The Five Ways to End a TV Show

series finale

Two once popular shows have finally come to an end. Both Rescue Me and Entourage have followed similar paths throughout their runs. Both shows captivated fans with their concepts of male bonding and pseudo-misogynistic humor. Rescue Me and Entourage each had their iconic characters and moments that we all remember. Both shows won awards for their best work, which some of the characters parlayed into larger successes.

Unfortunately, both shows have also gone into a complete tailspin as the shows end. Ratings have declined substantially for both shows. Two shows that were largely known for their comedic value, have failed to regularly provide funny moments for their viewers. Storylines swing routinely from depressing to ridiculous, and critics have begun to take their shots at everyone from the actors to the creators. Sadly, in this “what have you done for me lately” society we live in, it would appear that both shows will fail to be remembered despite producing some exciting and hilarious moments throughout the years.

The poor ways these TV shows have decided to come to an end has got me thinking about all the different ways to end a television show. I came up with five. Feel free to add more in the comments section below.

1. The Open-Ended Ending

The Shield
This type of ending allows the viewer to imagine different outcomes for their favorite characters. When it’s done well, the Open-Ended Ending is one of my personal favorites. I enjoy considering the possible outcomes of the decisions that the characters make, and it allows me to either look optimistically or negatively about their prospects depending upon how I feel about the character. Though this ending can be really well done, many shows have left things open-ended only to draw considerable outrage from their viewers. Therefore, endings like these are best left in the hands of the top professionals (and even they can screw it up).

Good Example: The Shield – The show left us with Vic Mackey tied to an office desk, with no friends, family, or anyone who cares for him. Nonetheless, the show ended with Vic obviously planning his next move as he hit the streets with gun in hand.

Bad Example: The Sopranos – What else? I know David Chase has come out and said that Tony died, but there are still many unsolved pieces. Who killed Tony? Why did they kill him? Did they kill his entire family? Most of the fans were left with nothing but frustrations. We deserved better, Mr. Chase.

2. The Disjoined Clusterfudge

Lost Season 6 Cast
Sometimes, as with Rescue Me and Entourage, it seems as if the writers wrote themselves into a corner and then had to scramble to come up with a way out of it. The result is a frustrating blend of shows going outside of character and all-too-convenient plot devices. Shows like this madden their viewers to the very core because the viewers have stuck around for the entire series only to watch the show make a mess of things at the end.

Historical Example: Lost– That’s right, you heard me. I don’t care what Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have to say about it, I will never believe that they had the entire show planned out from the jump. If so, then how does the explanation for the entire show boil down to a 5 minute conversation between Jack and his dead father? Bonus points to Lost for keeping us guessing, negative points for making the answer ridiculous.

3. The Loose End Tie-Up

six feet under
Probably the most widely used method. A lot of times at the end of shows, the creators will make a point of resolving outstanding conflicts or finally address issues that have taking up a lot of screen time during their run. By tying up loose ends, writers can give the show a finished feeling and leave the viewer satisfied that the issues surrounding the main characters have been resolved. It’s the easiest and safest way to end a show. Because of that fact, the Loose End Tie-Up will always pale in comparison to the final two on this list.

Historical Example: Six Feet Under– A well-done, underrated, HBO show. Not only did the show tie up the necessary loose ends (future of the business, various relationships, Claire’s future, etc.), but gave us glimpses of the deaths of our lead characters in the same way they killed off the customers of Fisher and Sons at the beginning of each episode. Everybody likes full circle.

4. The End of the Line

Occasionally, shows will bring an end to main theme/place/character the entire show is centered around. It is sometimes abrupt, but mostly the characters feel it is time to move on from to new challenges, places, and faces. The ending always provides an emotional moment as the characters have to walk away from a bar, each other, or any number of different things. Endings like these frequently cause things to get a little dusty in the TV Czar’s living room.

Historical Example: The West Wing– Beautiful ending to a really uneven final few seasons. We get the end of the Bartlett presidency, and the beginning of the Santos regime. The best moment of the episode is the final one when President Bartlett is asked by his wife what he is thinking about. His simple response: “Tomorrow.”

5. Business as Usual

nypd blue
This ending is my favorite way to end a show. The finale of the Business as Usual show shows our characters continuing on with their normal routine as if they will continue in that routine long after we have left them. If a show hasn’t spun its wheels creating storylines that it has to rush to tie up, then the Business as Usual ending is the way to go. Granted, Business as Usual functions best in a procedural setting, but several narrative dramas have executed it as well.

Historical Example: NYPD Blue– The number one procedural of all-time also has my favorite television ending of all-time. The show ends after Andy Sipowicz has assumed control of the detective squad and closed his first case. The camera fades away as we watch Andy sit at his desk and go about the business of running the detective squad. You couldn’t have done it any better.

What do you guys think? Are there more ways to end a show? Which one of the five is your favorite? Let me know in the comments section or feel free to hassle me on Twitter @TVCzar.

See you soon.
The TV Czar