Sitcoms can be formulaic. Often this applies not only to regular episodes but to the Grand Finale. One would generally think that the writers would want to pull out all the stops and get creative to create a truly one-of-a-kind ending to the show that their fans have been following all this time. However, that's not always the case.
It goes like this: At the end of the final episode all the main cast are standing in the living room, or wherever the show's equivalent main setting is. It's quite likely (although not required) that one or more of the main characters is moving away, indicating that this is the last time they'll be together in this place. They have a touching conversation about all the good times they've had (levels of Narm may vary here). A character who left the show earlier in the run may come Back for the Finale. Bonus points if they hang a lampshade on a Running Gag or Hand Wave a bit of Fridge Logic that fans have been puzzling over. Then, perhaps following a Group Hug, all the main cast exit through the main door. One person (generally, the main character) pauses in the doorway, takes a Long Last Look around the room, then slowly turns to follow the others. The camera will either linger on the closed door or pan slowly across the empty room.
Pretty much all of this was first done by The Mary Tyler Moore Show with its final episode in 1977; certainly, it was the first sitcom to bring all these elements together in what has become an endlessly imitated trope. Prior to MTM's grand finale, even long-running sitcoms didn't usually come to a definitive end ... they simply just stopped producing new episodes.
It's easy to see why this kind of ending is popular; the Real Life cast and crew behind each show is usually overcome with emotion at having to say goodbye, which therefore bleeds into their performance. At the same time, it's a chance to provide audiences - who have been inviting these characters into their living rooms on a weekly basis for many years - with some valuable catharsis, and a chance to say "goodbye" to their old friends. Even though most popular sitcoms invariably enter syndication (and, in more recent years, are available on DVD and online video-on-demand services), this is still the closest these characters will get to closure, and there will at least be no new episodes after this. It's also symbolic; this is the last you'll see of these characters in this setting, so a natural way to emphasise this is for the characters to leave the setting one last time. And, of course, Follow the Leader; it might not be hugely original — at least, not since 1977 — but it's been proven to work.
- A Flashback to the first episode (or to when the characters first met, often in a different time period, like in high school or afterwards).
- The characters move away. Character arcs finally have their ending (usually it's characters telling others how they really feel about them), and just before someone leaves, they either shut the lights off or take with them a special momento. Can be Played for Laughs if another character is still in the house and realizes that they have been left behind (often yelling, "Hey, wait for me!" or "Hello? I'm still here!")
- Two unlikely characters (particularly those who have been established as enemies or Vitriolic Best Friends) decide to become friends, or, at the very least, realize that they're not as different as they think.
- A review of notable moments in the series. It may be a Montage or Fully Automatic Clip Show lasting a few minutes, or possibly the whole episode can be a traditional Clip Show.
This is a sub-trope of Grand Finale.
- Not a sitcom, but Babylon 5 had creator JMS play a caretaker character who turned off the lights on the entire station before it blew up.
- The Barney Miller finale ends with Barney looking around the now-abandoned squadroom, stopping at various desks to reminisce about long-departed characters (shown via old clips), and then turning out the lights.
- Subverted in The Big Bang Theory in which the entire episode puts all the stock pieces in play for this trope (enticing job offers away from home, capping off series-long character developments, etc.), but in the end, the characters all decide they couldn't bear not being around each other and decide Status Quo Is God. The final shot of the series is not the typical empty-place reminiscence, but the characters eating their nightly Chinese takeout in the apartment with a gentler version of the show's theme playing them out, showing their lives together will continue on past where the audience will leave them.
- Boy Meets World had a variation. The main characters who were moving said goodbye to the family at the house, and then went to the classroom to finish it up with Mr. Feeny (and it is he, not Cory, who delivers the final lines and is the last to leave the room).
- Cheers finale "One for the Road" follows the template pretty closely. After Sam has returned from his abortive elopement with Diane, the gang sits around and smokes cigars while they talk about life and friendship. Rebecca pops in, before leaving for good, to marry Don. The gang ambles out, but Norm hangs back to point out to Sam that he knew he would always come back to his one true love (implied to be the Cheers bar itself). Norm leaves, Sam looks around the bar and says "I'm the luckiest son-of-a-bitch on Earth" (what he means by that has been a point of debate ever since), then leaves, not through the front door, but through the back to the pool room. (This is a bookend with the series premiere, in which he is first seen entering from the pool room.)
- The Cosby Show switched things up a bit. At the end of the show, Cliff fixes the previously broken doorbell as it rings a snazzy jazz tune. Cliff and Claire promptly start dancing along, and then the two actors walk off the set and out of the studio to a standing ovation.
