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March 19, 2023 12:19 am  #1

46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

It was Saturday, Sept. 19, 1977 and it seems every TV set in North America was tuned into one program – the final episode of the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show. The titular star decided she wanted to do other things, and ended her self-named sitcom while it was still at the very top of the ratings. It was a huge event in those pre-Internet and streaming days when TV was the main source of in-home entertainment. MTM was not only a high-quality show but it pioneered something that’s still with us today – the grand finale.
Before Moore, most television shows simply ended, without much of a wrap-up or any big event. It was just the end of the road, with the program going to that big rerun bin in the sky. Mostly, you could see it years later, and never really know it was the final episode.
But this one changed everything.
It was the first time (outside of The Fugitive, which was an early anomaly that actually concluded a series with a huge reveal) a TV show went out with a special episode that tried to wrap up the fate of all the characters. On that finale, a new owner takes over WJM-TV and realizes something has to be done about the lousy news ratings.
So the boss, played by the great Vincent Gardenia, decides the problem is the staff – and not the incompetent Ted Baxter and fires everyone except the egotistical newscaster. In a terrific last scene, the cast breaks out into the WWI song “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary,” as they all walk out the door for the last time, with Mary coming back for one last look, before turning out the lights for good.
And fade to black.
After that singular episode, which as you might expect, got huge numbers, no other show that was aware the end was near would ever go out again without that last big goodbye (culminating in the M*A*S*H finale, which had the biggest TV rating for a series of all time, and the magnificent “Newhart” finish, in which the comedian wakes up in the bedroom of his old show.) But it’s almost impossible to think TV never did it before Sept. 19, 1977.  
(Interesting to note that Saturday primetime, when the finale aired, was once a huge time slot, with greats like “All In The Family,” “Bob Newhart” and “The Carol Burnett Show” all anchoring a terrific night of TV over the years. Now, none of the networks bother to program anything original there at all.)
One last thing. It has been decades since I saw that final episode and it’s stayed with me all these years. Including the closing credits, which had all the actors break character and come out on stage to take one final bow. But in the syndicated version, it was just the normal credits.
I wondered if I imagined it, until I located both of them on YouTube. The syndicated version treats it like just another episode. But as history records, it was far more than that – it was the show that made a last episode a TV event. And it’s been that way ever since.


March 19, 2023 9:20 am  #2

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

Apparently there were a few series finales before MTM but they generally weren't very memorable. Leave it to Beaver and the Dick Van Dyke show both had finales, but they were clip shows built around the characters reminiscing.

Last edited by Hansa (March 19, 2023 9:21 am)


March 19, 2023 10:38 am  #3

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

Yes, there were a few but they were never "event television" before Mary Tyler Moore. Now it seems every show that gets the benefit of an actual "end date" (i.e. advance notice that they're being cancelled) tries to go out with a bang. Most wind up doing very well in the ratings, although with the sheer volume of TV around today, it's harder to get the same huge publicity than when there were just three networks. 

One I do recall that's not well remembered was the very last episode of the original "Odd Couple" TV show in 1975, in which Felix finally gets his ex-wife Gloria to agree to remarry him. In what I think is one of the great moments of wrapping up two classic TV characters, fussbudget Felix is about to walk out of the apartment he's shared with Oscar for so many years to start his new life, when he takes a wastebasket and throws it on the floor, saying it's a tribute to his former sloppy roommate. 

Oscar responds, "You know what I'm going to do to honour you? I'm gonna clean that up!"

They shake hands and Felix leaves. 

Oscar pauses for a beat, looks at the garbage on the floor and says, "I'm not gonna clean it up!" and walks out of frame for the last time. 

Felix sneaks a peek through the door, sees the trash still there and squats on the floor, putting the stuff back in the basket. "I knew he wouldn't clean it up," he sniffs, as the show fades to black. 

It was a brilliant way to sum up their relationship and a classic last episode, but it never got the hype the later finales did. 

     Thread Starter

March 20, 2023 1:41 am  #4

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

I think the reason the syndicated version had regular credits was because the finale could air on a Tuesday and another episode could air on Wednesday so you wouldn't want to give the viewer the idea that she show wasn't coming back the next night.


March 20, 2023 10:49 am  #5

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

The meowing cat that appeared in the MTM logo was named Mimsie. It was designed as a spoof of MGM's Leo The Lion.


March 21, 2023 1:40 pm  #6

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

The Last Show, as it aired on WBBM Chicago

Last edited by Hansa (March 21, 2023 1:40 pm)


March 21, 2023 1:46 pm  #7

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

So it wasn't really the first purpose-made series finale, but it was, after the Fugitive, the first notable one and the one that influenced other shows to do the same thing if they were lucky enough to escape sudden cancellation. It's also interesting since while today, a long-running show would have an extended episode of at least an hour for a sitcome, and two hours for a drama, the MTM finale was just a regular half-hour and without the season-long buildup you'd get today. 

Interestingly, while the Mary Tyler Moore finale won its timeslot, it wasn't the ratings collossus people assume it was. According to Wikipedia "the episode scored a 25.5 rating, ranking #6 for the week". 


March 21, 2023 5:39 pm  #8

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

The final season of Mary Tyler Moore came in #39 for most popular series.  This was the lowest for the shows 7 season run.  Second worst year was the first season in 1970 where the program was the 22nd most popular for that year. 1972/73 season was the strongest for MTM when it placed 7th.

In the UK BBC 1 only ran the first 34 episodes (Feb 1971-Dec 1972) before the show was pulled from the network.  According to wiki initially The Mary Tyler Moore Show was not a hit in syndication averaging only 25% of the US market picking up the series when it was available for weekday syndication scheduling. 


March 21, 2023 5:52 pm  #9

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

And yet, it's considered by many among the best sitcoms ever made and one of the best finales ever. It was certainly the template for final episodes of other shows that followed. After this one episode, it became a "thing" to have a big exit (with subsequent big ratings, thanks to all the hype.) You can list most of them.

Along with M*A*S*H. there was Cheers, St. Elsewhere, Hill St. Blues, Newhart, The X-Files, and it goes on and on. But MTM was the first that did it in grand style by offering an actual ending. 

It was also the beginning of the high-quality programs the MTM production company turned out, almost all of them now considered classics of their time. 

     Thread Starter

March 21, 2023 7:08 pm  #10

Re: 46 Years Ago Today: “The Beginning Of An End” Era For TV Shows

I loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show and watched it every week.  It is interesting that the finale wasn't the number one show that week as Hansa points out.  And I was surprised that MTM was rated so low at #39 overall for their final season.

Yes the last show is a classic, but I always wondered why the new owner would make a point of keeping Ted Baxter on the payroll as anchor.  The fictional WJM was always last in the ratings so why would Ted be the one who keeps his job? He had shown many times including the last episode he was incompetent.

And the new owner said especially and specifically he was letting Mary go when she asked. Not clear why this would be.  Singing A Long Way To Tipperary for the final was a little odd since this song is bathed in Irish/English history and WW1.    

Best final episode IMO was another MTM production with Newhart and his dream. That one to me was the best and set the standard of series finale shows.