Satisfying Ends to Series

This week marks the end of two television series that I watch and love—Grimm and Bones. Grimm is on its sixth season, Bones its twelfth. And they share more with each other than eerie titles.

I think there are several reasons why these series had such broad appeal:

  • Each episode was a self-contained mystery while the series had an over-arching storyline that unfolded over the course of the series or the lifetime of the show.
  • Both boasted diverse casts and featured strong women rather than damsels-in-distress.
  • These ensemble casts were able to transcend their supporting-character roles and become integral to the stories, lending complexity and believability to the shows that would have been lacking if the focus remained too heavily centered on the main characters.
  • Each show had a romantic element that contributed to the richness of the story without overtaking it.
  • While both tackled the serious topic of murder, both managed to add enough humor and levity to keep most episodes from getting too dark.
  • Both stories were so rooted in their respective settings that the towns almost became characters in their own rights.

In short, we were able to enter the worlds of these characters for an hour each week and share their lives with them.

Endings are hard. (Sorry, Chuck, for the plagiarism there. Supernatural fans, you get it.)

I’ve watched plenty of shows over the years whose endings left a lot to be desired. Heck, whose endings made me wonder why I wasted so much time on the shows just to be disappointed at the end. (Yes, I do mean Seinfeld and Lost, among others. They could have learned something from Newhart.)

Keller TrilogyI’ve just wrapped up the Keller Trilogy in the Cathedral Lake series, and I’m currently working on the ending of the Medici Protectorate series.

Working on those storylines taught me a lot about series work versus standalone stories.

  • Questions posed at the beginning of the saga need to be answered by the end.
    • It’s okay to leave room for spinoffs, but the main storylines must be completed.
  • Don’t introduce new information that won’t have time to be fully developed.
  • Stay true to your characters even as you force them to change and grow and follow their arc. It’s not fair to them or your readers if they act out-of-character just to wrap up a plot point.
  • Don’t be afraid to forego happy endings for everyone. Life is messy; not everybody gets a happily-ever-after. (You probably want to give your main characters a ray of hope, though, even if everyone else suffers.)

I’m excited to watch the ends of Grimm and Bones, even while I’m sad to see them go. But now that I’ve completed (or am near completion of) a series, I have a new appreciation for how difficult they are to craft. I know you can’t please everyone, and certainly not all the time, but if someone is going to invest time, money, and effort in my work, I’m going to do the best I can to not only meet, but exceed, their expectations.

What do you think about endings of series? Did I forget anything? Let’s talk about it.


21 thoughts on “Satisfying Ends to Series

  1. I never watched Bones or Grimm – but I’m a die hard fan of Lost and although the ending was ambiguous at best (like the whole series), it was one I thought about for weeks. But with Newhart – that was perfection. Seinfeld – a heaping dose of disappointment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you might have really enjoyed Grimm. There is a strong horror element without really any gore. And the interplay between the characters is awesome. Sometimes there are episodes on TNT. It’s probably on NetFlix or something. I’ve never checked. I don’t know what you’d think about Bones. It’s very much a procedural; you can find that formula on many shows. It was the characters who carried it for me.

      Lost started so strong and had so much promise. The end frustrated me. I felt like the writers didn’t reward the viewers for their investment. It’s cool that you thought about it for a while, though. Maybe that’s all they really intended. Maybe I should reevaluate based on that premise.

      But Seinfeld? Possibly the worst ending ever.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My youngest son watched Lost with me (first time for him, rewatch for me) and he wasn’t happy with the ending either – for the same reason you stated. With procedurals, I generally like them – I’d probably like Bones, but not sure why I never started watching it, because I like the actors.

        Liked by 1 person

      • David Boreanaz already has a pilot for CBS. Critics expect it to get picked up. Something about a military or ex-military guy. I don’t have many details, but if you like the actor, you might want to catch the new show.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You know me and my M*A*S*H reruns! 🙂 Contrast that ending with another one of my favorites, JAG, which ended in 2005. For years, they hinted at a romance between the two main characters, Harm and Mac (Sarah). The last episode both learn they have received new assignments and are being transferred. Near the end of the show, she goes to his apartment, they talk confess their love, and he proposes. Of course, one of them has to give up their military career to be together. The last scene they are in a bar with their friends and they have someone flip a coin to see which one will resign. The audience never knows because the scene fades to black with “JAG 1995-2005.” Fans cried foul and wanted to see a show about their wedding.

    In all fairness, the show’s creator said he wanted to expand the ending and their relationship over the last two or three shows, but had already pitched an idea for a spinoff using Catherine Bell’s character. (DJE had already announced he was leaving.) CBS wouldn’t give an answer until after they filmed the last episode, then turned down the idea.

    You’re right about Happy Days and I think they just knew how to do endings better in those days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stargate SG-1 had a similar relationship issue with Jack O’Neill and Samantha Carter. Eventually he took a promotion to General, went to Washington (leaving the group and the base), and their relationship could then proceed. Although, we didn’t get to see it because they were in different cities, and half the time she was on a different planet.

