9 times networks bungled the endings of classic TV shows

Even fantastic shows can do fans wrong in the end.

Image: The Everett Collection

Where was that orphan that Fonzie had just adopted? Why did that girl in The Twilight Zone suddenly talk like Rocky from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? Where was Greg Brady's dad on his big graduation day? Wait… where is the part two of that cliffhanger??

Sometimes, television shows do not end the way the writers intended. Networks dig up some unused episodes to air after the planned "series finale." Perhaps an unexpected cancelation leads to dangling threads. Circumstances such as these led networks to fumble the finales of the following series.

Many shows — from Hogan's Heroes to Gilligan's Island — seemed to just… stop… without a true end to the overall story. That's not what we're talking about here. These are endings that networks stretched into months-long waits — or even eternal waits. The stories behind them are rather fascinating. Let's take a look.

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1. Happy Days


Happy Days had the perfect ending. Chachi proposes to Joanie. Fonzie shows his maturity and adopts an orphan. He then serves as the best man for Chachi at his wedding. Richie (Ron Howard), who had left the show, returned home for the celebration — sporting a mustache. Happy Days had the perfect ending… until it wasn't the ending. After this epic two-part conclusion titled "Passages" aired, the network realized it had some unaired episodes in the can. So, after the intended finale aired in early May, more Happy Days kept on coming. Five more, to be exact. Which means, the last episode people saw was "Fonzie's Spots," months later in September of 1984, with Fonzie anachronistically dressed as the Easter Bunny.

2. Star Trek


Fans saved Star Trek. The sci-fi series sat on the chopping block after season two, but a letter-writing campaign from loyal Trekkies convinced the network to bring Kirk and crew back for another year. But when it came time to air the series finale, "Turnabout Intruder," the Enterprise hit an obstacle it could not overcome, the death of a former American president. On Friday, March 28, 1969, Dwight D. Eisenhower passed away. NBC justifiably preempted the Star Trek finale to air a special report on the death of a legend. But then the network seemed to just forget about Star Trek. "Turnabout Intruder" sat on a shelf for more than two months. When it finally ran in June, the last Star Trek episode confusingly appeared at a new night and time, Tuesday at 7:30PM. 

3. The Andy Griffith Show


Barney and Gomer had been gone from the series for a few seasons; they left back in the black & white days. Still, Don Knotts returned to Mayberry in the color years. He could have come back for a tender, touching finale. Andy and Helen could have gotten married. The newlyweds could have welcomed a new child. Well, in fact, both of those life-changing events did happen, only they occurred on Mayberry R.F.D., not The Andy Griffith Show. Instead, Andy wrapped up with a pilot episode, "Mayberry R.F.D.," which focused more on new characters like Ken Berry rather than the beloved regulars. 

4. Twin Peaks


With its dense plot, a multitude of characters, unfolding mystery and cult fanbase, Twin Peaks had fans on the edge of their couch waiting to see just how the heck the story would end. And they had to wait. And wait. In April 1991, the David Lynch series aired "The Path to the Black Lodge." As the title suggests, in the episode, we finally learn the way to Black Lodge. (Look, it would take a novel to explain the plot if you haven't seen it. Just trust us when we say that this was important.) The next episode would not air for two agonizing months. At last, in June, the final two episodes of season two aired. Of course, we had to wait another quarter century to figure out what the heck happened next.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. ALF


It was a cliffhanger that kept on hanging. In the final moments of season four, at the close of "Consider Me Gone," ALF is surrounded by federal agents just as he's planning to leave Earth to join his alien pals Skip and Rhonda on New Melmac. "To Be Continued…," the screen declared. However, it wasn't continued. The network axed the show after the cliffhanger finale had been filmed.

