While we might be in a golden age for TV creatively, we’re nowhere close to the appointment viewing of an older era.
Modern technology like DVRs has made it so people can watch several shows that air at the same time whenever they want. Before that, fans had to make hard choices about what to watch and make sure they got home in time for it.
And TV ratings don’t come in the huge numbers of yesteryear. When they do, they tabulate viewing over several days. The 1990 series finale of alien comedy “Alf” brought 21.7 million viewers to their TV sets all at the same time. For comparison, last year’s season finale for the most-watched show on TV, CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” had 14.73 million viewers.
Since we’re in that time of year when dozens of shows are ending their runs, we compiled the finales that had the most Americans gathered around to watch ever.
Here are the 20 most-watched scripted TV series finales of all time:
After eight seasons, 'L.A. Law' made its final closing argument on May 19, 1994. On the series finale, Becker (Corbin Bernsen) is feeling his best days are behind him at the ripe old age of 42. At the same time, the firm plans to celebrate senior partner Mckenzie's (Richard Dysart) 65th birthday, but he has a surprise for them: He's retiring. That throws the firm into chaos and forces the partners to look for new jobs.
Source: The Quad City Times
The adventures of a young MacGyver are currently airing on CBS, but it's tough to live up to the success of the original crafty secret agent. The 'MacGyver' series finale, which aired on May 21, 1992, in its seventh season, revealed that Sam -- a cool, young biker, who helped out on a tough case -- was actually MacGyver's son!
Source: World Heritage Encyclopedia
'St. Elsewhere' was a groundbreaking urban medical drama that aired on NBC from 1982 to 1988. Its alumni include Denzel Washington, Ed Begley Jr., Howie Mandel, and Mark Harmon. Viewers tuned into its May 25, 1988, series finale to find out that the whole series took place in the very active imagination of a young autistic boy!
It now has a sequel on Netflix, but the original had the Olsen twins. The May 23, 1995, series finale was a two-parter that found Michelle (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) injured after falling off her horse during a jumping contest. As a result, she was knocked out and woke up with amnesia. Would she ever remember all the good Tanner family times? Obviously yes.
Source: Billings Gazette
The May 9, 1992, series finale of 'Golden Girls' centered on Dorothy's (Bea Arthur) wedding to Blanche's (Rue McClanahan) uncle. It included a goodbye scene that managed to be both heart-wrenching and hilarious, which TV has yet to top.
It's only appropriate that a show set in space landed stellar ratings for its series finale, which aired on May 23, 1994, after seven seasons. Trekkies tuned in to watch Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) travel through time in an effort to save humans from a faulty space anomaly and prove they were worthy of continuing to exist to the all-powerful being Q (John de Lancie). Needless to say, Picard achieved both goals. But there were other storylines left open that could continue in the resulting movie franchise.
Source: The New York Times
Indeed, just about everybody did love Raymond. The show's series finale, which aired on May 16, 2005, after nine seasons, found Ray (Ray Romano) with a slight medical complication after what was to be a routine surgery. That allows the family (and even Ray) to imagine a world without him.
Source: Daily News
After 14 seasons, 'Dallas' ended its run on May 3, 1991. It found J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) on the verge of committing suicide after losing control of the family ranch, Southfork, which went into the hands of his nemesis, Bobby (Patrick Duffy), and Ewing Oil owned by rival Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). Ewing then goes on a 'Christmas Carol'-type adventure to see what life would be like had he never existed.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
A long-running favourite, 'Frasier' aired its series finale on May 13, 2004, after 11 seasons. On that final episode, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) are run ragged trying to pull off their father's wedding in about eight days. After Niles' son is born and his father moves out, Frasier realises everyone is moving on to new chapters and decides he would like to do the same. Although he originally announced that he would be moving from Seattle for a a new radio-hosting job in San Francisco, the episode finds him getting off a plane in Chicago, where his ex-girlfriend, Charlotte (Laura Linney), had moved.
