"Friends" Milkshake Image
Amazon

The 24 Most-Watched TV Show Finales

View Slideshow
"Friends" Milkshake Image
Amazon

Beloved Farewells

Before streaming and DVRs (and even VCRs), missing an episode of television was a crisis — there was no guarantee when or if it would be rerun, and with a series or season that had ended, it might truly be gone for good (well, it seemed that way back then). Not surprisingly, hit shows that were also prime water cooler content scored big in the ratings. Here are the most-watched finales.


Related: 17 Beloved Classic TV Shows You Can Still Watch

"Lost" Series Poster
Amazon

'Lost'

13.5 million viewers


While plenty of people found the 2010 ending of this series disappointing due to unresolved storylines (what was up with those polar bears?), that doesn't mean they didn't watch it. Critical response was just as mixed, though the episode was nominated for eight Emmy awards.


Related: 20 Ridiculous Things Americans Obsessed About 10 Years Ago

"The Big Bang Theory" Series Poster
Amazon

'The Big Bang Theory'

18.5 million viewers


This much-loved series about a group of nerdy CalTech scientists scored a ratings hit when, after 12 seasons, it signed off with two married characters, Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons), winning the Nobel Prize. The two-hour finale brought in 18.5 million viewers. Those still missing the show, which ended in 2019, can tune into the spinoff, "Young Sheldon."


Related: Awesome Gifts for Couch Potatoes and TV Lovers

"Game of Thrones" Series Poster
Amazon

'Game of Thrones'

19.3 million viewers


Given that fans were largely unhappy with the final season overall (there was a petition to have all of it reshot with new scripts) and critics also complained about the lack of realistic character development, the season finale still performed well. For those still grumbling about the 2019 finale, they should remember that the final season had less time to reach a conclusion. Unlike previous seasons, most of which had 10 episodes, the final season was just six episodes long. 


Related: Stunning 'Game of Thrones' Filming Locations Worth Visiting

"L.A. Law" Series
Amazon

'L.A. Law'

22.1 million viewers


Don't remember this sometimes serious, sometimes loopy legal drama? This show won 15 Emmys during its run and tackled tough subjects such as racism, homophobia, and abortion. The finale came after eight seasons in 1994. 


For more fun entertainment stories, please sign up for our free newsletters.


"MacGyver" Season 7
Amazon

'MacGyver'

22.3 million viewers


This show (which was rebooted in 2016) served up a finale surprise in its seventh season. Spoiler alert: Sam, a young man who helped MacGuyver, was actually his son. 


Related: Legendary Vehicles From '70 and '80s TV Shows

"St. Elsewhere" Series
Amazon

'St. Elsewhere'

22.5 million viewers


Like more than a few series, the finale for this beloved hospital drama had a mind-blowing surprise — the whole show had taken place in the mind of an autistic child played by Chad Allen. While fans (and even the cast) had a variety of feelings about the ending, people are still talking about it decades later.


Related: The Most Wasteful Purchases by 25 Celebrities Who Went Broke

"Full House" Series Poster
Amazon

'Full House'

24.3 million viewers


The show was infamous for launching the identical Olsen twins into the public consciousness (and also creating many teen crushes on Uncle Jesse, played by John Stamos). The show was given a sequel on Netflix — "Fuller House" — which followed the lives of now-grown daughters D.J. (Candace Cameron-Bure) and Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) as well as their friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) and lasted five seasons, ending in 2020.

"The Golden Girls" Series Poster
Amazon

'The Golden Girls'

27.2 million viewers


With Dorothy (Bea Arthur) deciding to move out and marry Blanche's Uncle Lucas (Leslie Nielsen in a guest-starring role) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) deciding to sell the house, the end of the four single senior women living together came to a close after seven seasons in 1992.


Related: Mister Rogers' Home and Other Celebrity Houses Regular People Can Afford

"Happy Days" Series Poster
Amazon

'Happy Days'

30.5 million viewers


After 11 seasons, the "kids" weren't hanging out at Al's for a milkshake as much as they were dealing with adulthood — by the last season, Richie (Ron Howard) had married, served in the Army, and was dreaming of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a screenwriting career. Even Fonzie was teaching shop class at the local vocational high school. In the finale, Joannie and Chachi tie the knot, Fonzie adopts a son as a single dad — and 30.5 million people tuned in to watch.


Related: 30 Best Restaurant Scenes in Classic Movies and TV Shows

"Gunsmoke" Series Poster
Amazon

'Gunsmoke'

30.9 million viewers


After a remarkable 20 seasons of television (the Western drama was also a radio program from 1952 to 1961), "Gunsmoke" was finally put out to pasture in 1975. The unhappy news of the show's cancellation was a surprise to the cast and crew, who found out about it from reading industry publications.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" Series Poster
Amazon

'Star Trek: The Next Generation'

31 million viewers


Given that the "Star Trek" franchise is still going strong (both "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Star Trek: Picard" can be found on CBS All Access, along with other Trek content), it should come as no surprise that the series finale of "TNG" scored 31 million viewers. The 1994 show ended after seven seasons despite still being successful — but it was a way for Paramount to keep the focus on upcoming "TNG" feature films.

