Finales can be ugly. In sports entertainment or life in general, somebody is always exiting the stage and not everyone does it gracefully.
Perhaps the greatest TV sitcom, “Seinfeld,” had one of the worst finales. Perhaps the greatest TV drama, “The Sopranos,” had one of the dumbest finales (cut to black).
It is with this in mind that I tuned into the Oprah finale. Oprah is arguably the greatest talk show host of all time. She re-invented daytime talk and resisted the temptation to get into the gutter. Just about everything she touches turns to gold.
And now, she is exiting this stage. Not THE stage, this stage. (She is moving on and knowing Oprah, she is moving up.) She decided to do it at the United Center in Chicago. A studio apparently wasn’t big enough. And the hour I watched was an exercise in excess, something her show never was. Celebrities, friends and regular folk genuflected to the TV Queen. They gave deep, heartfelt pronouncements about how Miss Winfrey changed their lives and changed the world. They also incongruously read off prompter. Sometimes even the heart needs a carefully-worded script.
The hour was filled with reaction shots of Oprah, wiping away a tear, looking almost, but not quite, moved. After all, she had to save something for the real finale, which was a few days away.
At some point this send-off jumped the shark. I’m an Oprah fan, but what would Mother Teresa deserve?
Oprah is not the first to get the never-ending goodbye. Johnny Carson’s exit was over a few nights, but it was mostly clips of the old show and the tributes were punctuated by “Friars”-style roasting.
The Academy Awards gives Lifetime Achievement Awards, but there is only one speech and the whole process lasts about 10 minutes.
Leaving the sports stage is even more difficult, since so many stars, despite what they say, never leave on top. Mantle and Mays lingered way past their prime and even Michael Jordan could not retire after hitting the game-winning shot in his sixth and final championship.
The best exit ever? That’s easy. The great Ted Williams left baseball in grand style, not once, but twice. Before he left to fight in Korea, in what he figured was his last at-bat, he homered. But he came back from the war, and resumed his storied career. And then, in the final at-bat of his truly final game in 1960, he homered.
Wrote the great John Updike, who was among the 10,000 fans in the crowd: “He ran as he always ran out home runs: hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise was a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. And though we thumped, wept, and chanted ‘we want Ted’ for minutes after, he hid in the dugout, he did not come back … Gods do not answer letters.”