All great shows must come to an end, and those endings often have high expectations. Long-running shows in particular have audiences that are invested in their stories and characters, after having spent years following along, and audiences want satisfying conclusions. When done well, a series finale can be a fitting ending, while finales that fall flat can leave audiences disappointed and feeling cheated, as though the hours tuning in every week were wasted.
While TV shows are often canceled due to declining ratings, some are beloved and long-lasting, with several seasons and hundreds of episodes. It’s only fitting that these hit shows go out with a bang rather than a whimper, as millions of viewers tuning in one last time. Some classic finales boast such impressive numbers that it’s unlikely they’ll ever be beaten.
11. ‘Home Improvement’
35.5 Million Viewers
Sitcom Home Improvement starred comedian Tim Allen as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, who lived with his family in the Detroit area and hosted his own home-improvement show. Home Improvement ended in 1999 after eight seasons with Tim hosting his final show, Jill accepting a new job, and neighbor Wilson, who had been hidden in every episode, taking down his fence and showing his face.
35.5 million people watched as Home Improvement—and Tool Time—aired their final episodes. It was a fitting sendoff, with Tim, true to his handyman nature, finding a way for the family to keep their house while still moving for Jill’s new job.
10. ‘Family Ties’
36.3 Million Viewers
Set during the Reagan administration, Family Ties followed conservative teenager Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox, and his differences with his liberal, former hippie parents. The series ended in 1989 after seven seasons with Alex moving to New York for his dream job at a bank.
Family Ties made Fox a household name, and he won three Emmys for his role as Alex. The finale was the perfect balance of funny and emotional, with Alex’s friends and family all taking their turns saying goodbys. 36.3 million people tuned in to say their goodbyes, too.
9. ‘All in the Family’
40.2 Million Viewers
Groundbreaking sitcom All in the Family was about close-minded Archie, played by Carroll O’Connor, and his wife, Edith, played by Jean Stapleton, living with their adult daughter, Gloria, and her husband, Michael. Much of the show’s conflict came from Archie and Michael clashing over their very different political views. The series ended in 1979 after nine seasons and over 200 episodes.
Because of its political themes, All in the Family became known for addressing a number of controversial issues, and Archie is still famous for his bigoted opinions and harsh treatment of others. But the finale showed his tender side, as he admits to an ailing Edith that he’d be lost without her. 40.2 million people watched.
8. ‘The Cosby Show’
44.4 Million Viewers
After years of watching the Huxtable family’s five children grow up, audiences saw The Cosby Show come to an end in 1992 after eight seasons and over 200 episodes. Focusing on Theo graduating from college, the final scene features Cliff and Clair dancing in their living room.
The finale of The Cosby Show was bittersweet, with the right combination of humor and sentiment—the final moments between Cliff and Clair are sweet, and the show breaks the fourth wall by panning out and showing the audience. 44.4 million people tuned in.
7. ‘Magnum, PI’
50.7 Million Viewers
Magnum, P.I., starring Tom Selleck, was the story of a Vietnam veteran turned private investigator. The series came to an end in 1988 after eight seasons with Magnum deciding he needed a change and leaving behind his life as a private investigator.
50.7 people watched to see how Magnum, P.I. ended, and like all satisfying finales, it wrapped up the show’s major storylines and lingering questions while launching a new beginning for its main character. It was eventually rebooted by NBC and will end with Season 5.
52.5 Million Viewers
The beloved – and aptly titled – sitcom Friends followed the lives of a group of friends in New York City. The show came to an end after 10 seasons, with each member of the group moving on to a new chapter in their lives, most notably addressing Ross and Rachel’s on-again, off-again relationship.
Friends was a hit for NBC, making household names of its cast. When the show ended, 52.5 million people watched, and it’s just as popular as ever—Friends has since found new life in the streaming era.
76.3 Million Viewers
Sitcom Seinfeld was inspired by the lives of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who also starred in the show, and creator Larry David, also known for creating Curb Your Enthusiasm. In Seinfeld’s two-part finale, art imitates life when NBC picks up Jerry and George’s sitcom, but the group is ultimately arrested and sent to jail for violating a Good Samaritan Law. Seinfeld ended in 1998.
Seinfeld’s finale drew in 76.3 million viewers, but despite its high viewership, the reaction was actually very polarized—some loved it, some hated it, with some still arguing either side to this day. Either way, the episode calls attention to just how terrible the group could be, plus it’s full of callbacks to previous episodes if nothing else making it a fun watch for longtime fans.
4. ‘The Fugitive’
78 Million Viewers
From 1963 to 1967, The Fugitive entertained viewers with its story of a man on the run after being framed for his wife’s murder and sentenced to death. After over 100 episodes, the series finale revealed the truth about what happened.
78 million people tuned in to the finale of The Fugitive, which at the time made it the most-watched episode of TV ever, until it was beaten by an episode of Dallas, then, later, the finale of M*A*S*H*. Like other finales with high ratings, it’s also regarded as one of the best, and its influence is clear, as the series also inspired the 1993 film of the same name starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.
80.4 Million Viewers
NBC sitcom Cheers was about a bar in Boston “where everybody knows your name,” as its famous theme song says, and, of course, its staff and regulars. The series ended in 1993 after 11 seasons and over 270 episodes with Sam, played by Ted Danson, deciding to sell the bar and move to California with Diane, played by Shelley Long—only to change his mind in the end.
The three-part series finale of Cheers drew 84.4 million viewers, and it’s not only one of the most-watched finales of all time—it’s also often regarded as one of the best. Norm comments that Sam will always return to his one true love, and rather than Diane, that love is the bar.
105 Million Viewers
With the perfect blend of comedy and drama, M*A*S*H followed the doctors and staff at a hospital during the Korean War. The series came to an end in 1983 after 11 seasons with a TV movie titled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen“.
When it comes to the most-watched finales of all time, M*A*S*H has yet to be dethroned, and it’s unlikely it ever will be. 105.9 million people tuned in to watch it—a whopping 77% of people watching TV at the time.