These 20 TV shows were some of the most popular of all time. So when it came to their finales, they were placed under a lot of scrutiny – and not everyone was happy with the way they came to a close. However, these flicks could have turned out extremely differently, thanks to their surprising alternate endings.
20. Dawson’s Creek
The Dawson’s Creek finale jumps five years into the future to show viewers where the beloved characters have ended up. One major twist shows Jen Lindley dying, while in another, Joey Potter ends up with Pacey Witter. Although the series started out with Joey as Dawson Leery’s romantic interest, the trio are soon involved in one of television’s most memorable love triangles.
However, creator Kevin Williamson intended to have Joey and Dawson together in the finale. But he changed his mind while writing the episode. Although he confessed at the 2015 ATX Television Festival that “my mother hates me” for the decision, fans were happy with the way things panned out. And while Dawson may not have got the girl, he nabs a career in Hollywood instead.
19. True Detective
The first season of True Detective ends with both investigators surviving. And this is despite the fact that they are both seriously injured during a confrontation with killer Errol Childress. In the end, Rustin “Rust” Cohle tells Martin “Marty” Hart that it all comes down to “just one story,” referring to the battle of “light versus dark.” And while it wraps up the events of the series, it still remains somewhat ambiguous.
But writer Nic Pizzolatto thought about having the detectives solve the case and then disappear into a black hole formed by the black stars that they keep coming across. Pizzolatto told Hit Fix in 2014, “I even had an idea where something more mysterious happened to them, where they vanished into the unknown and [Maynard Gilbough] and [Thomas Papania] had to clean up the mess and nobody knows what happens to them. Or it could have gone full-blown supernatural.”
18. Parks and Recreation
When satirical comedy Parks and Recreation came to an end in 2015 after seven seasons, viewers were shown a flash-forward to the future. There, it’s revealed that Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate have welcomed a baby boy. Meanwhile, Jerry Gergich has become the mayor of Pawnee. However, it turns out that someone else nearly got the job in his place.
While Chris Pratt was originally just supposed to appear in the show’s first season, his character Andy became so popular that he stayed until the series ended. And executive producer Mike Schur revealed that during season two or three, they considered making him the Pawnee mayor. Mike said at the 2015 Winter TCA Press Tour, “He was going to shine everyone’s shoes and everyone who meets him loves him, and that’s why we kept him doing that for a while.”
17. Sex And The City
Carrie Bradshaw finally gets her happily ever after in the Sex And The City finale. That’s because Mr. Big flies to meet the protagonist in Paris and professes his undying love for her, before selling his Napa home so they can be together. But creator Darren Starr was not a fan of this ending, and he declared as much to journalist David Blum in a Kindle Singles interview. He said, “I think the show ultimately betrayed what it was about, which was that women don’t ultimately find happiness from marriage.”
However, things could have turned out very differently for Carrie. That’s because two other scenarios were filmed to combat spoilers. One of them shows Carrie getting engaged to Aleksandr Petrovsky and asking Samantha Jones, Charlotte York and Miranda Hobbes to be her bridesmaids. In another, she rejects both men and returns to New York City as a single woman. Indeed, these endings were later shown to fans when they appeared as DVD extras.
16. The Vampire Diaries
The Vampire Diaries could have turned out very differently – if it wasn’t for Nina Dobrev, who played Elena Gilbert, leaving the show in season six. The series ends with Stefan Salvatore giving his life so that he can keep the town of Mystic Falls safe. But originally, both Stefan and his brother Damon were going to die in order to save Elena, the woman they both loved, leaving her to resume a normal life.
Nina’s departure significantly altered the show, and co-creator Julie Plec explained that because it became about a familial bond rather than romance, she changed her mind about the outcome. She told Entertainment Weekly in March 2017, “… There was no way in hell I was killing both of them and leaving neither of them with the happy ending. It just was never going to happen.”
15. Battlestar Galactica
Battlestar Galactica sees the survivors of 12 colonies land on a planet similar to Earth, where they start a new life. The final episode says goodbye to Lieutenant Starbuck, Samuel T. Anders and Laura Roslin. It also gives a glimpse of 150,000 years into the future, where footage of robots hint at a new war between man and machine. But there were multiple alternatives considered, including one ending where archeologists in the future discover the remains of Galactica during a dig.
And creator Ronald D. Moore also had another ending in mind that focused on Ellen Tigh on board the Colony. He told io9 in March 2009, “She was sort of turned by Cavil, because she found out that [Ellen] had impregnated Caprica Six, and that deeply embittered her. And she sort of became dedicated to the idea of destroying Galactica and the fleet out of revenge.” Ultimately, there would have been a “final confrontation” and a theme of forgiveness, but the creator decided that it wasn’t “epic enough.”
14. Breaking Bad
The final episode of Breaking Bad certainly ends with a bang. Indeed, after destroying everything around him, Walter White rescues Jesse Pinkman and becomes injured in the process. The final scene shows the former lying motionless from a gunshot wound on the floor of the meth lab as it is raided by the FBI. Indeed, some consider it to be one of the all-time best finales on television. But it wasn’t the only idea creator Vince Gilligan was toying with.
Indeed, one possible scenario includes Walt freeing Jesse from a jail in Albuquerque. However, Gilligan couldn’t quite see him killing several good guys – such as the prison guards – in the process. Other options involve the show ending with one of the central characters dying. Gilligan has confessed that characters including Walt’s wife Skyler, Walt Jr. and Jesse were all placed on the chopping block before they ultimately decided Walt himself had to perish.