6. V: The Series


ALF was not the only '80s sci-fi franchise to leave fans hanging. A continuation of the smash miniseries V (1983) and V: The Final Battle (1984), V: The Series (1984–85) brought cinematic splendor to the small screen. No wonder — with a price tag of $1 million per episode, V was the most expensive show on television. Production was so costly, that when the network scrubbed V from its lineup (and, more importantly, its accounting books) filming of the second half of the two-part finale was 86'ed. Thus, "The Return" ended on a cliffhanger, and the subsequent conclusion, "The Attack," was never seen.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Miami Vice


It may have been the ultimate '80s show in terms of aesthetics, but Miami Vice did not wrap up until 1990. That was not the intention. "Freefall," the two-hour series finale, aired on May 21, 1989. The fifth and final season of Vice had been darker, more violent, Jan Hammer-less and hairier (Crockett sported an epic mane that would make Bon Jovi jealous). But "Freefall" was not the end. In the summer following that movie-length finale, NBC aired three new episodes of Miami Vice, "World of Trouble," "Leap of Faith" and "Miracle Man." There was a fourth previously unseen episode, too, the oddly appropriately titled "Too Much, Too Late." However, that tale, guest starring Pam Grier, was deemed too risque for network television. The USA Network finally aired almost a year later, in early 1990, on cable. Yep, fans without cable could not watch the final episode.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. The Brady Bunch


Behind the scenes, Robert Reed did not hold back his criticism of The Brady Bunch. The actor found some of the plots too inane. Reed argued with producers over the script for "The Hair-Brained Scheme," in which Greg dyes his hair orange with a non-FDA-approved tonic before his graduation. The producers, in turn, wrote Reed out of the story. So, when Greg Brady finally earns his high school diploma, his dad, Mike Brady, is nowhere to be seen. "We're so proud that you graduated with honors, Greg," Carol says. "Too bad your father was out of town and had to miss it." The Bunch was missing a key family member in the end.

9. The Twilight Zone


"The Bewitching Pool" was not intended to be the final episode of The Twilight Zone. A tale of divorce and a magical swimming pool, the season five episode was meant to air in March of 1964. Problems arose during post-production. The outdoor footage had aggressively loud background noise from the studio lot, making the audio recording unusable. The cast had to return to re-record and dub in new dialogue. Unfortunately, actress Mary Badham, who played the daughter who dives in the mystical pool, had returned home to Alabama. The studio was unwilling to pony up the money to fly her back to L.A. for some audio dubbing. Instead, producers hired ace voice actress June Foray to dub in the voice of the character. Which is why the character Sport Sharewood speaks with a Southern accent indoors and suddenly sounds exactly like Rocky the Flying Squirrel when she's by the pool (as seen here). Once you learn it's June Foray doing the voice, it's hard not to hear Rocky! Which is better than getting the Bullwinkle guy, I suppose. Because of all that fuss, "The Bewitching Pool" did not air until June, a month after the penultimate episode.

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Delmo 35 months ago
You can't blame the networks for the Andy Griffith & Brady Bunch endings.
scott 42 months ago
“The Bewitching Pool” was one of the ‘kind and sweet’ episodes of TTZ written by Rod Serling’s friend, Earl Hamner, Jr. — who of course created The Waltons. While these Hamner-penned shows were great, I believe many Zone fans would have preferred a more ‘creepy’ Serling-written series ending. An episode that makes viewers think about themselves and the state of mankind. Serling was way ahead of his time; many television series and films have “borrowed” plots and thoughts from TTZ. On a semi-related note: does anyone have any thoughts about the series finale of The Waltons, which was titled “The Revel?”
RedSamRackham 54 months ago
* Another error in the Happy Days finale was no mention of Chuck or where he went after 1st season. If Rin Tin Tin had done a series finale Lt. Rip Masters could've married and adopted Rusty. A perfect Gilligan's Island finale could've ended like Newhart with Maynard G. Krebs waking up from a dream. ☺
JoeGuenther RedSamRackham 54 months ago
Remember how the Cunningham house had a dining room? That's because the first season was set in an alternative time line a concept seen on Dark Shadows. That time line also claimed Spearchucker Jones and numerous other characters from Mash. Radar was a Timelord that's why a seventies Marvel comic book wound up in the Korean War. The Timelords punished him for that by changing him from a wisearse in the early seasons to a country hick in the seasons after Henry died.
LynCarceo RedSamRackham 35 months ago
Maynard G. Krebs waking up, having had a dream, and Alan Hale is his next-door neighbor.
RobChapman 54 months ago
I don't have enough fingers and toes, and individual hairs on my head, to count the number of series that ended on cliffhangers and then got cancelled. Leaving viewers with no resolution to the story. That is why I've mostly stopped wathcing new series. No point in investing years watching a show, only for it to end with no closure.

