Wolf Files: Sitcom Finales

A Monster M*A*S*H of Sitcom Finales

By Buck Wolf

If you haven't heard about the final episode of Friends, how does it feel to be in deep cryogenic storage, and will you be defrosted in time to find out if Ross and Rachel get back together?

But if you're sufficiently over-caffeinated with tributes to the Central Perk gang, let's talk about the finale of everything but Friends.

Until 1977 and the era-defining climactic "group hug" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, TV shows rarely made a big deal about final episodes. They couldn't. They were just canceled — often for good reason.

Back in 1969, when Capt. Kirk entered his final ship's log, he was trapped in a woman's body. Over in Bedrock, Fred Flintstone was last seen arguing with an invisible (to everyone else) space alien named "Gazoo."

And what happened to Welcome Back, Kotter post-John Travolta? Producers had hoped to build a fifth season on the marriage of Horshack in the infamous episode "Oo, Oo, I Do!" But the nuptials turned out to be the Sweathogs' swan song.

The After-M*A*S*H

In 1983, the final episode of M*A*S*H changed TV forever when a record-setting 125 million people tuned in, making it the most-watched show ever.

After 11 seasons, the Korean War comedy came to an end in a teary, 2½-hour lovefest, with Hawkeye suffering a nervous breakdown, Father Mulcahy losing his hearing, and Klinger falling in love and vowing to stay in Korea with the woman he loves, after years of wearing a dress and trying every ploy to get sent home.

Critics lambasted the show as embarrassingly sentimental and self-congratulatory, even before the final helicopter air-lifted Hawkeye from the 4077th, revealing a rock message left by B.J. that spelled out "Goodbye."

Nevertheless, ever since, big comedies can't go out without a big farewell ratings grab, putting writers under intense pressure to give fans one more crowd-pleaser.