Taking a final bow: Schitt's Creek and TV hits that creators ended on their terms

The threat of cancellation doesn't necessarily faze the devoted fanbase of a hit TV show. But a distinct branch of creators are making the bittersweet decision to fade to black after just a few seasons.

'You don't want to be the last one at the party all the time,' says TV critic

Annie Murphy, from left, Daniel Levy and Eugene Levy appear in hit CBC comedy Schitt's Creek. The Levys, who created the show, announced Thursday that its upcoming sixth season would be the last. (CBC)

"Noooo!" "What!?" "Why?" Disbelief plus a GIF parade of both people and animated characters crying. These were the online reactions that met Dan and Eugene Levy's announcement Thursday that they've decided to end their hit comedy Schitt's Creek after next season.

Throw an abrupt cancellation at a devoted fanbase these days and, instantly, a campaign is born to save the show. But when it's the creators themselves who decide it's time to fade to black, that decision is bittersweet.

"We are so grateful to have been given the time and creative freedom to tell this story in its totality, concluding with a final chapter that we had envisioned from the very beginning. It's not lost on us what a rare privilege it is in this industry to get to decide when your show should take its final bow," the Levys said in a statement.

"We could never have dreamed that our fans would grow to love and care about these characters in the ways that you have."

Despite a TV landscape where The Simpsons has been greenlit through a 32nd season, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is currently midway its 20th and The Big Bang Theory is winding down on a 12th, there's a distinct segment of creators willing to put an early end-date on their hit shows. 

"It's a creator's world right now. We have so many shows on television, so when a creator is able to fully realize their vision, they know when the time comes. They don't have to stretch something out for another 20, 30 episodes," said TV critic Amber Dowling

"You don't want to be the last one at the party all the time. You want to be able to set the tone."

Today, more traditional networks and streaming giants alike are allowing hit TV creators the freedom to tell the stories they want, how they want to tell them — including when to bring down the curtain. Because of this, Dowling noted, showrunners are taking bigger risks. From employing unusual camera angles to building interactive off-screen content to unveiling ambitious offshoots, today's TV creators have a roomy sandbox in which to play and experiment. Diving back into the same world from another vantage point is also an increasingly frequent option.

With Schitt's Creek, for instance, "they could do a spin-off. They could do a movie. They could come back as a cartoon," Dowling said. 

"Anything is possible these days."

Here are other notable examples of TV hits of the modern era that ended (or are ending) on the showrunners' terms.

The Sopranos

James Gandolfini, from left, appears with Edie Falco and Robert Iler in the final scene of the groundbreaking drama The Sopranos. (Will Hart/HBO/Associated Press)

Groundbreaking, prestige TV pioneer The Sopranos is widely considered among the greatest TV shows of all time for its intricately layered portrait of antihero Tony Soprano, who over six seasons juggles therapy, his family and life as a Mafia boss. 

Creator David Chase's sudden, ambiguous ending to the series was a shocker that continues to spark endless debate and thinkpieces 20 years on.

"To me the question is not whether Tony lived or died, and that's all that people wanted to know... There was something else I was saying that was more important than whether Tony Soprano lived or died. About the fragility of all of it," Chase told The Associated Press in 2012.

"Tony was dealing in mortality every day. He was dishing out life and death. And he was not happy. He was getting everything he wanted, that guy, but he wasn't happy. All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away."

Mad Men

Mad Men cast members, from left, John Slattery, Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and Kevin Rahm appear in a scene from the '60s-era drama's final season. ( Justin Mintz/AMC )

From the very beginning, Matthew Weiner (a Sopranos writer-and-producer alumnus) had a vision for his 1960s-spanning tale about a troubled advertising genius living through a tumultuous decade in U.S. history — including a finale that would see his flawed hero meditating at a retreat.

"The idea that he would end up at an ashram, or something like that, was with me from when I pitched AMC the first season," Weiner told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, a few months after Mad Men ended its seven-season run.

"I gave them an endgame if we got to do the whole decade. That was the image. I always imagined it would be him on a bluff somewhere, sitting in the lotus position with a smile on his face."


Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won six consecutive best comedy actress Emmys for her role in the political satire Veep. (Lacey Terrell/HBO/Associated Press)

Crude, hilarious, insult-filled and brilliant, the political satire Veep has been a comedy behemoth for HBO, with the show earning three consecutive best comedy series Emmys and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus capturing six consecutive best lead actress in a comedy trophies for her performance as a narcissistic, opportunist American politician.

Still, showrunner David Mandel has said he's had an ending in mind for some time, perhaps accelerated somewhat by a stranger-than-fiction White House and U.S. political landscape. Mandel and Louis-Dreyfus, who took some time off for breast cancer treatment in late 2017 and early 2018, decided that the upcoming seventh season (debuting on March 31) would be the last, in order to end on a high note.

"The storytelling dictated the end of the show," Louis-Dreyfus told Entertainment Weekly. "It felt right."

Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranston, left, and Aaron Paul appear in a scene from the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad. (Frank Ockenfels/AMC/Associated Press)

Vince Gilligan had one heck of a concept: Create a series that starts with a well-meaning protagonist who becomes darker over time and ends up the villain at its heart. He accomplished the feat in five compelling seasons of Breaking Bad, a dark tale of a terminally ill teacher-turned-cold-blooded drug kingpin.

Gilligan regularly described the carefully planned series as the transformation of "Mr. Chips to Scarface."

Game of Thrones

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke appear in a scene from the upcoming eighth and final season of Game of Thrones. (Helen Sloan/HBO/Bell Media)

Epic fantasy saga Game of Thrones took a few seasons to develop into a pop cultural phenomenon. Heavy doses of sex, nudity, extreme violence and game-changing plot twists helped propel the series — which basically revolves around rival noble families vying for a crown — forward. A supernatural enemy (plus dragons!), a top-notch ensemble cast and feature-film worthy battle sequences have been icing on the cake.

The series outpaced its original inspiration — George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novel series — back in season six. But with Martin having shared major plot points about his series' projected final instalments with show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss (as well as where core characters land in the end), it could have allowed the pair to freestyle their way through multiple new seasons. Instead, they've chosen to end with the highly anticipated season eight, slated to debut April 14. 

As with some of the other shows mentioned above, the duo has had the finale (albeit in broad strokes) in mind from the very beginning.

"We've talked through what the final episode, the final season will be," Weiss told TV Guide in April 2011, weeks before Game of Thrones debuted. 

Benioff added: "Of the many different fears we have about the show, long-term momentum is not one of them. We're very confident." 

With files from Tashauna Reid


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