''Lost,'' ''The Sopranos,'' and ''Seinfeld'' series finales got viewers' attention

Thirteen years ago this week, Seinfeld traded in Monk’s Café for a jail cell, and sparked debate about the downer episode. We examine five series enders that really got viewers’ attention.

LOST, ”The End”

May 23, 2010

The enigmatic drama about plane-crash survivors on a supernatural island wrapped up its six-season saga with a two-and-a-half-hour emotional extravaganza: We saw Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) assume his destiny as a tragic hero, the castaways reunite in the afterlife, and faith triumph over all else. Some fans were satisfied (and tear-stained), while others felt betrayed, arguing that the mystery-laced show left too many dangling question marks. Pick up a seashell and listen — you can still hear diehards debating.

THE SOPRANOS, ”Made in America”

June 10, 2007

Some thought the show’s final diner scene — which ended in a sudden cut to black — was a brilliant metaphor for the life of paranoia and uncertainty that Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) was likely to have for the rest of his offscreen existence. Others just assumed their cable had gone out. After eight years of surprising us with one of the smartest, most unpredictable shows ever, David Chase finished his Mafia drama in a maddeningly inscrutable way. Love it or hate it, it got people talking. And scratching their heads.

SEINFELD, ”The Finale”

May 14, 1998

No one will accuse Seinfeld of going easy on its characters in the end: Our four self-centered protagonists were put on trial — and sentenced to a year in jail for witnessing a carjacking and doing…nothing. While the quirky comedy honored its past with a parade of old characters popping up in the courtroom, reviews were mixed: Some viewers felt that the surreal, bleak closer was an indictment of not only the characters but the audience as well. Still, Seinfeld’s send-off goes down as the third-most-watched series finale ever, behind M*A*S*H and Cheers.

ST. ELSEWHERE, ”The Last One”

May 25, 1988

The realistic medical drama truly shook things up in its final moments. In an unfamiliar apartment we discovered that Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) was the father of Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders)…who apparently was a construction worker. The two men wondered what Donald’s autistic son was thinking as he played with a snow globe containing a miniature St. Eligius Hospital. Whoa, whoa — the entire show took place in a boy’s head?

NEWHART, ”The Last Newhart”

May 21, 1990

It may well be the greatest exit in the history of TV sitcoms: After getting knocked unconscious by a wayward golf ball, Bob Newhart’s character Dick Loudon woke up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette on the set of Newhart’s ’70s series, The Bob Newhart Show. Loudon’s whole existence — running an inn in Vermont, being married to Joanna (Mary Frann) — was just a dream of Dr. Bob Hartley’s after he ate bad sushi. Sheer genius.