Speaking of Star Trek and bungled finales....none is more infamous that the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise. Which, technically wasn't even an episode of Enterprise, it was a pseudo episode of The Next Generation. Having your entire main cast as background characters in their own finale, while focusing the story on a character from a show that had ended over a decade earlier.....very bad idea. Seriously, the entire episode is a holodeck program being run by Riker (during the events of the TNG episode "Pegasus") and is set 7 years after the rest of the Enterprise's 4th season. It doesn't help that the story jumps back & forth. It's a disaster. And is often considered one of the worst episodes of Star Trek...ever.
LynCarceo RobChapman 35 months ago
The less said about it, the better.
Lacey 63 months ago
This is the reason I have always hated "cliffhanger" endings to show seasons.
It is used to entice new viewers to return to the show in the fall, but itis an insult to the fan base that kept the show successful all along. If the show is canceled then you are left hanging.

By the same token, show "endings" have usually been disappointing. This seemed to become the standards after the Mary Tyler Moore did it in the 1970s, but it usually means the writers have to come up with endings they never planned on. Let the show go off into the ether. The fans would love to just imagine their charters living on their lives. Life seldom has definitive endings.
RedSamRackham Lacey 54 months ago
* Worst series finale ending was 2 And A Half Men with a piano falling from the sky crushing a Charlie stand-in. ♣
JoeGuenther Lacey 54 months ago
Both Newhart and St. Elsewhere had good finale's.
Ilovelalaw Lacey 48 months ago
I read in an article a couple of decades ago that sometimes it's the show's creators/runners/whatever getting ticked off with the network for canceling the show and deciding that they'll give the network a massive headache by creating a last episode that ends in such disaster, tragedy, etc. that their fans'll be up in arms and so ticked off that they'll flood the network's phone banks with calls. The only time that I can remember that this actually served to get the show uncanceled was the show Jericho with Skeet Ulrich and Gerald McRaney. At the end of that episode, Ulrich's character is told to surrender and replies "Nuts". The fans sent, if I remember correctly, something like hundreds of pounds of nuts to the network offices!
Brenton 65 months ago
Another classic that did not end with the episode it was intended is I Dream of Jeannie. The last episode was supposed to be "Hurricane Jeannie". This was the last episode filmed. The cast and crew had a feeling the series would not be picked up for a sixth season. After NBC literally forced series creator, Sidney Sheldon, to marry Jeannie and Maj. Nelson, the ratings had fallen.

