I must stay I have a really hard time believing that season finales retain the cultural cache they once possessed. I can accept that they still have narrative significance. Something major still seems to come to a head—or half a head—during the final episode of any given season of almost any piece of fictional nighttime programming; however, because of the way people watch television and the way television is broadcast (or not), the phenomenon or annual event that was the “season finale” seems to have waned along with the once-a-year broadcast of The Sound of Music. Sure, the film still shows up on television, but its airing is far from must-see-TV. Similarly, viewers may look somewhat forward to the season finale, but to me, at least, the experience lacks the pop it had in the old millennium.
Shifts that have occurred in the television schedule have dismantled the sense of a cohesive and standard season. In 2011, I find it difficult to keep track of shows’ beginnings and endings without the aid of a DVR. Shows start at different times of the year—also destabilizing the notion of the season premiere. Mid-season premiere dates have become common (as TNT shows like The Closer, Men of a Certain Age, and Rizzoli and Isles start between May and July, just as the majority of shows are wrapping up). USA Network shows such as Burn Notice and Psych favor two half-seasons to one extended season. Premium television often staggers its shows to maintain a constant subscriber base (Showtime’s Queer a Folk’s season finale would give way to The L Word premiere, whose finale would ultimately give way to a new season of Nurse Jackie or The United States of Tara). Compound contemporary scheduling practices with the continued rise in dvd, dvr, and online viewing (and re-viewing), and an argument for the sustained significance of the season finale seems a hard sell. I would never deny the allure of the season finale storyline—narratively or promotionally (as I personally was wholly sold on Private Practice based on an accidentally viewed “I’m going to steal that baby right out of Amy Brenneman’s womb” season 2 finale sneak peek)—but generally speaking, I think the event that once was the season finale has gone the way of Battle of the Network Stars.