You may have noticed recently, how a number of long-running, popular American TV series have been winding up – and there are several more to follow. But these days, Final Episodes are CHANGING.
Of course, these series were LUCKY enough to GET one. While some are allowed to live out their natural life-span and end in a planned, dignified manner – others just get ignominiously CANCELLED.
But while series like “Friends”, “Frasier”, “Star Trek: Voyager”, “Monk” and “Fringe” for the most part tidied UP their storylines in their Final Episodes – more recent series like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Dexter” have not been so lucky.
And this is solely down to the WRITING.
A quick history lesson; Back In The Good Old Days – with the exception of soaps – series episodes followed the basic three-act rule. Each one had a beginning, middle and end – with a single story being told and resolved in just fifty minutes.
However, the turn of the Eighties brought CHANGE. Series like “Hill Street Blues” and the seminal “Moonlighting” were OWNED by the writers (they all became “producers”) and they decided to spread their creative wings.
No longer would episodes be self-contained and LIMITED. Now, storylines and characters would “arc” over a NUMBER of episodes – even whole seasons.
And suddenly, the old “well, nothing bad will happen to him/her – he’s/she’s a major character” tradition was SHATTERED. If a character was getting old – creatively-speaking – they were GONE.
Likewise, if a new character popped up whom the writers believed had possibilities, they might well get promoted to cast-regular.
All of which was problematic for networks showing these series in syndication – they now had to show them in the CORRECT ORDER.
But the programme-makers cared little for that – most of the income from TV series derives from the original home-country screenings.
And provided episodes WERE shown in the right order, viewers the World over were delighted. OUT went conventional, predictable TV fare – and IN came complex, fully-developed series where ANYTHING might happen; “The Blacklist”, “Homeland”, “Under The Dome”, “House Of Cards”, etc.
However, there is a CATCH. More history; “Von Ryan’s Express” was a Sixties pan-European WW2 movie, featuring Frank Sinatra. You may remember the ending; Von Ryan doesn’t make his train.
In the original draft, he DID – but Frank was having none of it. Given his character’s deeds in the story, he decided its ending as scripted was too “cute” and CHANGED it (he had the power to insist) – and so it was.
Earlier history; “Gilda” was a Forties film noir which REEKED of implied and actual sado-masochism. Despite that SONG in the middle (the CLIP that is always played) the rest of the movie is GRIM.
And thus it features an absurd “cop-out” ending that was obviously intended to get it past the CENSOR – but which nobody really BOUGHT.
Nevertheless, that dumb ending still DAMAGED the movie’s credibility – and had Sinatra not had his way, “Von Ryan’s Express” would have gone the same way.
And so it can be seen why writers now finally FREED from the conventions of one-hour-storytelling would INEVITABLY REJECT the convention of a Happy Hollywood Ending, when it came to COMPLETING these series.
Therefore, if we WANT series EPISODES that buck tradition, we have no choice but to accept the FINAL Episodes – that do LIKEWISE.