In "Hurricane Jeannie," Dr. Bellows, Maj. Healey, Maj. Nelson, and Jeannie are all stranded at the Nelson home during a hurricane. Dr. Bellows finds out Jeannie is a genie and Maj. Nelson decides to resign from NASA. Even Jeannie's bottle is broken!! At the very end, we find out Maj. Nelson had a nightmare! It was the perfect series finale. Unfortunately, NBC aired two lackluster episodes that were originally preempted due to breaking news (one due to Apollo 13) AFTER "Hurricane Jeannie" was aired. So, not only were the episodes shown out of order in primetime due to the preemtions, since it aired that way originally -it is shown out of order in syndication and on the DVDs.
RedSamRackham 67 months ago
Also in that Happy Days finale when Joanie and Chachi wed Howrad mentions raising 2 wonderful kids leavinf viewers to wonder "Uhh, what about Chuck? Why didn't he return for the finale?" ☺
scp RedSamRackham 67 months ago
I always thought it would be amusing if, on some other TV show, they had a brief mention of a story out of Milwaukee about police finding the remains of a teenager who'd died sometime in the 1950's being found in a crawlspace of an old house along with a basketball.
JoeGuenther RedSamRackham 54 months ago
So ticked when Scorpion ended on a lousy cliffhanger that split up the team.
Tresix 67 months ago
"Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior", "Heist", and the 2000 "Fugitive" TV series all ended on unresolved cliffhangers. Which really irked the Hell out of me!
Pacificsun 67 months ago
I could be wrong (and usually am) but it wasn't intended for Star Trek:TOS to have a finale, much less an "ending" episode. Turnabout Intruder was probably the second worst premise, next to Spock's Brain. However, in theory the opening narration already identified the ending, in terms of a five year mission. Every episode counted down a star date. But producers (being the keen strategists they are) calculated that the Star Trek movies would carry on the story arc (adventures) to a satisfying conclusion, simply due to the nature of aging actors. They recognized that reasoning as a way to gradually write them out of the story arc for noble reasons. And to support the fans during their long goodbye.
Pacificsun 67 months ago
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djw1120 garykevinware 67 months ago
I think BOTH episodes were - in a word - LOUSY!!!
ST-TOS's best episode was the one that won the Hugo Award "City On The Edge of Forever"
Another good one was the two-parter "Court Martial" where Spock went on trial facing the only death penalty on Federation records - contact with the planet "Talos Four"
ttenchantr djw1120 63 months ago
Actually, the name of that two parter was "The Menagerie." "Court Martial" is the episode where Kirk in on trial for killing a crewman.
JoeGuenther djw1120 54 months ago
Always loved A Piece of the Action. The cast was having a ball with that one.
RedSamRackham JoeGuenther 48 months ago
Desilu recycled Untouchables scenery & wardrobe for Star Trek "A Piece Of The Action" episode! ☺
Dicazi 67 months ago
You missed Quantum Leap and Alien Nation.
Both ended on cliffhangers.
Alien Nation was renewed. The writers were on-lot and working when the new head of Fox cancelled the show because he personally didn't like it.
Vozpit Dicazi 67 months ago
Quantum Leap didn't end on a cliffhanger. It said Sam continued to leap through time, never to return home.
Dicazi Vozpit 67 months ago
That wasn't the way it was meant to end. And fans hated it.
Pacificsun Dicazi 67 months ago
Quantum Leap's finale was to be "an" ending, while leaving open the door for a potential pickup or movie. Bellisario was quite competent about his QL vision. And could've used the wide open premise to create all kinds of endings. But in fact left the fans with a very creative mystery. Those who wanted an ending, may have read something into it. However true fans always want more!
djw1120 Pacificsun 67 months ago
Ain't that the truth.
MrsPhilHarris 67 months ago
I don't remember a voice change in The Bewitching Pool.
cperrynaples 67 months ago
Robert Reed WAS on the set of the final episode, he just refused to perform and watched along with his boyfriend. This version has been confirmed by the cast members and depicted in a FOX TV movie!
ELEANOR cperrynaples 67 months ago
Yep, Robert Reed wrote himself out of the final episode.
DawnGraham cperrynaples 67 months ago
Don't blame him, it was a terrible episode.
cperrynaples cperrynaples 67 months ago
A footnote on the Fox Brady movie. First of all, I am not referring to the horrible "Bradys In The White House" in which Gary Cole's Mike Brady accidentally becomes President. The show I'm referencing was an one-hour special which was double billed with a "Diff'rent Strokes" film that must be seen to be believed. Basically, it was narrated by a dead Dana Plato ala William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard". Most bizarrely, it featured the real Todd Bridges playing a drug dealer!!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 67 months ago
Gad, what were the producers sniffing THAT day!
LittleMissNoName ELEANOR 54 months ago
Basically, he (Robert Reed) had a hand in killing the show early, but was ready to come back a few years later for that awful variety show. They might could have saved the show by first sending cousin Oliver back home and letting the main focus of the plots be about Greg starting college.

* Yet Robert Reed participated in that lame Brady Bunch Variety Hour which Eve Plumb had the integrity to avoid being replaced by "fake Jan" ☺
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