Oprah Winfrey's final show is just the latest in the series of "last episode" extravaganzas. And the publicity about it brings to mind other TV finales...as Oprah herself did, in a video posted recently on You Tube to promote her "goodbye".
They included the final episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, The Cosby Show, Cheers, and Walter Cronkite's last newscast on CBS.
The one that was missing was the TV "event" which in all probability kick-started the entire tradition more than 40 years ago.
While it was a dramatic series, The Fugitive was a departure from the usual crime drama. It was the story of Richard Kimble, played by David Janssen, a doctor wrongly accused (as the audience was told) of killing his wife, and, while on his way to prison, escaped the police detective who had arrested him, and who pursued him for the four years after the show began in 1963. (The series was loosely based on the Sam Sheppard murder case in suburban Cleveland in the 1950's)
Its finale, in 1967, was one for the books. It drew the largest audience ever to watch a single episode of a TV series; a record which would stand for more than a decade. What made that record amazing is that the episode didn't air at the end of the pre-rerun regular season. ABC allowed a full rerun cycle of the show to air for the entire summer before the finale aired, in late August. And although The Fugitive was a hit, ABC was the least-watched of the three networks at that time, with the fewest affiliates.
In the episode, Kimble managed to track down the "one-armed man" who actually killed his wife, and the charges against him were dismissed in court.
A postscript: when the Fugitive movie was first released in 1993, NBC re-aired the finale of the TV series, and it, again attracted a large audience.
Although other TV shows ran "final episodes" over the years, I believe the Fugitive was the first to air a episode which neatly wrapped up the series with a much-anticipated ending.
By the way, according to one source, it still ranks in the top 10 (at least when specials or Super Bowls are not counted) in the most-watched episodes of a single series.
And speaking of endings...
I was intrigued by something Ohio University's athletic director said a couple of months ago in Parkersburg.
During the athletics department's "Bobcat Caravan", Jim Schaus noted that OU is one of just 17 "major sports institutions" that has never been hit with NCAA rules violations.
Do you think when he said that, he had in mind a larger institution in Columbus whose football coach just resigned?