Wednesday, June 20, 2007

That's How The Story Ends

There have been many articles about the death of commercials due to Tivo. People who have Tivo or Replay or any kind of digital recording device have the capability to watch shows whenever they want and skip the ads. But I think these devices have meant the death of appointment television.

Not so long ago, there were TV shows that could not be missed. NBC was right when they called it "Must See TV." We couldn't miss that new episode of "ER" or that very special "Blossom". And that was just for regular episodes. What about final episodes? These are events that signal an ed of an era. You remember where you were when you watched. And you still remember what happened.

Viewer loyalty isn't what it used to be due to the large number of shows available to us. So we tend to watch a little bit of a show and try to catch up from time to time. Or we rent DVDs of the series. But when it comes to the end of the series, we'll almost always watch. Final episodes are unlike season finales in that they're so final. There is no more. Is historical, in some ways. And whether or not you were into the show, you've probably heard about it. People will be talking about the end of the story or the characters and it's human nature to want to be a part of any kind of major event. So we watch. We even go out of our way to catch it, which is something we just don't do anymore.

My wife tunes in to all final episodes. She watched the final episode of "Everwood" and "7th Heaven", even though she had never seen the show.

Somewhere between mowing the lawn and scraping wallpaper off the walls in the basement, I watched the series finale of "The Sopranos". I won't get into the overall quality of the episode or of the outcry from "fans" of the show. There were a lot of them. Because there's something about final episodes that brings everyone out of the woodwork. Much was written about the decline in viewership of the show but the final episode netted almost 12 million viewers, about 5 million more than normal. An extra 5 million people tuned in just to see what would happen to these pop culture icons. And many of them were first-time viewers. They just wanted to be a part of something.

The good thing about final episodes is that they tend to be amongst the best of all of the previous ones. Some of the better ones include the final episode of M*A*S*H, which remains amongst the most watched shows in the history of television. The final episode of "Newhart" was incredible, using a stunt that surprised and amused everyone. The final episode of "St. Elsewhere" tried copying the "it was all a dream" idea that "Dallas" did once. It didn't work this time. And the end of "Six Feet Under" was fantastic, summing up the show for the present as well as the future.

What was your favorite final episode? Sam turning off the lights in "Cheers"? Chandler and Monica moving away in "Friends"? I'd love to hear what you think.