6. Do a Dallas Cliff-Hanger
Dallas is credited with mastering the cliff-hanger, ending its second series with the ubiquitous question of ‘Who Shot J.R?’, the show went on to end each series with a cliff hanger. Though never topping the interest in the identity of J.R.’s assailant (FYI, it was his sister-in-law, Kristin), there was of course the infamous Bobby appearing out of a shower even though he had been run down by a car a year earlier and viewers soon abandoned the show having been told the entire past series had been a dream. For the last episode, J.R. is visited by what appears to be a guardian angel, who takes him on an ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ type journey to show him what life in Dallas would be like without him. The closing shot is one of Southfork Ranch and we hear a shot ringing out leaving J.R.’s fate open to question unless you watched the TV movies that followed in the 90s.
5. Set up a Spin-off
Angel and Frasier are of course both spin-offs. While ‘Angel’ was launched at the end of ‘Buffy’s’ 3rd season, ‘Frasier’ was plugged in the closing episode of ‘Cheers’. ‘Boston Legal’ is a spin-off of ‘The Practice’ and has gone on to outdo the critical and rating success of the original show. So too ‘Friends’, ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and ‘Saved by the Bell’ each had off-shoots with various degrees of success, expanding elements of the parent show.
4. Go for a cheap Gimmick
It could too be said that the visiting angel in Dallas was a bit gimmicky or indeed, entirely gimmicky. And some shows have gone all out to change our perceptions of the show with some form of premise upheaval. ‘The Bob Newhart Show’ ended with Newhart waking to find the entire run of the show had been a dream, the events of ‘St. Elsewhere’ were all a product of the imagination of one of its patients, while at the end of ‘Roseanne’ we find the families misadventures have in fact been the creation of Roseanne Connor a novelist. So too it could be said the final episode of ‘Seinfeld’ used a gimmick, putting each of the main characters on trial for the grief they had put people through, somehow it was more apt than cheap.
3. Keep it low-key
Just as we discuss the ending of ‘The Sopranos’, there was much anticipation surrounding the end of ‘Friends’ 10 year run. In the end, the makers went for a straight forward non-gimmicky ending, though they did make reference to running gags such as Joey and Chandler’s chick and duck as well as Gunther’s love for Rachel. It was a bit lacklustre but nostalgia for the good days of ‘Friends’ will always preserve its good name. Friends off course also had some false almost ends as at least on two occasions the cast were reeled back in with promises of more cash, each time for a reduced number of episodes.
2. Signal a new beginning
The last episode of ‘Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’ could have been the pilot for a new show about an army of vampire slayers. Buffy made a decision that changed the fate of her world, aptly resolving her reluctance to be a Slayer, an issue during the programmes 7 year run and in doing so created new dynamics, challenges and possibilities. The story of the show has been continued in comic-book format, allowing Joss Whedon the freedom to expand and enhance the Buffy universe.
1. Go All Poetic‘Six Feet Under’ is for me the pitch perfect ending, with ‘poetic’ being the word that comes to mind. Each episode of the show opened with a death that would somehow impact on the family run funeral home business. The final episode closes with an amazing flash to the deaths of all the main characters. Now this may sound bleak but it is done so well, with a beautiful song playing over it. I feel even if you don’t know the show, that segment is worth watching so I have posted it here. If you want truly bleak, think of Dr. Sam Beckett of ‘Quantum Leap’, on having the show suddenly cancelled the episode was re-edited with a final note that the time traveller never returned home – surely the man deserved a happy ending.