You can thank Leave It to Beaver for bringing the series finale to TV sitcoms
''Family Scrapbook'' was for the record books.
Imagine a book missing its last chapter, or a film projector going kaput just before the movie's climax. You would be disappointed without the ending. This was not a concern with the television of the 1950s. The creators and networks never thought to give the audience a finale, nor did the viewers at home expect one.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For starters, an episodic television series was more of a collection of short stories than a novel. Each episode was its own self-contained story. Overarching narratives were something left to other artforms. Which brings us to our second reason — folks just didn't see television as high art. An episode of television was a light amusement. Whatever the final mirthful episode of a sitcom happened to be, well, that was just the finale. Even the pioneering, brilliant I Love Lucy just… stopped with "The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue."
Leave It to Beaver changed that. It was the first primetime sitcom to craft an intentional ending. And that was like because it was a sitcom first of another sort.
But before we get into that, let's talk about Howdy Doody for a moment.
The children's puppet show was the first notable series to provide closure with its series finale. Clarabell the Clown, silent as a mime throughout the entire series, at last broke his silence. "Goodbye, kids," Clarabell said.
The connection to kids mattered. And that brings us back to Beaver.
Leave It to Beaver was the first primetime sitcom to focus on the children as the main characters. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet… well, that has the parents' names right there in the title. Other family sitcoms had kids, but here was a show expressly about the kids. Leave It to Beaver was a coming-of-age tale. The two principal characters, Beaver and Wally, grew up before our eyes.
This is why the show needed closure. A phase of their life was ending. Childhood was over. For adults, another day is just another day.
Leave It to Beaver smartly wrapped things up with another soon-to-be trope: the clip show. The Cleavers take out an old book of photos, literally turning the page on a phase of their boys' lives. The audience got to see flashbacks to Beaver and Wally from early episodes. The technique, while cliched now, underlined just how much the actors had grown. Jerry Mathers seemed to have sprouted up to twice his size.
Decades later, sitcoms such as Growing Pains, Full House, Home Improvement, and even Seinfeld would utilize the clip-show format for their finales. They all borrowed the idea from Beaver.
Gee, Wally, did you ever think we would be so influential?
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Scrapbook the character of Larry
Mondello is mentioned by Beaver
But Beaver doesn't say that Larry
Moved out of town or whatever happened to Larry Mondello.
Went upstairs and never came back
Down . And a new girl whose name
Was Penny Woods arrives in
Mayfield in 1960 and replaces
Seinfeld was a great show, but the finale, they had no idea how to wrap it up so they put clips together to say goodbye, long and boring. I love the routines episodes and stories (about nothing).
Now Friends finale was a good ending for the series. Star Trek DS9 and Voyager were great ways to end their adventures. Gilligan's Island never wrapped, but they got made-for-TV movies to follow the series.
Happy Days, Three's Company, Mary Tyler More, MASH. They all had great finales to wrap up their shows, and they were not flashback episodes.
We also have Boomerang to watch Tom & Jerry, Road Runner, Smurfs, etc. The cartoons I grew up with. The tv shows and even cartoons of today are just so raunchy, demeaning, anti-family, and risque that we don't watch much current tv outside of the Chicago's, Blue Bloods, The Resident, and the NCIS's (although I'm about done with New Orleans and it's overt political statements). My daughter watches Paw Patrol, Fancy Nancy, Doc McStuffins, etc. but she loves the cartoons on Boomerang and MeTV like Popeye, Bugs Bunny and The Flintstones too.
I'm so thankful and appreciative that there's a channel like MeTV for not only playing these wholesome, family-friendly shows but turning me on to some of these shows that we can actually watch as a family. It got me looking for other "oldies" shows like Ozzy & Harriett, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Lucy, and the old-faithful The Beverly Hillbilliees in places like "Best TV Ever" on Amazon Prime Video (since MeTV doesn't stream).
I hope MeTV is around for a loooooong time playing shows like Leaave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith that families can watch together. Real, husband-wife-daughter, fly-over country, conservative, red-blooded, American families. The type of families we're told don't exist anymore. That are made fun of by the "elite's" of NY, LA, and DC. Not shows made for the NY and LA "families" that are made up of a man married to a horse where the kids are a frog and a rock. What used to be called "weirdos". It seems like about 95% of current TV is geared to them.
Thank you MeTV. Don't ever stop playing Beava. :-)
But I'm sure for many, it's just not their style. Thank heavens there must be about 100 channels to choose from in the day. Certainly something for everybody.
Viewers would say, oh but that's just television. Nobody acts like that. Uhhh, Mosher & Connelly (the creator/producers) took the stories for this show from their own childhood and they must've had a familiarity with the norms of the times. (Myself and friends can also relate to decent manners and kindness). It isn't that those times didn't or couldn't have existed, but that generations of parents have changed.
Is our society the better for it?