My first last episode was the "Howdy Doody" last episode. I forget which year it ran. Howdy was a TV show about a puppet. In the last episode, I seem to recall Clarabelle the clown, who usually just honked, speaking for the first time, pressing his red nose into the camera and saying, "Goodbye."
My next last episode was "The Fugitive" last episode. It ran Aug. 29, 1967. The fugitive was Dr. Richard Kimble, an innocent victim of blind justice. He had the saddest face I ever saw. I never once heard this man laugh. A smile made his face crack. In the last episode, Lt. Gerard, a mean Indiana cop, shoots a one-armed man who killed Kimble's wife. It was the first and only time America cheered a disabled man getting shot.
My most frustrating last episode was the "Run For Your Life" last episode. Ben Gazzara played a guy given two years to live. The show ran three years. So did Ben. NBC aired the last episode on Sept. 11, 1968, without a resolution. I guess Gazzara's character died off camera, or else he discovered a miracle cure. In those days, NBC apparently believed in must-NOT-see TV.
My favorite last episode was the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" last episode. It ran Sept. 3, 1977. Mary had spunk. I hate spunk. She also had neighbors named Rhoda and Phyllis who were so rude, they spun off into their own TV shows. Her boss Lou Grant went off to run an L.A. newspaper. Her co-worker Murray became captain of a cruise ship. They all got good jobs. Ted Baxter kept his job, but Mary got fired. I believe she's still living in Minneapolis, on welfare.
My least comfortable last episode was the "M*A*S*H" farewell. It ran Feb. 28, 1983. I was uncomfortable because Hawkeye had a nervous breakdown. I felt as uncomfortable as Klinger in men's clothing. I was particularly uncomfortable because I watched this show for 11 years, and nobody ever explained what those "M*A*S*H" asterisks meant. Me, I would have used periods.
Last episodes of popular TV programs come and go. You can't have a first episode without a last episode.
"My Friend Flicka" had a last episode. "My Favorite Martian" had one. "My Mother the Car" had one. "My Three Sons" had one. I can't remember for sure, but I believe Flicka was put out to the breeding shed, the Martian exchanged the antenna in his head for basic cable, his Mother the Car got totaled in a freeway chase and all Three Sons still live in their father's house, unable to get a life.
Some last episodes are less interesting than previous episodes. The last episode of "Dallas," for example, ran nearly 11 years after the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode. Nearly 80% of all TV viewers saw that Nov. 21, 1980 show. Far fewer saw the 1991 last episode, which ended with J.R.'s brother apparently seeing J.R. shoot J.R.
This is just a hunch, but the last episode of "Seinfeld" will probably go for a different ending. I don't want to ruin the surprise for anybody, but a reliable source informs me that in the last episode, Seinfeld, as politically incorrect as ever, shocks his friends by shooting a one-armed man.
I predict it will be every bit as unforgettable as the "Gunsmoke" last episode, in which Miss Kitty moves to Beverly Hills, opens a new business and makes a lot of money off her regulars, including Charlie Sheen.
There was also the last episode of "Gilligan's Island," in which, as loyal viewers will recall, Gilligan and the Skipper were not only rescued, but were later implicated in the Navy's notorious Tailhook scandal.
And who among us will ever forget the last episode of "I Dream of Jeannie," the show about a woman who is kept in a bottle until it's time to serve her master? I really liked the scene in which Jeannie sues the astronaut for false imprisonment, sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
(Well, she could have.)
I miss most last episodes. The last last episode I do remember was "Cheers," which I remember mainly for Jay Leno doing a live interview afterward in a Boston bar with the "Cheers" cast. Most of them appeared to be cheers-faced.
I do watch a lot of first episodes. Most first episodes are so bad, I can't believe there's a next episode.
The only shows I never see are ones like "The Simpsons," "Beavis and Butt-head" and "Meet the Press," because I never watch cartoons.
Like millions of TV viewers Thursday night, I will be watching Jerry Seinfeld's last episode on NBC. If we are lucky, television will give us a lot more last episodes. A good start would be most of the shows on ABC.
Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053 or phone (213) 237-7366.