Source: Daily News
After eight seasons, 'Home Improvement' aired its series finale on May 25, 1999. In it, Tim (Tim Allen) tapes the last episode of his home-repair show, 'Tool Time.' His wife contemplates a new job, but feels too attached to their home. So Tim finds a way to move the home so she can take the job.
Meanwhile, Tim and neighbour Wilson (Earl Hindman) agree to take down the fence between their yards to accommodate Al (Richard Karn) and Trudy's (Megan Cavanagh) wedding. Viewers got to see Wilson's full face, which had been partially hidden throughout the series, for the first time.
Source: Lincoln Journal Star
The family comedy ended its seven-season run on May 14, 1989. During the series finale, Alex's (Michael J. Fox) news that he's leaving home for a job in New York gives everyone a chance to say their goodbyes, with his mum's impending empty nest syndrome being a central storyline.
Source: Lincoln Journal Star
The groundbreaking comedy aired for nine seasons before ending its run on April 8, 1979. On the series finale, Edith (Jean Stapleton) goes against her doctor's orders to stay off her feet because Archie (Carroll O'Connor) is depending on her for his bar's St. Patrick's Day celebration. She overdoes it, though, and ends up gravely ill. The episode ends with the usually gruff Archie expressing how sorry he is for pushing Edith and expressing his love for her.
Source: Screen Rant
Before the sexual-assault allegations, Bill Cosby was known as America's favourite dad for eight seasons. On the April 30, 1992, series finale, it's time for only son Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) to graduate from New York University. This allows dad Cliff (Bill Cosby) to look back on his memories of his son as he tries to get enough tickets for the whole family to attend the ceremony. At the same time, little Olivia (Raven Symone) readies herself to join her father and Denise (Lisa Bonet) in Singapore. In the end, Cliff and Claire dance offstage and into the studio audience and right out the door and don't look back.
Originally canceled during its seventh season, 'Magnum P.I.' aired a series finale that ended with Magnum's (Tom Selleck) death. Fans protested and the show was renewed for one more season, which started with a wounded Magnum having dreamed his death. The actual series finale aired on May 1, 1988. It finds Magnum meeting his grandfather and reuniting with his daughter, who was believed dead. He also enlists again in the Navy to provide his daughter a more stable life.
Source: Corvallis Gazette-Times
America's best friends came together for one last coffee at Central Perk on the series finale that aired on May 6, 2004. It featured Ross (David Schwimmer) confessing his love for Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) after a madcap race to stop her from leaving town. Meanwhile, Ross' sister Monica (Courteney Cox) and his best friend Chandler (Matthew Perry) adopted twins and decided to raise their family in the suburbs.
The May 14, 1998, series finale of 'Seinfeld' has its fans and its many detractors. Just as things are looking up for Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) and George (Jason Alexander) after landing a series at NBC, they and their friends are put on trial for not helping an overweight man who's getting carjacked because they're too busy making fun of him. The resulting trial becomes a who's who of 'Seinfeld' guest stars. In the end, the four friends are made to pay for their crime with one year in prison.
Source: Los Angeles Times
'Cheers,' about the local bar where everybody knows your name, aired it series finale on May 20, 1993, after 11 seasons. The finale episode revolves around the return of Diane (Shelley Long) after six years away. After a plot to make former flame Sam (Ted Danson) believe she had moved on from their romance and had gotten married falls apart, they both realise that maybe it's fate that they should rekindle their relationship. After announcing their engagement to the disapproval of their friends, they realise that it probably won't work. Sam returns to the bar and realises that it will always be his biggest love.
Source: The New York Times
CBS honorably discharged 'M*A*S*H' with a two-hour series finale on February 28, 1983. It takes place as the Korean War ends and the soldiers throw a party. The last scene is especially poignant as Hawkeye (Alan Alda) is angered by B.J.'s (Mike Farrell) inability to say goodbye to him, but then realises that B.J. had left a note out of stones spelling 'goodbye.'
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