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This Week in Sitcom History – May 14th-20th
Series Finale Fest
This was a week of endings. Over 30 sitcoms aired their series finales between May 14th and May 20th, from obscure, short-lived jaunts to wildly-popular, long-running legends. Here are a few of the most significant.
May 14th, 1998: Seinfeld’s Feeble Finale Flops
The very last episode of Seinfeld, “The Finale,” aired on May 14th, 1998. It was the fourth most watched series finale of all time, and commercials that aired during the two-part episode sold for upwards of $1 million dollars, making it the only time a primetime series fetched seven figures for advertising. Previously, only The Super Bowl had reached that level. Unfortunately the episode’s content couldn’t quite live up to the hype, and most fans—myself included—agree it served as a lackluster ending for the popular show.
May 14th, 2001: Moesha’s Cliffhanger Conclusion Confuses
The series finale of Moesha, “Paying the Piper,” aired on May 14th, 2001. In an unusual move, the show’s writers chose to end it on a cliffhanger with Myles (Marcus T. Paulk) being kidnapped, Moesha (Brandy Norwood) unsure whether she should move in with her boyfriend or her best friend, and Jerome (Lahmard J. Tate) finding a positive pregnancy test in the trash and wondering to whom it belonged. At the time, Entertainment Weekly claimed the pregnancy question would be answered in the spinoff, The Parkers, but sadly, it never was, and Moesha fans are still wondering to this day.
May 15th, 1995: UPN’s First Comedy Calls it Quits
The oddly-titled Platypus Man was the first ever comedy series to air on UPN. The series starred comedian Richard Jeni as a cooking show host who struggled with relationships and recipes. It lasted only one season, and its final episode, “Dying to Live,” aired on May 15th, 1995. In this episode, a psychic foretold Richard’s death but failed to predict the death of the show.
May 16th, 2001: Two Guys and a Girl’s Internet Poll Presents Pregnancy Possibilities
The last episode of Two Guys and a Girl (formerly Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place), “The Internet Show,” aired on May 16th, 2001. It was the first (and probably only) series finale ever to be decided by an internet poll. Despite the title, the last season featured three guys and three girls, and the finale had all three girls thinking they might be pregnant. The poll presented the audience with four options: three where each of the three girls found out she was pregnant and one where none of them was pregnant. For some reason, the internet wanted Ashley (Suzanne Cryer) to be pregnant. Poor Ashley. The writers planned to have Ashley give birth at the end of the following season, but the show was cancelled.
May 19th, 1998: MTM’s Last Sitcom Slips Away
Mary Tyler Moore’s production company, MTM Enterprises, produced some of the most popular sitcoms of all time, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, Phyllis, WKRP in Cincinnati, and Newhart among many others. The company’s final production was Good News, a one-season sitcom about a young pastor who takes over a church in Compton. Its final episode, “Under the Influence,” aired on May 19th, 1998.
May 20th, 1993: Cheers’s Retirement Rivals a Record
The last episode of Cheers, “One for the Road,” aired on May 20th, 1993. The three-part epic was the second most watched series finale of all time, topping Seinfeld’s finale by about four million viewers. M*A*S*H still holds the record for the most watched finale ever with 105 million viewers.
May 20th, 1996: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Closes with Classic Comedy Cross-Overs
The final episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “I, Done,” aired on May 20th, 1996. In this episode, the Banks family decided to sell their house and move to the East Coast. Among the potential buyers were Gary Coleman and Conrad Bain as Arnold Jackson and Philip Drummond, their characters from Diff’rent Strokes. This was Conrad Bain’s final TV appearance before he retired. The Bankses ultimately sold their stately home to Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford as George and Weezy Jefferson from The Jeffersons.
Cavalcade of Chuck Cunninghams
Chuck Cunningham was a regular character on Happy Days for two seasons before he was quietly eliminated with no onscreen explanation and never referred to again. This type of mysterious disappearance of a sitcom character is now referred to as “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.” Two characters fell victim to this syndrome this week in sitcom history.
May 14th, 1993: Judy Winslow is Wiped from Family Matters
In the first four seasons of Family Matters, the Winslows had a daughter named Judy played by Jaimee Foxworth. She last appeared in the season four finale, “Buds ‘n’ Buds,” which aired on May 14th, 1993. Beginning in season five, Judy was erased from existence. The producers chose to discontinue her character to make room for the zany antics of Steve Urkel (Jaleel White).
May 15th, 1979: John is Jettisoned from Taxi
In the first season of Taxi, Randall Carver played fresh-faced, naïve college student, John Burns, who surprised everyone at the garage by marrying a woman he’d just met on a whim. After season one, John disappeared without explanation—unlike Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway), who was given a tearful farewell when he was fired in season four. Apparently the producers felt they couldn’t develop John’s character any further.
Recast Roles Roundup
Sometimes instead of deleting a character from a show, producers choose to recast them with a different actor. Such was the case for two characters this week in sitcom history.
May 15th, 1996: John Paul Steuer’s Parents Pull Him from Grace Under Fire
John Paul Steuer played Quentin Kelly on Grace Under Fire for three seasons before he was replaced by Sam Horrigan for the remainder of the series. John’s parents reportedly pulled him from the show due to Brett Butler’s substance abuse and alleged lewd behavior toward their then 12-year-old son. Brett had apparently exposed herself to John at least once while on the set. Good call, John’s parents.
May 18th, 1993: Alicia Goranson Bids Bye to Becky Conner
Alicia Goranson played Becky Conner, Roseanne’s daughter, on Roseanne for five seasons before leaving the show to attend college. Coincidentally, her last episode was “Daughters and Other Strangers,” which aired on May 18th, 1993. Sarah Chalke took over the role until Alicia returned in season eight. The show celebrated her return with a shot-for-shot recreation of the intro to The Patty Duke Show featuring Alicia and Sarah as “nearly identical Beckys.”
May 14th, 1959: The Last Live Sitcom Launches
When television was first invented, all TV shows were filmed and broadcast live. This method came with many complications, not the least of which were persistent lag, flubbed lines, missed cues, and unexpected time constraints like the one that famously cut off the ending of a “Honeymooners” sketch on The Jackie Gleason Show. As technology advanced, networks began pre-recording episodes for future airing. The last sitcom ever to be broadcast the old fashioned way was the short-lived coming-of-age comedy, Too Young to Go Steady, which premiered May 14th, 1959.
May 18th, 1997: 3rd Rock from the Sun Sabotages Network-Stipulated 3D Sequences
Season two of 3rd Rock from the Sun ended with a massively-promoted two-part 3D finale called “A Nightmare on Dick Street” on May 18th, 1997. Barq’s teamed up with Little Caesar’s to provide 3D glasses for the occasion. The show’s creators objected to the ratings-grabbing gimmick, so they decided to teach the network a lesson by spending millions to create some of the weirdest, most over-the-top dream sequences ever conceived for television, including a ragtime song-and-dance performance by Harry (French Stewart) with a cameo by Randy Newman and a disturbing nightmare where Dick (John Lithgow) is tormented by a leather catsuit-clad Mary (Jane Curtain) doing an impression of Marlene Dietrich. The network was unfazed, and the show continued in 2D for another four seasons.