TV’s Highest Rated Finales (and Worst Spin-Offs)

Almost 30 years after the final episode of M*A*S*H aired, it remains the highest rated scripted television series finale in history. Over 105 million people viewed the final broadcast on February 28, 1983, titled Goodbye, Farewell and Amen. The record still stands today. What many may not remember is that in the wake of the triumphant sendoff, TWO M*A*S*H spinoffs (AfterMASH and W*A*L*T*E*R) crashed and burned, and not even the doctors at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital could resuscitate them.

In fact, if you look at the top ten highest rated scripted television series finales in history, you’ll note that almost all of them resulted in spinoffs that were poorly received. Mike Crisolago compiled a list of those highly-touted series finales, and the often sad excuses for spin-offs that followed.

M*A*S*H* Series Run: 1972-1983

Ratings, Final Episode: 105 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-offs: AfterMASH, W*A*L*T*E*R

How They Did: Not well. AfterMASH centered around the reuniting of Klinger, Colonel Potter, and Father Mulcahy, all working in a hospital in Missouri. It played about as good as it sounds, and only lasted a little over a year. W*A*L*T*E*R followed Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, who also moves to Missouri and becomes a police officer following the Korean War. The series was D.O.A., as it never got past the pilot stage.

  Cheers Series Run: 1982-1993

Ratings, Final Episode: 80 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-offs: The Tortellis, Fraiser

How They Did: One great. The other, not so great. Fraiser, which centered on the title character who, at the time, seemed an unlikely choice to spin-off, ran for 11 seasons and became one of the most successful American sitcoms of all time. The Tortellis followed the ex-husband of Cheers character Carla Tortelli, along with his new wife. The fact that the show only lasted for four months in 1987 tells you everything you need to know about how it was received.

Seinfeld Series Run: 1989-1998

Ratings, Final Episode: 76 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-offs: The closest thing to a spin-off would be Curb Your Enthusiasm


How It Did: Though Seinfeld never really had a true spin-off (Curb Your Enthusiasm, starring Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, is almost like watching George Costanza), it did spawn the infamous “Seinfeld curse.” The notion of the curse stemmed from the fact that every television show that the principal stars became involved in after Seinfeld ended flopped. Jason Alexander had two (Bob Patterson and Listen Up!), while Julia Louise-Dreyfus (Watching Ellie), and Michael Richards (The Michael Richards Show) each had one. The curse was finally broken when Louise-Dreyfus won an Emmy for her work on The New Adventures of Old Christine, after which she exclaimed, “I’m not really somebody who believes in curses, but curse this, baby!

Friends Series Run: 1994-2004

Ratings, Final Episode: 53 million viewers (approx.)

Spinoffs: Joey


How It Did: Poor Joey. Despite being one of the most lovable characters on Friends, he was best when used as a supporting character rather than the main focus of a show. The spin-off followed the character as he ventured out to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career. While star Matt LeBlanc was nominated for a Golden Globe, and he and the show both won People’s Choice Awards, Joey, much like the title character’s acting aspirations, floundered. It was cancelled after two seasons.

Magnum P.I. Series Run: 1980-1988

Ratings, Final Episode: 51 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-offs: None How It Did: Magnum P.I. stands alone on this list as the only show without a spin-off or sequel. A film version of the show was reportedly planned at one time, but it never materialized.

The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson Series Run: 1962-1992

Ratings, Final Episode: 50 million viewers (approx.)


Spin-offs: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno How It Did: Johnny Carson remains, to this day, the undisputed King of Late Night. During his time at the helm of The Tonight Show, no rivals came close to claiming his crown. Since taking over Carson’s spot in 1992, Jay Leno has consistently remained atop the late night ratings though lacks the reverence and dominant stature inspired by his predecessor. As such, the title of King of Late Night is up in the air, with many in the court of public opinion awarding the crown to any number of Leno’s competitors, including David Letterman and Conan O’Brien. Speaking of O’Brien, Leno famously abdicated The Tonight Show to him in 2009, only to accept it back less than a year later when an NBC shake-up saw O’Brien leave the network and the recently-launched The Jay Leno Show (which turned out to be ratings-repellant) cancelled. As it turns out, along with Carson’s wit and comic ingenuity, Leno lacks Johnny’s tact as well.

The Cosby Show Series Run: 1984-1992

Ratings, Final Episode: 44.4 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-off: A Different World

How It Did: Airing from 1987 to 1993, A Different World developed its own strong following and eventually, with the departure crossover actress Lisa Bonet, separated itself entirely from The Cosby Show. For its comic appeal, as well as its tendency to confront hard-hitting social issues this is one spin-off that truly impressed.

All in the Family Series Run: 1968-1979

Ratings, Final Episode: 40 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-offs: Okay, deep breath, and-. Archie Bunker’s Place, Checking In, Good Times, Gloria, Maude, The Jeffersons, and 704 Hauser. Whew.


How They Did: Has any hit show spawned so many spin-offs? Let’s start with the good. Maude, starring Beatrice Arthur as the cousin of Edith Bunker, was a hit that ran from 1972-1978. Maude, in turn, spun-off Good Times, which aired from 1974-1979. While the show was the first to portray a hard-working African-American family living in a housing project, it became better known for character J.J.’s catchphrase “Dy-no-mite.” Another classic series All in the Family spun off was The Jeffersons, who started as the Bunker’s neighbours before launching their own successful run from 1975-1985. Then, there’s the not-so-good. Archie Bunker’s Place lasted for four seasons, between 1979 and 1983. Set in the neighbourhood bar that Archie purchased and renamed, the show served as a continuation of the original series, though without the magic of the original cast (except for Edith, who appeared sporadically before actress Jean Stapleton left the show, which resulted in Edith’s death). Checking In was technically a Jefferson’s spin-off, so that would make it a grandchild of All in the Family – though not a very loved one, as it only lasted about a month in 1981. Gloria saw Sally Struthers reprise her role as Archie Bunker’s daughter, who moved back to New York after breaking up with her husband Michael. A spin-off of Archie Bunker’s Place, it never made it to season two. Finally, in 1994, years after many All in the Family characters received their own shows, producers decided to spin-off the Bunker house. 704 Hauser (the address) briefly became home to the Cumberbatch family and their own political rivalries. That is, for about five weeks before the show was cancelled.

Family Ties Series Run: 1982-1989

Ratings, Final Episode: 36 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-off: Day By Day

How It Did: About as well as you’d expect a sitcom about parents who open a daycare in their home might do. The show ran from 1988-1989, and the connection to Family Ties proved weak – the patriarchs from both shows were college roommates. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that the cast included three future stars of television and film: Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Courtney Thorne-Smith and Thora Birch.

Home Improvement  Series Run: 1991-1999

Ratings, Final Episode: 35 million viewers (approx.)

Spin-off: Buddies

How It Did: After a successful stint on an episode of Home Improvement, Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer reprised their “buddy” characters for their very own spin-off. The enthusiasm didn’t last long, however, as Breuer was dropped from the project before the series began filming. Buddies only lasted about a month in 1995 anyway, and Chappelle (Chappelle’s Show) and Breuer (Saturday Night Live) went on to bigger and better things.