Emmys: How 'Entourage,' 'Smallville' Writers Tackled Their Series Finales
Panic attacks, "The Sopranos" and 9/11 all played roles in wrapping up these and other shows.
Souders: I was definitely having panic attacks. We had already had a script written when we found out that Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) was able to come back. We were really far into prep and had to go back and rebreak some of the story because the whole thing needed to be rewritten. I remember one night Brian was at the computer and I was laying on the couch because I was having heart palpitations, and I couldn't get it to stop. It was a culmination of exhaustion and excitement and emotion. Also, we were toying with seeing flight in the 200th episode; it was in a script at one point, and we ended up pulling it because it felt like that's what the whole series is about. There was a lot discussion about it in the writers room. Brian and I finally decided to pull it and save it for the finale.
Overall, the number one concern was paying tribute to the show and tying off a decade of fan loyalty. That was without a doubt the most important thing to us. Lining up with the DC mythology and being in tune with them was very important. There were so many emotional moments for me. The scene where Clark and Lois (Erica Durance) walk through the door at their wedding gets more emotional each time I watch it. When he takes her hand at the end of the aisle -- my God, I choke up every time.
The quintessential Smallville moment was in the barn at the end of Part 1, when Clark is going off to fight Darkseid (John Glover) and he's with both of his parents, Jonathan (John Schneider) in a more ghostly form, and his mom (Annette O'Toole), and they're in the window. The loft in that barn is so iconic to the early years of Superman and what we remember Smallville as. Seeing them say goodbye and send him into Superman-dom -- that was the biggest moment.
Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
I felt the show should have a real legitimate ending, not a mysterious ending or a big question mark. And this ending meant a bunch of beginnings for the characters -- a hint of where they were going and what their futures might be. The other thing that we really wanted to do, which became front and center in our early discussions with the writers, was to do something great for Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and Tami (Connie Britton). Their relationship became without a doubt the nucleus of the show. We'd already done a bunch of plot twists over the years -- Tami getting pregnant later in life, Coach getting offered a college football job -- but we wanted something that would be a real dilemma. I felt like what Connie and Kyle had brought to those roles and particularly to that relationship was so incredibly powerful, we sort of owed the actors. The story that emerged was Tami gets offered a job at a college in Philadelphia. That idea seemed very fresh to me. We loved that couple so much -- it had been called by many critics the best marriage on TV -- there was still something very traditional to their relationship.
We started to set up four or five episodes before the finale, so when we got to it, we felt like we had invested enough in that dilemma to have it land with the audience. We knew these were going to be our last 13 episodes, so we were able to write toward a definitive ending. When you're writing a show that consistently lived on the bubble the way Friday Night Lights did, you're always kind of writing finales that can work as both a season and a series finale. And it was really nice to be able to finally write toward a real ending this time.
Obviously, this year is our last opportunity to be recognized by the Emmys. If the show were to be recognized, it would be very meaningful. In a way, it would be the perfect ending for us, much like an episode of FNL, where so many games were won in the last second.
Rescue Me (FX)
Only three people total ever wrote the show: Denis Leary, me and Evan Reilly. That's a lot of TV for three people. I felt in the sixth season we weren't moving forward quite enough. At that point I felt, "I think it's about time to go." From a writer's perspective, the "inciting incident" of the entire series is 9/11. It became this looming, unchanged character in the life of the series. Because we knew that the show would be ending right around the 10th anniversary, that anniversary weighs heavily in the last season, so we knew what we were writing toward.
When the show started, it was fairly soon after the event, and so many people were still affected directly by it. It's an artistic endeavor, but it's also a large piece of commerce. So we had to be respectful, and we didn't want to make it a show about that. The thing that ultimately saved it was that we always knew the show would be funny. We tried to embody the idea that, even in the face of a tragedy like that, people persevere and life goes on. And it usually goes on through humor; people have no choice but to continually move forward. The interesting thing about the show is that there is one character who doesn't move on, and that's Tommy (Leary). He's not moving backwards, but he's not moving. He's stuck in that time; he's stuck in his own self-hatred and his own issues with the church and his family and alcohol. The question was always: Will a man who survives a huge tragedy ultimately survive it or not? Well, that was always what the idea of the show was. There are very specific things in the finale that harken back to 9/11 -- the firefighters who were lost -- but I think more than anything, there's a very positive message. A mass audience wants to keep it light; they just want to be entertained. You work all day, and you don't want to come home and see somebody f--ing drinking themselves to death. But a small audience like ours is great. They are fervent in their passion. And if you have viewers who stick with you for seven years, you want to reward them. You want to answer that question: Will Tommy survive in a positive way? You want to send a positive message about people being able to move on and mourn and continue with their lives. And that happens, I think. Thank God.