The Art of Saying Goodbye

Two words strike fear into the hearts of even the most accomplished TV writers: series finale. We asked the masterminds behind 10 iconic shows to relive the highs and lows of crafting the perfect farewell.

Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston
Image credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad

You know what they say: You have only one chance to make a last impression. The finale of a TV show isn't just the conclusion of a journey — it's a pop culture event, a daunting high-wire act, that critical moment in which a show can burnish or bungle its legacy. With How I Met Your Mother having just signed off in polarizing fashion, we thought we'd explore the phenomenon. How do the writers of a show satisfy their creative vision as well as fans? What goes into making what is often the most scrutinized episode of a series? Is there simply too much attention and pressure placed on finales these days? We spoke with the men and women who have faced down the challenge of wrapping up TV's most beloved shows to glean insight into this tricky feat of storytelling. (We're unclear about the statute of limitations on this stuff, so: Spoiler 'alert!) Let's venture into the Land of the Last by beginning at the end.

Part One: Cracking the Story
Your series will self-destruct in 22 to 44 minutes. Your mission: Make the best episode of your life.

David Crane, Friends
The only thing we absolutely knew from very early on was that we had to get Ross and Rachel' together. We had dicked the audience around for 10 years with their ''will they or won't they,'' and we didn't see any advantage in frustrating them.

Marta Kauffman, Friends
My rabbi would stop me when I would drop my kids off at Hebrew school saying, ''When are they going to get together?'' It was everywhere. I don't think this was about making people happy as much as what's going to be satisfying for us as well.

Jason Katims, Friday Night Lights
The one thing that was really great was that we knew very early on when the series was coming to the end. That helped us in shaping what that last episode was going to be. We started at the beginning of season 5 planting seeds and ideas that would all lead to this final episode.

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