      But those relationships are fun to explore. PROVIDED they don’t take over the show.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, if overdone they can distract from the series. In this case, it didn’t but I think it helped to develop the characters. Viewers could see their vulnerabilities and strengths. It probably drew more women viewers because it wasn’t just courtroom drama or Navy investigations.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s been a while since I’ve hung with a television show all the way to conclusion. Forever Knight (back in the day) had a horrible ending in my opinion. By contrast, I loved the ending for The Sentinel. I never saw Bones, but I did try to hang with Lost (I gave up early in season three). I did catch an episode of Grimm once and thought it was well done. Right now the only show I’m truly invested in is Once Upon a Time and when that finally ends it’s arc or goes off the air, it better end the way all fairy tales do….”and they all lived happily ever after.” 🙂

    Newhart’s ending is still the best in my opinion, although MASH was good too.

    Having recently finished the last book in my Point Pleasant series, I’ve learned a lot about writing large story arcs spanning all three novels to those that span only the novel in question. Writing a series has taught me a lot about character development and the broader view that writers have to undertake when writing multiple the same universe.

    Excellent post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I used to stick with shows until the end, no matter what. I HAD to know what happened. Over the last seven or eight years, though, I’ve been less and less invested. I don’t know if shows are just less interesting or if I finally realized my time was worth more than curiosity over stupid crap, but I’m no longer an easy follower. OUAT is one of the shows that still captivates me. My list is getting shorter and shorter, though. (And I agree; there better be an HEA ending to it.) As for endings, I think Newhart will always be my favorite. It was so clever; it’s going to be hard to top.

      I think for Point Plesant being your first series, you rocked it like an expert. (I can’t wait for the finale.) Writing novels in a series does teach you a lot about character, setting, and plot, though. Far more than a single novel does.

      Thanks, Mae. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve given up on a lot of shows over the years too. Odd, that I tend to stick more with series books then I do with following shows. Although there are some book series that went on too long (a few NYT bestsellers come to mind).

        Thanks for the compliment on PP. I hope the ending will satisfy the readers who have followed from the beginning! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I stick more with books than television, too. Although I’ve given up on two book series recently because both seemed to be stretching out for sales rather than wrapping up storylines.

        And I love PP. I know your ending will be great. I know the whole book, whole series, will be great. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I rarely watch TV anymore. Just can’t seem to find anything that interests me. We have a satellite dish and get over 200 channels. One day, I turned on the TV (out of sheer boredom) and couldn’t find a darn thing. If it weren’t for my husband, I’d get rid of the dish and have local channels only, but he’s big on TV.

        And I agree the Newhart ending was brilliant. I tend to read more these days. Books are better!

        Liked by 1 person

      • We also have a dish, Joan. I need Directv to view Pittsburgh sports events. (Talk about a pricey package.) Because the four of us have very different tastes in programming, we have almost every channel. That’s several hundred. And there’s almost never anything to watch. I watch more History Channel and National Geographic or Discovery than I do programming these days. It used to be that one show would end and I’d fill it with another. Not anymore. With the kids moving to college and Hubby and I not too interested in any of this reality television crap, I can see us downsizing our programming package very soon.

        And I’ve always felt books were better than TV/film. 😉


  4. I’m a stand-alone kind of guy, but I understand what you’re saying completely. Some series should end sooner than they did, and I’m thinking Bones here. It was great, but got repetitive enought that we stopped watching several seasons ago. That could be my stand-alone mentality showing through, I admit. Remember the term “jumping the shark” came from the Happy Days episode that most considered the end for Happy Days.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved the ending to Newhart! Totally unexpected and cleverly done.I never watched Seinfeld or lost, so can’t speak to those. You know I’m a fan of MASH and the ending, although sad, was, in my opinion, one of the best in TV. Not only were the characters saying goodbye to one another, but they were also saying goodbye to their audience of eleven years.

    As I’m writing book two of my Driscoll Lake series, I can see the challenges ahead. I tried to leave clues in the first book that pointed to book two, but at the same time have an ending for that part of the story. And as I write book two, I have a vague idea for the third book but know I should probably drop a hint or two. I keep telling myself that I planned Unseen Motives as a stand-alone novel, so I’m confident I’ll come up with a good storyline for book three.

    Great post today, Staci.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought about mentioning the end to M*A*S*H, but I had a feeling you’d bring it up, so I didn’t. It was a strong ending, both for the characters and the fans. Very poignant, very moving. I think the end to Happy Days was pretty emotional and satisfying, too. (Maybe they just did endings well back then. Still, I’m optimistic for Bones and Grimm to do the series and the fans justice.)

      I find it easier in some respects to write a series. I like dropping clues and setting all my pieces in place well in advance of some of the reveals. Standalone novels simply have a shorter span in which to accomplish things, and I can’t explore the secondary characters as much. I’m pretty sure I saw the clues you left in Unseen Motives (intentional or happy circumstance, they’re leading to book two). Can’t wait to see what you do with the series.

      Liked by 1 person

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