- Parodied in the season 1 finale of Community. The season 3 finale (doubling as Series Fauxnale) ends on a closed door.
- An episode of Quebecer show Dans une galaxie près de chez vous had such a scene before everyone disembarked the ship, with the captain lingering behind. But then they all got back on board and left again on the ship instead of staying on the planet.
- Seen in-universe in the Show Within a Show Pucks on the Matt LeBlanc satirical sitcom Episodes. The cast constantly make fun of how cliched and trite Pucks is, so it's fitting that when Pucks is cancelled in season 3, it's done via this method.
- Parodied in the Family Guy episode Bookie Of the Year, after Brian and Stewie's restaurant venture with Frank Sinatra Jr fails, they decide to have an "unearned end of the series moment where we turn out the lights on our own place" before they burn the place down for the insurance. It even includes the "Sorry pal, we're closed" bit from Cheers.
- Frasier plays with this, as the finale does include the usual stock "last time these characters are together" scenes in Frasier's apartment and as he delivers his final broadcast to his listeners at the radio station, but the real last scene is him concluding the story he's been telling to the person sitting next to him on a flight as he prepares to embark on a new chapter of his life.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ended with Will taking one last look at the empty living room and then turning off the lights, while Carlton was still using the bathroom upstairs.
- Friends ended with Chandler and Monica leaving the apartment the gang spent most of their time in. The episode ended with a shot of the empty apartment. And the last line is a joke about the coffee house where they hung out daily, and was the setting of the opening scene of the show.
- Full House had the entire cast sharing the narmy conversation in the living room (including bringing in Steve as a Call-Back), but faded to black without showing the cast exit. Instead, a Curtain Call was performed during the credits of the original broadcast.
- Not a TV show, but the X-Men Spin-Off Generation X ended with each of the kids leaving the Massachusetts Academy as their respective rides came, Emma Frost seemingly returning to villainy as she leaves for parts unknown, and Banshee locking up the abandoned school behind him.
- Happy Days ends with Howard Cunningham giving an emotional speech during Joanie and Chachi's wedding reception and thanking the viewers directly for "being part of our family" (and, in a famous outtake, Howard realizes that his son Chuck hasn't been seen since season two).
- Home Improvement, with the entire family (minus Randy) sitting around the living room, preparing to leave it for the last time, and flashing back to various episodes. That is, unless they really did go ahead with Tim's plan to move the entire house to Bloomington.
- How I Met Your Mother played with this trope. It hit all the beats you'd expect from a sitcom grand finale . . . but then kept going for another thirty or forty minutes, charting the characters' lives over the next several years.
- Hustle is more of a comedy drama than a sitcom, but it still uses this ending.In the final episode, the gang pull One Last Job then retire. At the end they all leave Eddie's Bar by the back door (which is implied to also be the exit from the show's world) then Eddie turns off the lights and follows them.
- Hilariously averted by I Married Dora. Peter is supposed to be going on a flight but walks back into the terminal.
Peter: It's been cancelled.
Dora: Your flight?
Peter: No, our series. [cue the cast waving goodbye as the cameras back away]
- The IT Crowd ends precisely like this, with all three cast members heading out the room, Roy giving his signature line one last time ("Oh, just turn it off and on again") and Moss giving one last look at the room before flicking the light switch. However, when the credits seemingly begin to roll in complete silence, it immediately rewinds and restarts with a fake commercial for the new Reynholm Industries under the management of the former I.T. department, accompanied by the show's theme.
- Parodied in the Season 12 Finale of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where Dennis is leaving Philadelphia to raise a family in North Dakota and turns off the lights of the bar before declaring "the bar is done"... Only for the other characters to tell him that they're still sticking around and it's only him that's leaving.
- The end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show has the cast (who have all been fired from the station, except Ted Baxter) embrace in a tearful group hug, then one by one leave the office while singing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary". Mary is the last one out, taking a final look around the office before turning off the lights. Then the cast members come out for a final Curtain Call during the end credits.
- Note that, as the oldest entry on this list (the series finale aired in 1977), this is also the Trope Maker; it creates some "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny for people watching it now, since it was really unique and moving then, but modern viewers have seen it a million times.
- Homaged/parodied in the finale to The Bob Newhart Show the following year, which had the cast embracing and then singing the theme from Oklahoma!.
- The last scene filmed for M*A*S*H was not from the finale, but rather the penultimate episode aired. In it, the staff put together a time capsule full of meaningful items, gazing at each other with barely-dry eyes...
