Now that 24 has been announced to be finally coming to an end, speculation is circulating that there may just have to be a big screen finale to officially close out the iconic program. Such a discussion, though, inevitably begs the question of just why can't series finales be enough? Let's take a walk down memory lane and look at some examples of finales that were enough in their small screen version...and a few that left something to be desired.
The Saved by the Bell series finale was probably the first that I paid attention to, but seeing as how most of its cast was going on to the spin-off, the ramifications of the episode were lessened, with the results just being a change of scenery instead of a gaping hole in my television-watching schedule. When The College Years did end, though, it did so with a two-hour made-for-TV movie featuring the long-time "will they or won't they" couple, Zack and Kelly, finally going off and getting married-- but true to form, getting involved in a whole bunch of mischief along the way. Unfortunately by then, though, the show had outstayed its welcome and was limping off our television screens, so though everyone wanted to see Zack and Kelly finally make it official, the movie version was unnecessary for other reasons. What this show would benefit from, though, is one of those reunion movies to see where they are now, and if Zack and Kelly are still together after all of these years (and countless more temptations and distractions). Jimmy Fallon is working on it, but so far no dice...
Friends came to an end a decade after it began with a two-part finale that featured new beginnings and one very specific wrapped up end. The purple apartment (the girls' apartment) was closed up for good as Monica and Chandler moved to a suburb with their newborn twins; Ross and Rachel were going to give their relationship another go; and Joey moved to Los Angeles. That latter bit was never explicit on-screen, which was somewhat questionable since news of the spin-off had long-been in the press. The very last shot of the series, a slow pan of the empty apartment, landing on the door, where the yellow picture frame still surrounded the peephole, was perfect and said volumes by itself. These characters had grown so much in ten short years, but they had done so together, and no amount of physical distance would alter their relationships.
The Seinfeld finale was probably the most polarizing. Longtime fans felt both vindicated that just about every awesome guest star got to return for a cameo, reliving the glory days of the series, and disappointed that the end was just as unassuming as the rest of the series. A simple conversation-- and one they had before, at that-- between the four friends, stuck in a jail cell, ended the series. No Elaine/Jerry revisitation, no "one last time" crazy entrance into a room by Kramer, no growth at all for George. The tag showed Jerry doing a stand-up bit to other prisoners, but by that point many were already saying "Is this really it?" Perhaps luckily, Larry David decided to reunite the cast once again, still on the small screen but at least on a cable network this time, but it may have been too little to late. The series finale may have left many wanting more, but after years of seeing the episodes rerun multiple times daily in syndication, that feeling has long since dissipated.
But these are all sitcoms, which are a whole other animal altogether... After all, in this day and age-- especially with a show as stylized as 24-- television is more often than not taken just as seriously as films. Therefore, the size of the screen on which the finale airs shouldn't make a difference if the writing is as crisp as always and stays true to the tone and heart of the series. There will always be fans who are upset with a finale because it is finite and calls an end to a major part of the pop culture landscape.
Take LOST, for example; regardless of how many unanswered questions fans think remain after the May 23rd series finale airs on ABC, the two-hour epic episode is what the writers and producers have crafted as their final answer. They have said all they want-- and all they feel they need-- to say. A bigger screen continuation would just feel forced and like an attempt to milk a cash cow for its last few drops.
Of course, for series that were canceled before their time, like Veronica Mars, or which changed showrunners, like Gilmore Girls, the writers never got to show the world the end they always envisioned. Whether they deserve a big screen return or simply a web wrap-up, though, is debatable. With new media exploding onto the scene the way that it has through fictional characters' personal videoblogs and "behind the scenes" footage (see Kenneth the Page's talk show, 30 Rock, as well as Modern Family's "lost" interview moments), many more than not are watching the episodes of these series play out on sites like Hulu or even YouTube, as it is. If networks and studios can figure out a way to consistently profit off of original web content, there might be a way to keep classic characters alive that's a little less intrusive and makes them feel even more real.