his one true love. At the end, when Hawkeye saw B.J. Hunnicutt’s “Goodbye” note, spelled out in rocks, from his helicopter, there wasn’t a dry eye in the country.
“The Last Newhart” (05/21/90)
Sadly, the “last season was all a dream/fantasy” device gained great traction in the eighties, but “Newhart” used it to great effect, creating one of the most hilarious moments in television by making the entire eight-season run a dream of his character’s from his previous series, “The Bob Newhart Show.” When Suzanne Pleshette, who played his wife on that show, popped her head out from under the covers in their bedroom, this episode’s classic status was secured.
“The Judgment” (08/22, 29, 67)
Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen, above) ran from the law for four years while hunting the man behind the crime for which he was convicted — his wife’s murder. With the killing of the one-armed man, Kimble found salvation. This “Fugitive” kept Americans glued to their seats.
“The Last Show” (3/19/77)
Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) was the first television character to portray the challenge of being an independent single woman in America. The final episode included a brilliant and darkly comic statement on corporate stupidity, as Richards’ employer, WJM-TV, was sold, with the new owners firing everyone but the incompetent Ted Baxter. The emotional group hug at the end reminded viewers of the depth of the show’s heart.
“One For The Road” (05/20/93)
A goodbye drink at a bar where everyone knows your name should offer both humor and sentiment, and “One for the Road” had it all, driven by the return of Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), who engaged in a hilarious game of deceptive cat vs. lying mouse with her old flame, Sam Malone (Ted Danson). Between that, the gang’s usual bar talk, monitored by bartender Woody Harrelson, and Sam’s final words of “Sorry, we’re closed,” “Cheers” said goodbye exactly the way an old friend should.
(05/21, 22/92) Johnny Carson’s farewell, after 30 years as America’s favorite talk-show host, featured Carson (right, with Ed McMahon) sitting alone on a stool, sharing some of his most personal moments and bidding his viewers farewell with the words, “and so it has come to this.” But the real heart-grabber came the night before, when Bette Midler serenaded the late-night legend with “One for My Baby,” as genuine and touching a moment as you’ll find in the annals of TV history.
“Everyone’s Waiting” (08/21/05)
It’s only fitting that a show that dealt with death so poignantly should usher off its characters accordingly, with creator Alan Ball taking us through the future to see the deaths of each of his show’s major characters. In a breathtaking six-and-a-half minute sequence, Ball showed us their final moments in fully-realized scenes, from Ruth Fisher’s (Frances Conroy, right) passing in a hospital bed to a cataract-laden Claire passing similarly in 2085. This finale was haunting and epic, and a vivid example of powerful storytelling whose triumph was really quite simple — Ball created art by choosing to end his story at the end.
“Lunar Eclipse” (05/14/89)
The finale seemed perfectly ordinary until, with 10 minutes left, Bruce Willis’ character returns to his office to find his furniture being hauled off. A man introduces himself as an ABC executive and explains that the show has been cancelled. Willis and co-star Cybill Shepherd then try to save their lives as TV characters as their props, even including the view from their artificial window, are carted out. The ending was funny, strange, and surprisingly meta before meta was hip.
“Beyond Life and Death” (06/ 10/91)
After solving the murder of Laura Palmer, “Twin Peaks” ran out of gas, until the finale in which Agent Dale Cooper is captured by the evil BOB, and, in the show’s final shot, cackles maniacally after smashing his head into a mirror, with BOB laughing similarly in the image across from him. We’d expect nothing less than this creepy victory for evil from series creator David Lynch.
“Never Can Say Goodbye” (5/18/ 98)
The finale had just the right mix of comedy, celebrity, pathos, and resolution, as Murphy beat breast cancer, Bette Midler appeared as the last of Brown’s 93 secretaries, and Murphy, who made waves in the 1992 presidential election about her being a single mother, left the stage as classy as ever.
