Question: The recent flap over the Sopranos finale got me thinking that in 50 years of TV watching, I can count on both hands the TV series whose finales I actually cared about. And most of those were because the ending was memorable in and of itself (Mary Tyler Moore, Newhart, St. Elsewhere), not because I was anticipating the final episode. Until recently, the only show that sticks in my mind is The Fugitive, and that ended 40 years ago. Now I don't even want to think about the level of discussion that will accompany the ends of Lost and Heroes! What has changed? The blogosphere made TV criticism and discussion a cottage industry. The serialization of TV drama made finales that much more important. Maybe the phenomenon is limited to shows that go out on their own terms — after all, the nature of TV is that most shows pass their shelf lives before they actually end, so that the ending is generally more a relief than an event. Has the quality of TV drama gotten so good that we care more than we used to about these characters and shows? Or was The Sopranos a special case? Are these discussions now a regular part of the landscape? At least it would keep your mailbag full.
Answer: Some excellent observations here. A couple of thoughts: The nature of entertainment coverage has changed and intensified in the years I've been on the beat, so it's true that season and series finales pack a lot more heat than they used to. Still, it's rare anymore to find a show that goes out with as big a bang as the original Fugitive because so many shows overstay their welcome. (By the time Dallas went off the air, it was hard to find anyone who cared who shot whom on that show.) And it can be argued that TV drama has stepped up its game in recent years, making the inevitable sweeps and season-ending gimmick that much more of a watercooler event, for better and worse.