If comedy pilots are hard, bringing an established laffer to a satisfying conclusion is nearly impossible. Yet that’s the task many series, from “The Good Place,” “Fresh off the Boat,” “Silicon Valley” and “Modern Family,” to “Schitt’s Creek,” “Vida” and “Will & Grace” faced this season.
The pressure to end “Vida” unexpectedly with a shortened third season left showrunner Tanya Saracho nauseous at first, she says. But the season overall became the easiest to write because they could “pick the best fruit” of their ideas, she continues. The ending itself was inspired by the song “Luna Llena”; once Saracho heard it, the scribe knew the feeling with which she wanted to leave viewers and the song became the finale pitch.
“A great final season has a feeling of satisfaction,” she says. “It’s an essence. It’s not always story or that the things get resolved. It’s not necessarily a formula. It’s about a feeling.”
To craft the final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” Dan Levy spent hours revisiting his favorite series and found the common threads were a sense of calm and care into how and when things wrapped.
“They didn’t backload their storytelling so that the last two episodes were suddenly 1,001 things falling together,” he says. “You weren’t scared about how things were going to happen because they happened gradually and when you least expected it. Those were some of the principles we took into our last season and tried to be careful about how and where and when we peppered the larger, tentpole, closure moments of the show so that the last two episodes could really just play like great episodes of television.”
Staying true to the essence of what a series has always been can be a challenge when facing external pressure from fans with high expectations. In that vein, “Fresh Off the Boat” showrunners Keith Hessler and Matt Kuhn focused on the characters and stories they’d already been telling when wrapping the comedy after six seasons.
“There’s a temptation to make every single episode this great big, poignant piece but you leave yourself a bit of oxygen and know that you’re still creating a show that you want to be enjoyable all the way through,” Kuhn says.
“Great finales honor the core that got you there,” adds Hessler, pointing to the “Cheers” finale as an example. “It went as simple as it could and reminded you of the heart, the soul, the backbone of the show. We just want a couple more minutes with these people who we’ve grown to love and follow. That’s a better strategy than going epic and huge and crazy.”
In wrapping “Will & Grace” for a second time, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan wanted to end the series on their own terms. In the original run, director James Burrows had often advised the pair to write themselves into a corner for the finale and figure it out after the summer break. Heading into the three-season revival though, they took a different approach in order to work toward the show’s ultimate conclusion. That meant incorporating stories they always wanted to tell and leaving it all on the table.
“As you get a little older you recognize the anxiety about pleasing people as a huge trap,” Kohan says. “It’s the kind of thing that can be paralyzing. There are people you aren’t going to please, but you can’t focus on them.”
“We just always had to be very careful to stay true to our truth and our internal thermometer about what works and what didn’t,” Mutchnick adds. “It was a very gratifying experiment. I’m glad it didn’t go longer than it did. We told the stories that we should tell and if we kept going we would have had to keep reaching in a way that wouldn’t have been good for us or our characters.”