- Moesha also had the "door close" ending with the closing of The Den.
- The original run of Mystery Science Theater 3000 uses this, but not as the final shot. In Danger: Diabolik, the great experiment is finally and definitively ending, so Pearl, Observer, and Bobo pack their belongings, line up new careers, and prepare to go their separate ways. In the final host segment, in a reference to the aforementioned Mary Tyler Moore finale, they're hugging and singing "It's A Long Way to Tipperary" in the now-vacant Castle Forrester; Pearl turns to the camera and says "Look, Nelsonnote , move on. I am," before disconnecting it. However, the episode then returns to Mike and the robots, and ends with a Time Skip to show Where Are They Now and Bookends, watching the first experiment on the show, The Crawling Eye.
- The Nanny has Fran looking at the make-up case she carried in the first episode with a montage of clips from the series before making the slow exit. Then she comes back in and opens the bathroom door to get Yetta.
- NewsRadio had Mr. James retiring and setting up a new station in New Hampshire. He asks Dave for one employee to take with him, and Dave without hesitation choses Matthew. The others feel sorry for Matthew and one by one they all join Jimmy. The episode ends with Dave alone at WNYX ...except for Matthew, who secretly stayed behind. It is implied that Dave later went with the others to get away from Matthew.
- The final issue of Nintendo Power brought back its Nester comic after a long absence and set it in the room where Nester keeps old Nintendo memorabilia, including a complete collection of Nintendo Power magazines. After he and his son have a heartfelt discussion about coping with the magazine's discontinuation, they leave to play New Super Mario Bros. U, and Nester turns off the lights with a bittersweet smile on his face.
- Both The Office (US) and The Office (UK) ended after a Time Skip, showing how the airing of the show had affected every character's life. Interestingly, while the UK version ends with the main protagonists finding success in love (Tim finally gets a kiss from Dawn, David finds a woman who actually likes him), the American version ends with the remaining protagonists finding success in business (Jim and Pam leave for Austin to so that Jim can rejoin his successful sports business, Dwight finally ascends to regional manager for good).
- Parks and Recreation plays with this, as it doesn't involve the old setting as much as the old job; the characters, who are all moving on to new things in their lives, reunite one last time to do some minor repairs in one of the parks that they used to run together, with the episode cutting between this and flash-forwards of what the characters go on to do with the rest of their lives after this.
- Red vs. Blue pops up as a web example, with Church finding himself in a memory of the first episode, waiting for Tex to find her way back to him. Though the show would continue beyond this moment.
- Several of NBC's TNBC series could have these:
- Saved by the Bell has the gang doing a grand graduation.
- Saved by the Bell: The New Class likewise has a big graduation for everyone while Mr. Belding retires and names Screech the new principal of Bayside.
- California Dreams has Jake realizing the rest of the gang have bigger dreams than being rock stars. He accepts a solo record deal with the gang playing a final gig together before going on.
- Hang Time has the team graduating with a last goodbye. Julie (appropriately one of the only two cast members around since the show began) takes a final look at the gym, whispers "go Deering" and turns off the lights.
- City Guys had two of these. "Goodbye Manny High" has the gang graduating with Ms. Noble retiring. The camera then shows the now-empty school sets with voiceovers of moments from past episodes. The actual finale "And Then There None" has the kids coming together months later for a Clip Show before finally parting ways for real.
- Scrubs parodies in the Series Fauxnale, when Dr Kelso asks JD what he expected his last day at Sacred Heart to be like, and he imagines leaving the hospital like they do at the end of sitcoms. He looks around and turns out the light just before going out the door, which turns out all the electricity in the entire hospital, causing a big panic as all the life support and vital equipment stopped working.
- The final episode of Seinfeld was a two-parter that tried to incorporate as many previous guest stars as they could, and ended with the cast in jail, repeating dialogue from the first episode, and then Lampshading it.
- That '70s Show ends with a shot of the empty Forman basement, after the kids head upstairs to ring in the New Year with the parents. We hear the voices counting down the final seconds of 1979, followed by an abrupt cut to a shot of the show's license plate title logo (now sporting a 1980 tag) and then the closing credits.
- Not a sitcom, but Weeds ends with a million callbacks to the pilot episode "You Can't Miss the Bear" but especially the final scene where Nancy sits alone on the steps and slowly other cast members join her and share a joint. The two songs "With Arms Outstretched" and "The Doodlin' Song" are both used at the very end of the episode just as they were in the pilot.