f the 30 most-watched television broadcasts in this country’s history, 29 of them are Super Bowls.
The only non-Super Bowl on the list? The series finale of “M*A*S*H.”
The farewell episode, titled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” aired Feb. 28, 1983, and attracted more than 100 million viewers. The Korean War came to an end. All of the doctors and nurses from the 4077th returned home with the exception of the person (Maxwell Klinger) who, for much of the series, schemed to make an early departure.
The 40th anniversary of the “M*A*S*H” goodbye arrives in a couple of days.
In honor of the occasion, here’s a reminder about how 15 other television series ended. This isn’t a list of the best or most memorable finales. Moreso, it’s a random sampling:
There was no official send-off for “WKRP in Cincinnati,” but, in the last episode of the fourth and final season in 1982, viewers learn the perennially underperforming radio station was never meant to make money.
Mama Carlson, the station owner, needed WKRP to lose money to offset profitable business ventures. When Andy Travis, Venus Flytrap, Johnny Fever, Herb Tarlek, Les Nessman, Bailey Quarters, Jennifer Marlowe and the Big Guy (Arthur Carlson) engineer a rise to No. 6 in the ratings, it screws up Mama Carlson’s big-picture plan.
Mama Carlson intends to make a format change to 24-hour news before one of the gang (not the one you would expect) steps in to save the day.
Dr. Richard Kimble, wrongly pegged as his wife’s murderer, spent four seasons on the run. David Janssen played Kimble, alias the fugitive in the show’s title.
The series ended in 1967 with a two-part episode (“The Judgment”) and an appearance of the one-armed man who committed the crime. It was the most-watched single episode of any series until viewers tuned in to discover who shot J.R. Ewing in a 1980 episode of “Dallas.”
The eight-season sitcom starred Bob Newhart as the owner of an inn in Vermont. The 1990 series finale ended with an imaginative twist. Newhart wakes up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette, who played his wife in a previous sitcom, “The Bob Newhart Show.” Newhart tells Pleshette he had a dream about owning an inn in Vermont.
Shelley Long played Diane Chambers, a love interest and source of irritation for Sam Malone (Ted Danson), during the first five seasons of “Cheers.”
Long was replaced in the cast by Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley), and “Cheers” carried on triumphantly for six additional seasons. In a bonus-length final episode in 1993, Diane returns. Will Sam and Diane finally be together forever?
‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’
When ratings dip at the news station where Mary works, a new station manager decides heads should roll. He fires everyone except — go figure — Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). The episode, which aired in 1977, includes a get-you-in-the-feels farewell scene.
The 1988 series finale of the six-season medical drama ended with Tommy (Chad Allen), the autistic son of Dr. Westphall (Ed Flanders), gazing into a snow globe.
“He sits there all day long in his own world staring at that toy,” Westphall says. “What’s he thinking about?”
When the snow globe is put away, the camera zooms in to reveal an image of the hospital (St. Eligius) from “St. Elsewhere.” Did the entire series take place in Tommy’s imagination? Mind. Blown.
AMC’s “Mad Men” was a period piece (1960s, early 1970s) from the advertising world. The seven-season show ended in 2015 with a sequence that blended into a real-world advertising milestone.
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is in the midst of group meditation at an oceanside resort. When the camera pans to him, viewers get a peek at what he is thinking. It was this: The scene ends with the famous 1971 Coca-Cola “hilltop” commercial featuring the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony).”
The six-season series ended in 2007 with Tony Soprano meeting his family at a diner. He flips through selections at a tableside jukebox and picks Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’” The song plays throughout the final scene as members of his family arrive, one by one.
Meadow Soprano arrives last because she has trouble parallel parking her car. When she walks in, the scene abruptly cuts to black. What happened? Did Tony live? Did he die? It’s open to interpretation. Many viewers wondered if the black-out was some kind of broadcast malfunction that caused them to miss the “real” ending.
‘The Love Boat’
The Pacific Princess sailed for nine seasons on ABC. The final season included a new cast addition — the Love Boat mermaids, who performed a dance routine every episode. One of the mermaids was a pre-Lois Lane Teri Hatcher.
In a 1986 season finale, Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) was on the verge of matrimony with “Happy Days” alum Marion Ross, and Gopher (Fred Grandy) was pitched an offer to leave the ship and manage a resort.
The farewell cruise wasn’t really a farewell cruise. “The Love Boat” continued with a run of five specials that aired from 1986-1990. The next-to-last of those specials aired Feb. 27, 1987, and seemed to be a nod to all that happened before. It featured appearances by dozens of guest stars, including past Pacific Princess cruisers like Barbi Benton, Milton Berle, Carol Channing, Don Knotts, Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Vic Tayback, Charlene Tilton, Arte Johnson and, of course, Charo.
J.R. Ewing is a cold-blooded oil man, but even he has a conscience? In the 1991 final episode of the first “Dallas” series, J.R. thinks about where he is in life and considers suicide. What follows is an “It’s A Wonderful Life”-type journey that lets J.R. know what would have happened to the Ewings if he hadn’t existed.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’
The 1968 final episode of the eight-season sitcom was a stepping stone to a sequel series, “Mayberry R.F.D.” In fact, that was the title of the episode. Sam Jones (Ken Berry) was introduced during the final season of “The Andy Griffith Show” to star in the follow-up series.
‘Malcolm in the Middle’
Frankie Muniz played the title character in “Malcolm in the Middle,” a sitcom in which he was a whiz kid in a multi-brother family headed by a control freak mom and a dad who engaged in eccentric pursuits.
In the 2006 series finale, “Graduation,” Malcolm learns from his mother that it’s his destiny to be president, but he’s going to struggle on his way to the White House — and be better equipped for the job because of the struggles.
‘Sanford and Son’
The 1977 final episode of season six wasn’t intended as a farewell episode, but it became that because Redd Foxx left to host a variety show on ABC, and Lamont (Demond Wilson) didn’t want to fly solo for the salary that was being offered to him.
The show was replaced by “Sanford Arms,” which featured other cast members from “Sanford and Son.” The magic was gone. “Sanford Arms” was canceled after four episodes. Foxx returned to be Fred G. Sanford in the 1980 series “Sanford,” minus son.
The “show about nothing” became something unlike any series in TV history. “Seinfeld” wrapped up a nine-season run in 1998 with a special episode that featured the return of many characters from the show’s past. George, Jerry, Elaine and Kramer go on trial for their inaction while a man is being threatened at gunpoint. Verdict: Guilty.
The “Seinfeld” finale became one of the most-watched final episodes in TV history, trailing only the series finales of “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers” and “The Fugitive.”
‘The Wonder Years’
Kevin (Fred Savage) was smitten with childhood sweetheart Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) for six seasons. At the end of a two-part series finale in 1993, they seek shelter from a rainstorm and have a heart-to-heart talk about the status of their relationship.
A closing narration lets viewers know the years-later fate of the show’s primary characters.
About their hometown, Kevin says, “Our past was here, but our future was somewhere else. We both knew that, sooner or later, we had to go.”
Kevin shares that he wrote letters to Winnie for eight years while she was studying art history in Paris. He met her when she returned — and he was accompanied by his wife and first-born son.
“Like I said, things never turn out exactly the way you plan,” adult Kevin says.
“Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you are in diapers. The next day you are gone, but the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of houses, a yard like a lot of other yards on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back with wonder.”