10 Worst Series Finales
“Made in America” (06/10/07)
One of the singlemost frustrating endings in history. The final scene of this brilliant, much-revered show left viewers thinking their cable had gone out. While Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” played in the background, Tony (James Gandolfini, above left, with Edie Falco and Robert Iler) and his family sat in a New Jersey diner, and ...what? Got rubbed out? Ate pie? We’ll never know, because creator David Chase left the cut-to-black ending intentionally vague, seemingly to make the point that when you choose a Tony Soprano-like lifestyle, uncertainty reigns. Many viewers and critics, though, felt that Chase should be able to properly end his story. So after eight years of fealty, many “Sopranos” fans stopped believing in David Chase.
“Into That Good Night” (05/20/97)
The last major show to use the “it was all a dream” device — for good reason. After the Conner family won the lottery, the finale revealed that Roseanne had fictionalized her life to distract her from a drab reality. The last scene was a voiceover, as she stared at her typewriter. For a series praised for its portrayal of blue-collar life, the finale seemed like a betrayal.
“The Finale” (05/ 14/98)
When a show becomes one of the best-loved shows of all-time by being, essentially, a show about nothing, it should stay that way until the end. But “Seinfeld” ended its run instead by sending its characters to a Massachusetts jail, a head-scratching decision that felt forced. Combine that with their trial, which had characters from throughout the series reminiscing about the selfishness of the main characters, and “The Finale” felt more like a marking of time by a show that had run out of ideas than a brilliant wrapping-up of what had become, despite their apathy toward much of the human race, four of the funniest characters in TV history.
“The Last One” (05/25/88)
“St. Elsewhere,” while never dominant in the ratings, was enough of a critical favorite that it lasted six seasons and won 13 Emmys, and made stars out of cast members such as Denzel Washington and Ed Begley. But the final episode turned out to be another “it was all a dream” disaster, when we learned that the entire six-season run was merely a figment of an autistic child’s imagination, as that child had apparently spent six TV seasons staring into a snow globe, where the “St. Elsewhere” cast really lived.
“The Truth” (05/19/02)
The final episode of “The X-Files” couldn’t help but disappoint, since the final season had been a dud, with main cast members such as Gillian Anderson out the door by then. While David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder returned to be tried for his supposed crimes, he needn’t have bothered: The series that promised that “the truth is out there” offered very little of it in its finale.
“Life is a Rock” (04/21/09)
Maintaining credibility in a series about a cop who travels from 2008 to 1973 was challenging enough. But the creators of “Life on Mars,” based on a hit British series, punted the ending. While the U.K. show sent him back to present time, the U.S. version made him an astronaut who lived in the future — making his lives in 1973 and 2008 computer-generated fantasies he entertained on his spaceship. Got it? That’s all right — neither did the creators.
“The Last Farewell” (02/26/84)
“Little House on the Prairie” was a hit for over nine seasons for its portrayal of hard-working people of small town America in the late 1800s. What better way to pay tribute to these fine, upstanding people than to have them completely destroy their own town? The Michael Landon series finally said goodbye to Walnut Grove by having a developer buy the town, and then having the people revolt against him by blowing up their own homes. Nothing like a little home-grown terrorism to send the message, “Don’t tread on me,” and to send off a beloved show with exactly the wrong kind of bang.
“Mirror Image” (05/05/ 93)
Instead of solving the mystery of how and why Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), leapt through time and into other people’s bodies to help them face obstacles, the series ended with Beckett taking one final leap into nowhere, followed by the on-screen graphic, “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.” Loyal viewers were left in the lurch.
(02/09/10) “The Jay Leno Show” was the equivalent of a FEMA disaster. It almost destroyed NBC with dismal ratings that slashed affiliate newscast viewership almost in half. Leno made scant mention that his show was leaving the air — he merely threw it to the local news and was quickly cut off, as if everyone involved in this nightmare wanted to forget it as quickly as possible.
“Fall Out” (09/21/68)
This cult hit starred show creator Patrick McGoohan as a former secret agent kidnapped by a secret society that refers to him as Number Six, and to their mysterious leader as Number One. In the finale, Number Six wins back his identity, and eventually encounters Number One, who’s wearing a mask. Six pulls off the mask to reveal an ape face. He then pulls that off, only to reveal his own face. Then Six heads on home. That’s it — no explanations about ape face or anything. McGoohan had to hide from outraged fans.

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