Upcoming season finale previews -- We give you a sneak peek at the hottest shows, including ''Amen,'' ''Cheers,'' ''Dallas,'' and ''Murphy Brown''

On May 3, CBS’ Dallas will ride into the sunset, but its legacy is apparent in the abundance of special cliff-hanger episodes that fill May’s TV schedule. The modern-day leave-’em-guessing season finale was almost nonexistent when J.R. Ewing was shot 11 years ago; now, it’s as much a staple for sitcoms and dramas as it is for prime-time soaps. Highlights in the coming weeks:

* Amen The fifth season wraps up with a two-parter in which Thelma goes into labor with an assist from hardest-working-parolee-in-show-biz James Brown.

* Cheers Sam’s obsession with Frasier and Lilith’s baby leads him to want a Malone of his own — but who’ll be the mom? Watch for a surprise as the sitcom ends its ninth season.

* China Beach Seven new episodes of the nearly defunct war drama are left to air; summer should bring a moving finale reuniting McMurphy and her colleagues at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

* Dallas This is the end: Episode 356 of the prime-time soap offers two hours of special appearances by long-departed Ewings, friends, and foes and asks what life (not to mention TV) would have been like had J.R. never been born.

* A Different World Graduation day sends some of the regulars off to postcollegiate life and pushes Dwayne and Whitley toward a moment of truth that will affect their romantic future.

* Evening Shade A two-part conclusion to the first season offers an appearance by Terry Bradshaw and the birth of Wood and Ava’s baby.

* Knots Landing A two-hour episode will offer the series’ specialty — multiple intertwined cliff-hangers involving all of the cul-de-sac’s residents — and leave the life of at least one familiar face hanging in the balance.

* Midnight Caller In a three-hour story that could be the show’s farewell, Killian meets a woman who may be his daughter and ventures among the homeless to solve a murder.

* Murphy Brown Murphy may be ready for romance in the third-season finale — but is it with her ex-husband (yes, she really has one) or trash-TV king Jerry Gold? Series creator Diane English promises a shocker in the show’s last 30 seconds, so watch closely.

* Night Court A two-part episode will bring a surprising change for Dan and romantic developments for Christine and Harry.

* Quantum Leap Newly lofty ratings have guaranteed that Leap will return next fall, but this season’s big finish, in which Sam is trapped in the body and mind of a psychiatric patient undergoing shock therapy, should still generate some suspense.

* thirtysomething With the show’s return next season still in doubt, May’s episodes will be particularly compelling; watch for new career opportunities for Melissa and major upheavals in Michael’s job and marriage.

* Twin Peaks In a two-hour special, Dale Cooper and renegade former FBI agent Windom Earle engage the town in their final good-versus-evil showdown, with the prognosis for several Peaks residents — and the series — looking bleak.