Five years ago, MTV’s The Hills ended on a surprising note: Series stars Brody Jenner and Kristin Cavallari said goodbye to each other — and minutes later, the camera zoomed out to reveal that the Hollywood backdrop they were standing in front of was actually… a fake backdrop.
This conclusion was a clever nod to constant rumors that the so-called reality show was scripted, and it also made viewers ask, “How much was real?” The Hills wasn’t the first to question the series’ reality in its finale though: Shows like St. Elsewhere and Roseanne went similar routes in their final moments. See how those — and others — said goodbye below.
St. Elsewhere (1988)
After six seasons, St. Elsewhere suggested that those six seasons were completely fictional even within the show’s universe: The medical drama ends with Donald Westphall and his autistic son Tommy watching some snow fall outside the late Dr. Auschlander’s office before the camera cuts to a shot of the hospital where the show took place. The next shot features Tommy sitting on the floor in an apartment and his dad wearing a construction hat — not scrubs. Donald and his own dad briefly discuss how they don’t understand autisim and how Tommy “sits there all day long, in his own world, staring at that toy.” That toy is a snowglobe — and inside the snowglobe is a replica of the hospital, implying that everything that happened in the show came straight from Tommy’s imagination.
People like to theorize that modern TV shows — say, Breaking Bad or Mad Men — will end with the whole thing being just a dream, and in 1990, Newhart actually did that: This ’80s sitcom ended after eight seasons with the show’s star, Bob Newhart, waking up in a bedroom from The Bob Newhart Show’s set — and subsequently realizing that all eight seasons were a dream that Newhart’s character from the previous show (which aired from 1972 to 1978) thought up.
This wasn’t always how the show was supposed to end though: Newhart’s wife, Ginnie, didn’t suggest the idea until sometime during the sixth season when Newhart was talking about ending the show. “Without missing a beat,” Newhart told EW in 2010, “she said, ‘You ought to end it with a dream sequence where you wake up in bed with Suzy.’”
Turns out Roseanne’s ninth and final season was written by the show’s main character, Roseanne Conner. The finale reveals that Roseanne wrote the entire season as a way to deal with her life events — for example, her husband has a heart attack and lives in the show’s eighth season, but in the character’s reality, he actually died.
Two and a Half Men (2015)
The CBS sitcom broke the fourth wall in its final minute when the camera pulled back from the set to reveal series creator Chuck Lorre sitting in a director chair. Lorre turns around, says Charlie Sheen’s infamous catchphrase, “Winning,” into the camera… and then gets crushed by a falling grand piano.