The first season of the CBS show about the two socially-awkward geeks-roommates and their friends ran from the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2008 and reviews were decidedly mixed and while the show’s viewership was okay, its first season ranked an unimpressive 68th against all the other shows on TV. However, The Big Bang Theory became the first show to end its run as TV’s top series since the final season of Seinfeld aired in 1998. The hourlong airing of back to back episodes garnered a substantial 3.1 rating in the key 18-49 demographic and was watched by just under 18 million total viewers. The finale also topped the other main demographic of 25-54 (4.7 rating).
The show was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series from 2011 to 2014 and won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series four times for Jim Parsons. It has so far won seven Emmy Awards from 46 nominations. Parsons also won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Comedy Series in 2011. In total, the series has so far won 56 awards from 216 nominations. It has also spawned a prequel series in 2017 based on Parsons’ character, Sheldon Cooper, named Young Sheldon, which also airs on CBS.
HBO’s Game of Thrones also enjoyed strong ratings for its finale, despite its tough launch. The sixth and final episode of the eighth and final season, titled “The Iron Throne,” delivered an audience of 13.6 million viewers in linear viewership alone, topping the previous record (12.5 million) set just the week prior and unseating The Sopranos‘ season 4 opener (13.4 million) as HBO’s most-watched single telecast ever. Across all HBO platforms (linear, HBO GO and HBO NOW), the fiery episode amassed a record 19.3 million viewers, exceeding the previous series high of 18.4 million (again, set by Episode 5, “The Bells”). Game of Thrones’ ratings increased as season 1 progressed – episode 1 had 2.22 million while episode 10 had 3.04 million viewers – nowhere near the 13.6 million in linear viewership of the finale.
Game of Thrones
The series based on George R. R. Martin’s novels has also spawned several spin-offs, although HBO is yet to announce details about their total number and premises – one thing is certain – they won’t be sequels.
Undoubtedly, both shows will go down in TV history books but how have the two finales faired against other TV hits’ final episodes throughout the history? Axios provided the answer in the form of a chart and neither TBBT was in fact a bang, nor GoT took the ratings throne compared to the good old TV from the 80s and the 90s… In fact, their finales placed 18th and 17th, respectively.
In first place is M.A.S.H., the war comedy show from CBS that ran from 1972 to 1983. 106 million people tuned in for the final episode of the show, a record that has remained unbroken. Compared to shows like M.A.S.H. or the finales of sitcoms like Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends, which all boast viewership of over 50 million, the number for Game of Thrones (19 million) is relatively modest. Its end has many critics wondering if appointment television — where groups of people sit and watch a show live together — will continue.
But if we consider the fact that entertainment now offers numerous ways and different channels how to consume it, the numbers for Game of Thrones are still pretty impressive. Add to this that all shows ahead of Game of Thrones aired on free broadcast channels — as opposed to the paid HBO. Not only did it edge out The Big Bang Theory, but it also broke several HBO records for. One record, though, was bested by Chernobyl shortly after GoT reached it - HBO is touting the fact that Chernobyl actually has drawn 52% of its audience from HBO Go, HBO Now and other add-on services. That breaks the previous record of 46%, held by Game of Thrones, and makes it the first series to pass the 50% mark in that realm.
The Big Bang Theory
The series finale of Game of Thrones did not only deliver high ratings to HBO; it also offered the most-controversial end in the history of TV – an unprecedented 1.6 million viewers from all over the world signed a petition to rewrite the last season of the show, unhappy with how it ended. However, the cabler is seemingly ignoring the considerable backlash the final season got and suggesting some of the worst episodes of season 8, which also happen to be the worst in the entire show, for the Emmy Awards: the last three episodes of season 8 — “The Last of the Starks”, “The Bells”, and “The Iron Throne” — have the poorest ratings in Game of Thrones history: 5.6, 6.1, and 4.3 stars (out of a maximum of 10 on IMDB) at the time of this writing. These are the episodes that prompted over 1.6 million people to sign a Change.org petition asking HBO to remake the final season with competent writers (which isn’t going to happen).
On the other side of the spectrum was The Big Bang Theory’s finale. CNN said the series, “closed with a big dose of heart” while website Indiewire said the finale “delivers an ending true to itself,” adding “perhaps some fans wanted more. Certainly, Chuck Lorre and the 11 other credited writers could’ve spiced things up a bit. But that’s not what The Big Bang Theory was. That’s not what made it work for so long… The series understood itself, understood its audience, and understood what it needed to give them in order to keep everyone happy.”
Television – being art – has always been pretty subjective so we can’t really say that one series finale was a disaster and the other was a marching success – there will always be people who have hated it or loved it. One thing is certain though – HBO has been offering us fantastic series but at the same time has the habit of messing up their finales, at least in terms of social resonance. Game of Thrones was not an exception; it was perhaps the best proof of how a good series cannot always satisfy all of its fans and most often – the critics as well.
If we try to compile a list of the most “controversial” series finales, HBO would definitely get three places, winning the trophy with The Sopranos, True Blood and most deservedly with Game of Thrones.
The crime drama about the mafia is undoubtedly one of the best TV series ever produced and its finale in 2007 attracting 13 million viewers is a proof of that. The open ending, however, denied viewers with a conclusion to the story and many of them felt cheated. Some critics, however, found the ending ambitious and experimental.
True Blood’s ending simply did not live up to the level of the earlier seasons of the show. Many viewers expected such an outcome, i.e. an ending that won’t be on par with the high level that was set by the series in earlier seasons simply because the indications were present by the end of season 2.
The biggest “tragedy” of Game of Thrones, compared to the aforementioned HBO series, is that it did provide answers, it did give closure, it did kill off many important characters (not as many as expected) which was actually staying true to its character, but it did so hastily. And the tragedy is that the authors of the series had over a year and a half to prepare the finale but in the end it was rushed and did not stay true to the immense complexity of the earlier seasons.
Another “honorable” mention would be ABC’s Lost which simply polarized viewers with its finale. “The End” attracted 14 million viewers (ranking right after Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory, placing 19th, just ahead of The Sopranos). According to the web site Metacritic, “The End” received “generally favorable reviews” with a Metascore—a weighted average based on the impressions of 31 critical reviews—of 74 out of 100. The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph both reported that “The End” had received negative reviews and disappointed its viewers. David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun gave the episode a highly negative review, writing “If this is supposed to be such a smart and wise show, unlike anything else on network TV (blah, blah, blah), why such a wimpy, phony, quasi-religious, white-light, huggy-bear ending…”
No matter good or bad ending, all good things must come to an end… and all of these legendary TV shows will not be remembered only for their finales. Thru the years, they formed a new culture and understanding of how TV is being made and consecutively perceived by the audience. We just have to hope that we will witness many more good things to come.