Going out with a bang

'Sopranos's' ending has people talking

A week after “The Sopranos” finale, fans are still debating the meaning of the show’s black-out ending.

And when they’re not obsessing over it via Internet chat boards, they’re concocting humorous “alternate endings” for YouTube. Or downloading MP3 copies of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the 25-year-old Journey song that played during the show’s final seconds.

Angry fans and fed-up critics be damned. That kind of passion is proof that “The Sopranos” was pretty successful in ending things with a bang — even if not a literal one.

But the residual hostility toward “Sopranos” scribe David Chase proves how tough it is to wrap up a popular show without alienating some fans in the process.

Showtime entertainment topper Bob Greenblatt, who helped develop an early version of “The Sopranos” while at Fox (before eventually passing on the show), notes that every creator “has an enormous task to figure out how to end a series.”

“David Chase decided to end his series in a ‘life goes on’ fashion, which is as valid a choice as any,” says Greenblatt. “Unfortunately, I think many loyal viewers were left hanging, but David has always taken this show in unpredictable directions.”

Most TV series end their run with little fanfare, having been canceled or lasted way past their prime. The finales viewers remember are for the shows that still had a little life in them — like “The Sopranos,” “Seinfeld” or “Cheers.”

But that’s not to say they remember all of those endings fondly. Many shows crumble under the pressure — with “Seinfeld,” for example, delivering an underwhelming sayonara, or “The X-Files” ending with a cliffhanger that was never resolved.

Others, like “The Sopranos,” have their share of fans and detractors. Some invite controversy by ending things in a fit of surrealism, such as “Newhart” with Bob Newhart‘s famous “it was all a dream” coda (alongside Suzanne Pleshette), or “St. Elsewhere’s” infamous “it was all a figment of an autistic child’s imagination” surprise.

“In the case of ‘St. Elsewhere,’ I think it is very cool but I absolutely understand why it angered so many people,” says Newark Star-Ledger TV scribe Alan Sepinwall. “That was Tom Fontana raising his middle finger to the audience out the door.”

Sepinwall, who scored the only post-“Sopranos” interview with Chase, finds himself defending the finale — and notes that, even though the show ended without a bloody battle or Tony Soprano eating lead, it still settled up storylines more than the show had ever done before.

“I felt like up until that last scene, he was wrapping up everything,” Sepinwall says.

Other endings that generally score raves include “Mary Tyler Moore,” “MASH” and “Cheers.”

Sepinwall says he liked “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” finale for avoiding controversy by ending with a straight-ahead episode. Meanwhile, among recent series finales, “Six Feet Under” earns the most raves, for its montage of how the show’s characters live out their lives and eventually die.

“That felt perfect to us producers because the show was all about life and death, and most viewers seemed to completely love that ending,” says Greenblatt, who was an exec producer. “It’s never easy to end a series, but I absolutely do think that audience satisfaction should be a consideration.”

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