Has TV Ever Seen Anything Like This???

Take a deep breath, people. We’re only halfway through.

don't let us down tonight, jack

don't let us down tonight, jack

In what is looking like an unprecedented time in TV history, three historic TV shows will end their network TV runs within two days of each other. Lost kicked off the TV party last night, with 24 and Law & Order on for tonight. Together, they’ve got 34 years of TV experience, have inspired fan craziness, launched spinoffs and franchises and won 33 Emmy Awards.

And tomorrow morning, they’ll all be gone. Law & Order will live on in syndication and in its 17 different spinoffs — or is it just three? — Jack Bauer may be back in a movie, but for the most part, they’re all going to be gone, to be seen again only in DVD or sporadic reruns.

(HERE’S THE REMINDER, thrown right into the middle of the blog. The first PopRox live chat is tomorrow, a good time for anyone who feels a little empty with these departures to get together and openly grieve. Or memorialize, whichever suits you. It’s tomorrow, 11 a.m. Plenty of 24 and other TV talk, for sure, and all pop culture questions are fair game. The link will be up right here tomorrow, or you can get there through the PopRox Facebook page.)

Lost and 24 are the lucky ones — they end on their own terms, with legitimate finales and closure for their characters. Law & Order? Not so much. When the last episode was shot weeks/months ago, it thought it had another year at NBC in the bag so that it could set the record for longest-running TV drama, but the network canceled the show last week.

But just how historic is it? Has there ever been a time when such iconic, long-lasting shows all ended at the same time? Looking at the list of the most-watched series finales of all time — which doesn’t manage to include recent basic cable finales like The Shield and Nip/Tuck — there may not be a time that could stack up with these two days when it comes to popularity and legacy.

Ranking the best years of finales:

second thoughts

second thoughts

1. 1993: Cheers (#2, May 20), Wonder Years (#27, May 12), Quantum Leap (#28, May 5), Knots Landing (#32, May 13), Designing Women (#34, May 24), Major Dad (#39, April 16), Doogie Howser M.D. (#57, March 24), Life Goes On (#59, May 23). NOTES: This is a pretty darn good list. Well, at least those top 3, because I can tell you note-for-note what happened in all three and always watched them every time I found them in syndication. Even if The Wonder Years jacked the music from The Natural and was completely unsatisfying — Kevin finally giving it to Winnie in a rainy barn, then hearing about how she jetted off to Paris — it’s still memorable.

2. 1992: Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (#6 , May 22), Cosby Show (#7, April 30), Golden Girls (#18, May 9), MacGyver (#22, May 21), Growing Pains (#26, April 25), Who’s the Boss (#29, April 25), Jake and the Fatman (#38, May 9). NOTES: As good as the list is on the surface, I don’t remember one of these finales. I distinctly remember watching a bunch of them, but I couldn’t tell you one thing that happened in the regular shows. Like, I couldn’t tell you where Samantha Micelli is supposed to be now, or what job Ben Seaver is supposed to be holding down. Bette Midler on Carson was memorable, but it was only the second-to-last show for Carson. It should be noted that other than Carson, all of these shows were on its very last legs, and most of them were using wheelchairs. But it comes closest to this year on timing because in a matter of five days, Cosby, Growing Pains and Who’s the Boss were gone. Not that anyone knew they were on the air at that point anyway, but still.

3. 1998: Seinfeld (#3, May 14), Murphy Brown (#40, May 18), Grace Under Fire (#79, Feb. 17), Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman (#82, May 16), Ellen (#88, May 13), Living Single (#115, Jan. 1), Family Matters (#117, July 17), Step by Step (#118, June 26). NOTES: Low-rated, spaced out, but look at that star power! In a matter of five days, the Seinfeld cast, Candice Bergen, Jane Seymour and Ellen DeGeneres were all gone from TV. Only DeGeneres has really come back.

4. 2004: Friends (#4, May 6), Frasier (#11, May 13), The Practice (#74, May 16), Sex and the City (#77, Feb. 22), Becker (#78, Jan. 28), Angel (#124, May 19). NOTES: Not a particularly popular list, but this took three shows out of my rotation and I’d imagine this was the biggest female-skewing list ever just between Friends and Sex and the City. The loss of Angel was especially hard personally since it was left with a great episode and  a huge cliffhanger that will never be answered since the WB decided to cancel it after the finale had been shot.

5. 1999: Home Improvement (#10, May 25), Mad About You (#31, May 24), Homicide: Life on the Street (#70, May 21), The Nanny (#72, May 12), Melrose Place (#81, May 24), NewsRadio (#97, May 4). NOTES: Decent quality list, but spaced out and not very memorable.

6. 1989: Family Ties (#9, May 14), Miami Vice (#23, May 21), Kate and Allie (#48, May 22), Dynasty (#49, May 11). NOTES: I taped and watched the Family Ties finale about 1,000 times that summer and can’t hear the word gingivitis without thinking about Nick’s line: “We can walk on coals and let ninjas fight us, but be sure not to get, gingivitis.” But 89 doesn’t compare with this year.

One thing is pretty clear — the generation of TV that ended between 1988 and 1993 likely was TV’s golden era of prosperity. Of the 50 most-watched series finales of all time, 24 of them aired in that six-year period, including six of the top 10. There won’t ever been another period like that in TV history.

When it comes to this year’s entry into history, it’s looking like it might not be that highly watched — early returns on Lost say it will rank in the 50s for viewership, probably close to where 24 will be tonight, though Law & Order might be in the 80s somewhere — but it will be remembered.

head to the comments if you wanna say whether it was good or it sucked

head to the comments if you wanna say whether it was good or it sucked

As for Lost, one of my favorite things to do is watch the series finale of a TV show that I’ve never watched. Usually, I can catch right up with whatever is going on and use my working knowledge of the show to assimilate myself into the show. So I tried to watch Lost, I really did. I knew it would be harder than watching most finales, so I even boned up by watching parts of the two-hour retrospective prior to the actual finale. But holy crap, how did anyone ever watch that show without going completely nuts? My brain nearly blew up after about a half hour, so I bailed and caught up with In Plain Sight, Simpsons and Family Guy. I had no choice. I couldn’t keep it up. Now that I’m trying to read through some of the post-show wrap-ups, I can barely even get through that without my eyes rolling back into my head and actual steam coming out of my ears. It’s mind-blowing, or mind-warping, and I’m not sure if it’s in a good way or bad way. I still can’t tell. But it’s a testament to what good TV can really do. It’s tough to put your finger on why Lost succeeded when shows just like it failed to strike any kind of chord with the public. The only answer is that when you make good TV, people will watch it. There won’t be another show like this for quite some time, so hopefully you enjoyed it while you could.

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