For years, TV series ended abruptly, often canceled after the final episode had aired. Now, it’s increasingly likely to be a prearranged event that can become a season-long, celebratory goodbye.
In the 2019-20 TV season, more than 20 long-running broadcast and cable series, including ABC's “Modern Family” (11 seasons) and CW's “Supernatural" (15 seasons), have announced their departures in advance of their final seasons.
Fans have known for months about the impending conclusion of two network shows this week: CBS' “Criminal Minds,” which wraps up its 15th and final season Wednesday (9 EST/PST), and ABC's “Fresh Off the Boat,” a six-season series that ends Friday (8 EST/PST).
The shift reflects both business and creative change in television. A season-long run-up to a heavily promoted finale can lead to sky-high ratings, as was the case last season for "Game of Thrones" and "The Big Bang Theory." Often, broadcast networks know the end is near: Contracts with actors usually run six seasons, which explains why "Boat," Fox's "Empire" and ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" are exiting as they hit that mark.
Cable and especially streaming programmers can make series decisions individually, separate from the complicated choices that go into a weekly broadcast schedule. Streaming services that feature fewer long-running series, such as Netflix and Amazon, often reveal departures in advance: Amazon last week announced both the seventh season renewal and exit of "Bosch."
Increasingly powerful producers have more of a partnership with networks in deciding to wind down a show, as “Arrow” mega-producer Greg Berlanti did.
On the creative side, advance notice gives producers and writers the chance to craft a satisfying final season and closing episode.
“It’s something that we had been thinking about for about a year and a half,” “Modern Family” executive producer Steven Levitan says. “The writing staff, we talked about it all the time, potential places that we could end it so that we can build some things in that lead to that nicely.”
And once the news is announced, marketing and publicity departments can plan season-long goodbyes.
Less than 15 years ago, when streaming shows didn't exist and cable wasn’t as strong a player, the producers of ABC's “Lost” shook the broadcast model by plotting a three-season renewal and fixed closing date for the serialized hit, which ran counter to the usual process of continuing a show indefinitely as long as ratings remained high.
That seems old-fashioned considering the current trend, which seems only to be growing. This season’s count could be triple the number that closed during the last TV season, which also marked the departure of HBO's "Veep," Fox's "Gotham," CBS' "Elementary" and CW's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "Jane the Virgin."
In recent months, networks have promoted a slew of impending goodbyes, with finales airing for Showtime's “The Affair,” HBO's “Ballers,” "Silicon Valley" and “The Deuce,” USA's “Suits,” CBS' "Madam Secretary,” Netflix's “BoJack Horseman,” NBC's “The Good Place” and Starz's “Power.”
Besides "Modern Family" (April 8) and "Supernatural" (May 18), the months ahead will feature other planned series finales, including Showtime's "Homeland," Pop's "Schitt’s Creek," History's "Vikings," CW's "The 100," NBC's "Will & Grace," ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and and Netflix's "GLOW" and "Fuller House."
These days, the novel plan for "Lost," is almost a built-in plan, especially for serialized shows such as "Power."
"The story was ending," says creator Courtney Kemp. "I only planned for five years. Starz asked for another year, so we did that. Unlike a procedural, where you can go on forever making episodes, this show was about a specific thing, about a specific time in American history, about being African American. … I think it was time. The story had told itself."
Abrupt cancellations still happen, as fans of ABC's "Speechless" and Fox's "Lethal Weapon" sadly learned last year. But they're less common in cable, which made Showtime's cancellation of "Ray Donovan" after its Season 7 finale seem out of the ordinary.
Even "Ray" may get a proper TV burial: Star Liev Schreiber wrote about the potential for closure after cancellation. Reports are circulating that the drama could get a few more episodes or even a movie wrapup, much like as was the case with USA TODAY's 2018 Save Our Shows poll winner, "Timeless," which got a two-hour sendoff from NBC months after its cancellation.
"Too soon to say how or when, but with a little luck and your ongoing support, there will be more 'Ray Donovan,'" Schreiber wrote on Instagram.
With a trend like that, there may be fewer instances of shows ending on cliffhangers, leaving fans of shows such as "Hannibal" and "Revolution" still wondering what happened to their favorite characters.