Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Writing that very tricky series finale
They're much harder to write because the expectations are so much higher.
Some producers make it even harder on themselves by sprinkling in all these mysterious story turns with the promise they'll all be explained at the end. When they're not (because there are just too damn many of them) their fans are let down. Such was LOST and X-FILES (although X-FILES keeps coming back... and disappointing more).
Audiences want to feel confident that their beloved characters get a nice sendoff. They've almost become friends of the family.
Plus, in sitcoms, the convention is there never really is an ending. Whatever the conclusion of a normal episode, there is the understanding that the saga will continue next week. Now, all of a sudden, it all comes to an end. How do you wrap that up to the fans’ satisfaction, your satisfaction as the creator, and have the ending not be so definitive that it hurts the syndication run. Remember, if your show is that successful, it should be around for years in reruns.
You'll have a larger audience that night so you need to be at your absolute best. Best jokes, cleverest story turns. You're really in the limelight.
There is also an added pressure that sometimes now occurs. The networks try to get as much mileage from your finale as they can (i.e. sell as many spots for high fees) and often they will now ask for supersize episodes. And in a few cases (e.g. CHEERS, FRASIER, MASH, SEINFELD) that can mean as long as two-hours or even more. Your show has a rhythm for 30 minutes and now you have to expand it times four. The weight of that generally pulls down the show. That’s how I felt, quite honestly, about the last MASH. It was waaaaaay too long. Extra length didn’t help the SEINFELD swan song either.
My favorite final episodes were THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, NEWHART,and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. All three were standard half hours.