"Everybody Loves Raymond" Series Poster
Amazon

'Everybody Loves Raymond'

32.9 million viewers


It turned out that a lot of people really did love Raymond (or at least star Ray Romano and his on-screen family, which included Doris Roberts, Peter Boyle, Brad Garrett, and Patricia Heaton). The show ended after nine seasons in 2005.

"Dallas" Series Cast
Amazon

'Dallas'

33.3 million viewers


When the show ended in 1991 after 14 seasons, it was must-see TV, but the ratings weren't even close to the show's famous fourth episode of the fourth season. That episode answered the months-long debate (and betting) over who shot J.R. — and drew between 83 million and 90 million viewers, the second-highest Nielsen ratings for a single television episode in U.S. history.

"Frasier" Series Poster
Amazon

'Frasier'

33.7 million viewers 


A spinoff of "Cheers" that followed the life of Dr. Frasier Crane as he hosted a call-in radio advice show in Seattle, the series lasted 11 seasons. The 2004 series finale managed to jam in a wedding, a birth, and a cliffhanger (all told through flashbacks).

"Home Improvement" Series Poster
Amazon

'Home Improvement'

35.5 million viewers


The show that made Tim Allen a star (and also helped launch Pamela Anderson, who was a Tool Time girl for two seasons) also had staying power — the show lasted eight seasons before ending in 1999. 


Related: Iconic Movie and TV Beaches You Need to Visit

"Family Ties" Series
Amazon

'Family Ties'

36.3 million viewers


Perhaps most famous for Michael J. Fox's money-loving, junior Republican character Alex P. Keaton, this TV show about Boomer former-hippies-turned-parents and their more-conservative kids was on the air for seven seasons, ending in 1989. In the finale, Alex got ready to say goodbye to his family as well as viewers, having decided to move to New York.

"All in the Family" Series Poster
Amazon

'All in the Family'

40.2 million viewers


Airing from 1971 to 1979, the show about a cantankerous patriarch Archie and his obsequious wife Edith may have annoyed as much as it amused, but fans tuned in to watch a surprising (and rare) moment of sweetness when Archie visited Edith's bedside to tell her how much he loved and relied on her in the final episode. A spinoff, "Archie Bunker's Place," would air a few months later and would last four seasons.

"The Cosby Show" Cast
Amazon

'The Cosby Show'

44.4 million viewers


While Bill Cosby's legacy has become complicated in the 21st century, in the '80s and '90s he was a beloved father figure for eight seasons on "The Cosby Show." Like other series that rely on a major life event to drive the last episode, in the finale son Theo graduates from college, while daughter Denise (Lisa Bonet) reveals she is pregnant. The last episode aired in 1992.

"Magnum, P.I." Poster
Amazon

'Magnum, P.I.'

50.7 million viewers


With his white pants, Hawaiian shirts, and the best guest house in Hawaii, Magnum, P.I. (Tom Selleck) was a cool, often funny investigator who still got the job done. After he seemed to die at the end of the seventh season, fans were incensed — and he returned for a brief eighth season, before the show finally ended (with a very much alive Magnum) in 1988.


Related: 22 Iconic RVs From Movies and TV Shows

"Friends" Series Poster
Amazon

'Friends'

52.5 million viewers


Central Perk got its last visit from Chandler, Monica, Ross, Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe in 2004, and the issue of whether Rachel and Ross would finally get together for good was finally resolved (spoiler alert: they did). Though not many stuck around to watch the spinoff, Rachel and Ross got married on "Joey," which lasted just two seasons.

"Seinfeld" Series Poster
Amazon

'Seinfeld'

76.3 million viewers


The series was famously about nothing — and ended with Jerry, Kramer, Elaine, and George sitting in a jail cell, bickering with one another — but fans were happy to tune in for nine seasons of quintessentially New York City-style complaining. The series finale aired in 1998.


Related: 22 Comedy Stars and the Serious Causes They Support

"The Fugitive" Series Poster
Amazon

'The Fugitive'

78 million viewers


Before there was "Who shot J.R.?" there was "Who is the one-armed man?" For four seasons, viewers wondered who had really killed Dr. Kimble's wife (and how Kimble, who had been charged with the murder, would stay one step ahead of the law). A remarkable 78 million viewers tuned in to see the one-armed man, Fred Johnson, fall to his death and Kimble ultimately exonerated. The 1960s TV show also inspired the 1993 movie of the same name starring Harrison Ford.

"Cheers" Season 11
Amazon

'Cheers'

80.4 million viewers


The bar "where everybody knows your name" closed after 11 seasons in 1993. The 98-minute finale was seen by roughly 40% of the American population at the time and saw the return of Shelley Long as Diane. Though she and Sam (Ted Danson) reunited and are even briefly engaged, they amicably broke it off — and Sam returned to his one true love, his bar. 


Related: The Best TV Shows Starring Boomers

"M*A*S*H" Season 11
Amazon

'M*A*S*H'

105 million viewers


An emotional look at the end of the Korean War, this episode didn't shy away from tackling some difficult issues, including an episode of PTSD suffered by Hawkeye (Alan Alda). The 1983 episode was the most-watched television event ever until 2010, when the Super Bowl featuring the New Orlean Saints and the Indianapolis Colts attracted 106.5 million viewers.