'Hot in Cleveland' Creator Talks Going Out on Top and the Series Finale's Betty White Tribute

Suzanne Martin talks with THR about ending on a high note and what a second spinoff would look like.
TV Land

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the two-part series finale of Hot in Cleveland.]

TV Land's Hot in Cleveland came full circle Wednesday with a two-part series finale that wrapped up the journeys of Melanie, Joy, Victoria and Elka in perhaps the most charming conclusion possible for the network's first scripted comedy.

The back-to-back episodes featured a comedy of errors, as the gang is attempting to catch a flight to Paris — a callback to the show's pilot — for Joy (Jane Leeves) and Bob's (Dave Foley) wedding. But after they get a call from an adoption agency telling them to come pick up a baby in Las Vegas, the group takes a detour to Sin City, where, naturally, nearly every one of them winds up in jail.

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A few twists and turns later, Bob's father — played by legendary Emmy winner Bob Newhart — winds up marrying Elka (Betty White) in a dual ceremony with Joy and Bob, who had to tie the knot in order to formalize the adoption. In a lovely nod to star White, they name their daughter Elizabeth — but decide to call her Betty for short.

As for Victoria (Wendie Malick), she winds up bumping into former flame Johnny (Huey Lewis) and the pair reconnect as they realize they both sacrificed what they each wanted the most (each other) for their careers.

That left Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli), who recounted the group's wild tale to a newcomer she met on a plane (played by Thomas Gibson) — who winds up being her soul mate.

The series then jumps ahead five years to celebrate baby Betty's fifth birthday and reveal that everyone — including Victoria, who wanted to return to L.A. — remained in Cleveland, where they continued to meet every Wednesday night.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with series creator Suzanne Martin to break down the finale — and discuss whether there's a chance any of the Cleveland crew could turn up on her new NBC comedy, Crowded.

Congrats on the conclusion of Cleveland — and your NBC series pickup. That must have been quite a range of emotions for you.

I'm really proud of it. It feels like a child that did good. That was very odd; it felt like I was sort of cheating on my main show in starting up this new thing, but it really was a good distraction for me.

The girls all had their happy ending. Did you always know that this would be how the show ended?

Yes. I started thinking about it a couple years ago. When I watch series finales, I just want everyone to be happy. (Laughs.) I'm always a little frustrated when things are left unclear or we're supposed to feel a little like, "Who knows what happened?" These are four women who deserved happy endings.

There's a nice nod to Betty White in the finale, when Joy names her adopted daughter Elizabeth, but calls her Betty. Why was that important?

Everything you can imagine about working with Betty White every day for six seasons — what you would dream that to be like — doesn't even touch what it's really like. We love her so much, and she inspired everyone, everyday. When I thought of naming the baby that, I started to tear up. I thought, "OK, that works and that makes sense."

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You staged a Bob (1993) reunion with Betty and Bob Newhart. How did that come about? How involved was Betty White in casting Elka's husband?

She wasn't involved, but another great thing about Betty is she's old school: She shows up, does her lines and does it great and doesn't get too involved in anything else. She was so thrilled when [she found out] that's who it was. And Bob had a big smile on his face for two weeks. I think he had a great time. He's somebody I always wanted for Betty and for whatever reason, we didn't cast him over the years. That list of guys in that age range that are beloved, you go, "Who haven't we gotten?" And Bob was someone we hadn't cast yet. He is so much like Betty in that some people lose that timing and comedic spark and they just have not lost a step. When you see the two of them working together, you realize that's how it's done. Betty was delighted; they were so cute together. Just seeing the two of them sit on set waiting to do something, you just can't believe it.

What do you hope viewers walk away with after this finale? What's your parting message?

I always thought the show was a few fantasies rolled into one. You hear about people that are famous in countries — like somebody being a big star in Germany — and I always thought, "What if there's a place where you are more amazing than you are where you are right now." A lot of people also say — especially when you live in a big city — that when you go to smaller towns, you feel more attractive than you do in L.A. I liked the fantasy of going someplace where you suddenly were more special than you were. [Additionally, Cleveland is about] reinvention for women who had become sort of invisible. What I'd like viewers to take away at the end is that these women did reinvent themselves. Their friendship isn't going to change, but they've all found new paths.

Were there any alternate endings?

Even after the first season, I thought I wanted to end it on a plane. [Cleveland] started on a plane ... and I wanted to end it that way, too. They finally were heading to Paris once again, but I always had in my mind that it would be for a wedding — but didn't know which one of them. I always liked the thought [that] as [the] plane was going down that one of them takes the hand of a stranger and that's who they end up with. I had that in my head for a long time.  

How did the cast respond once they knew how their individual journeys ended?

That long speech that Valerie gives — that's supposedly her wedding toast — where she says that they're her friends and the loves of her life, when I wrote that, I cried. When Valerie read that and we shot it, there wasn’t a dry eye at the table reading or on the set. It allowed everyone to get all their tears out. There were a lot of tears that week.

Read more 'Hot in Cleveland' Creator on Show Secrets, Dream Cameo

What was filming the final episode like?

It's one of those things where when you're running a show, you want things to go well and you're distracted by it. But it was very emotional; from the set designers to everybody else, everyone was extremely emotional. There's not a person on Hot in Cleveland that at some point didn't come up to me, state how many years they've been in the business — whether it was 10 or 40 — and say it was the nicest working experience they'd ever had. Betty, who has been in the business for 63 years, says that it's the nicest set she's ever been on. There was sadness for people because it was such a pleasure.

Celebrating the 100th episode, you previously told THRthat you hoped the show would go for eight seasons. That wasn't that long ago. What went into the decision to end it now? How much was TV Land's new single-camera [and younger] direction a part of that? 

I think TV Land's new direction was a big part of it. We'll see if that ends up working. But I also felt a little bit like it was time. I would have been happy to do more seasons, but it felt a little like it was time. We're so proud of everything we did. Betty is healthy and everyone is good. So maybe it was best that it ends with everything on a high note.

There are a lot of reboots in the works on broadcast, cable and streaming. Would you ever consider revisiting this show and these characters?

If that was ever offered, I would jump all over it. I love these characters and these women.

Hot in Cleveland has already had one spinoff (The Soul Man); have you thought about what a second spinoff would look like?

A little. We talked about Jane and Dave running their detective agency briefly, but I did my pilot for NBC this year and that might have been when I was thinking of those sort of things, so I got distracted by that and I didn't give it too much thought.

That could work as a single-camera show.

It could! Go pitch it!

What was the most valuable lesson you learned with Cleveland?

If you have the right people in the writers' room and on stage, [having that] mutual trust and admiration. We always knew that when we wrote something, the cast would give it their all. And they knew that if it didn't work, we'd fix it. We almost didn't have to talk about it because it was just understood. When I hear other shows talk about actors tanking something in run-through or getting into arguments about things, it makes me so happy that we never experienced any of that.

Your show Crowded was just ordered to series at NBC. Have there been talks about seeing any of the Cleveland family turn up there?

If they will come on, I would love to have any one of them.

What did you think of the Hot in Cleveland series finale? Sound off in the comments below.  

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit