The best closers and cliff-hangers of all time

By Bruce Fretts
Updated May 12, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

1 NEWHART (1990) The most inspired finale in TV history wrapped two terrific comedies into one surrealistic bundle. After getting hit on the head by a golf ball, innkeeper Dick Loudon woke up as shrink Bob Hartley, his old Bob Newhart Show character, and told his wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), about his awful nightmare in which he owned an inn in Vermont. The brilliant gag — a goof on Dallas‘ Bobby’s-death-was-all-a-dream ploy — was dreamed up by Newhart’s wife, Ginny, and kept under wraps until the scene was filmed to end the show’s eight-year run. ”We hid Suzie in a trailer, and we didn’t tell the crew until the last minute,” says Newhart. ”But the minute the audience saw the set from the old show, they caught on right away. We had to wait a really long time to say our lines because the applause went on and on.” Adds Pleshette: ”We never rehearsed it. All I kept thinking was, ‘I hope the light switch is in the same place it was 12 years ago.”’

2 DALLAS (1980) A Texas-size TV phenomenon if ever there was one: The shooting of Larry Hagman’s oily oilman at the end of the show’s third season spawned a booming industry of J.R. Ewing bumper stickers, playing cards, beer — even a boutique at Macy’s. Jimmy the Greek gave odds on the culprit’s identity, and Jimmy Carter joked about it on the campaign trail. ”Everyone was either completely obsessed, amused, or confused by it,” says creator David Jacobs. ”I was amused.” A record-breaking 83 million viewers tuned in the following November to learn that the trigger person was J.R.’s sister-in-law — and ex-mistress — Kristin (Mary Crosby, daughter of Bing). Fifteen years later, the shot heard round the world reverberates in cliff-hangers of shows like The Simpsons and Melrose Place.

3 THE FUGITIVE (1967) Before ”Who Shot J.R.?,” the thrilling denouement of ”Who Killed Helen Kimble?” ran away with the biggest audience share for a single episode of a TV series (72 percent of viewers). In the gripping climax of the 1963-67 series, David Janssen’s Dr. Richard Kimble caught the one-armed man (Bill Raisch) on top of a tower and made him confess to the murder of Kimble’s wife. The scoundrel was then shot by Kimble’s dogged pursuer, Lieut. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), and plunged to his death. Says creator Roy Huggins: ”The show couldn’t have gone on — David was infinitely fatigued. I was very happy with how it ended, and obviously, so were the fans.” After Harrison Ford scored with his 1993 film remake, the series’ conclusion was aired on NBC, pushing viewers to the edge of their seats all over again.

4 CHEERS (1983) He said: ”I always wanted to pop you one.” She said: ”I hate you.” And then Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) shared their first smooch, bringing the sexual tension of the sitcom’s debut season to a delightfully frothy head. ”We knew they couldn’t just continue to flirt,” says cocreator James Burrows. ”Sam was too much of a stud. He would have moved on.” Since then, shows from Moonlighting to Love & War have employed the ”will-they-or-won’t-they?” gambit, but nobody didn’t do it — and then did it — better than Sam and Diane.


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