The first season of 24 dropped jaws by killing off a major character. In the pilot season, Counter Terrorist Unit Director Jack Bauer is at the center of a plot to assassinate a U.S. senator when his wife and daughter are kidnapped. In the end, he thinks he has saved them and uncovers that his co-worker Nina Myers was behind it – but not before Nina kills his wife, Teri.
It was a shocking twist for the television show. But an alternate ending is decidedly happier, with Teri surviving and Nina being captured before she can do any further damage. However, this version that appeared on the DVD wasn’t ever going to be used. Instead, it was shot as a deterrent to try and prevent the real ending from getting leaked to the press ahead of the air date.
12. The Sopranos
The ending to The Sopranos is certainly a memorable one. It shows Tony Soprano meeting his family at the diner and looking paranoid as different people walk through the door. At the end, the bell above the door rings and Tony looks up – just before the screen fades to black. Indeed, the idea is that viewers should decide for themselves whether someone has arrived to kill the mobster.
Meanwhile, to stop the real finale from getting out, a fake one was filmed in which Tony gets into an altercation with someone at the Ba Da Bing. According to creator David Chase, people were attempting to steal scripts at the time. But there was also another possibility for how it could have gone down. The creator has revealed that an alternate ending sees someone at the diner ominously coming toward Tony, suggesting he really might be assassinated.
Across Friends’ ten seasons, Rachel Green and Ross Gellar date on and off and even have a baby together. So it’s no surprise when the finale shows Ross telling Rachel he still loves her, leading to her turning down a job in Paris to be with him. After boarding the flight despite his confession, Rachel leaves a message on Ross’s answering machine and decides to get off the plane. But when she is cut off, the latter is unsure if she disembarked – until she shows up at his apartment.
Although show bosses knew they always wanted Ross and Rachel to end up together, they nearly didn’t show it in the finale. Co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane discussed leaving things open-ended. Crane told Entertainment Weekly in April 2014, “We did talk about, with Ross and Rachel, a grey area of where they aren’t together, but we hint there’s a sense that they might be down the road. But we thought, ‘No, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it.’”
10. The Haunting of Hill House
Despite consisting of only ten episodes, The Haunting of Hill House quickly became a hit when it was released on Netflix. And at the end of the horror mini-series, the Crain family members who are still alive get out of the Red Room and the haunted house. They are seen one year later in a flash-forward, happily celebrating Luke getting clean. It is an optimistic ending for the family – but it very nearly didn’t go that way.
In fact, creator Mike Flanagan intended to suggest that things didn’t turn out as they first seemed. He told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, “Over the image of the family together, we would put the Red Room window in the background. For a while, that was the plan. Maybe they never really got out of that room.” But the night before filming, he changed his mind. The creator added, “We’ve been on this journey for ten hours; a few minutes of hope was important to me.”
9. Hannah Montana
Hannah Montana follows a girl named Miley Stewart who is secretly a famous singer. And the end of the fourth and final season, it shows Miley, having revealed her identity to the world, decline a major movie role in Paris to go to college with her best friend Lilly. But the alternate ending that was filmed was a bizarre one.
The other version ends with a little girl playing with a pop star doll. And this time, it’s Miley Cyrus and not Miley Stewart. Her real-life parents Billy Ray – who starred in the Disney Channel show as Miley’s on-screen dad – and Tish Cyrus then come in to put their daughter to bed and she tells them she is “going to be a rock star” someday. The ending suggests that Miley Cyrus created the series in her head while pointing out that her dreams really did come true – just like her character’s.
8. Twin Peaks
When it is finally revealed who killed Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, it turns out it was her father Leland. Indeed, he had been possessed by Killer BOB, a demonic force. But creator David Lynch filmed another ending to throw off the press. And in this version, Ben Horne is revealed as the killer.
Ben had been a suspect for much of the series, so Lynch’s decision made sense. What’s more, another possible ending was filmed for the pilot. Interestingly, this would have brought the mystery to a close in one episode, in case the show wasn’t picked up for a whole season. In the end, some of that footage appears in a dream sequence.
7. Gossip Girl
At the end of Gossip Girl, the blogger who has spent the previous six seasons spilling all of the characters’ biggest secrets is exposed. And in a shock twist, outsider Dan Humphrey is revealed to be behind it all. But he wasn’t the first choice as the culprit. Indeed, that accolade goes to Serena van der Woodsen’s younger brother, Eric.
Executive producer Joshua Safran explained that Eric was supposed to be Gossip Girl until the end of season two. But then the New York Post guessed that it was him, so they decided to change their plan. Nate was also considered to be behind the blog because he is never shown to be sending any tips to Gossip Girl. But Joshua told Vulture, “In the end, it had to be Dan, because [he’s] a writer, observer, and could write in different styles.”
Executive producer Clyde Phillips knew how he wanted Dexter to end – but he wasn’t allowed bring his vision to life. The series concludes with the central character faking his death after losing his sister, leaving his son and girlfriend behind and starting a new life as a lumberjack. Indeed, the ending proved to be extremely unpopular with fans and is often considered one of the worst finales of all time.
If it was up to Phillips, he would have ended the show with Dexter being executed in a Florida prison. That would be mean that the events of the series are actually the killer seeing his life flash before him as he is about to die. Producer John Goldwyn told Vulture in October 2013 that the decision was down to Showtime. He said, “When we told them the arc for the last season, they just said, ‘Just to be clear, he’s going to live.’”
5. How I Met Your Mother
Perhaps one of the more controversial endings to a television show is on How I Met Your Mother. Fans were divided after the show spent nine series with Ted Mosby teasing how he met the mother of his children. Indeed, viewers discover that Ted’s wife Tracy had died six years before he started telling his kids the story, and he then ended up with his friend Robin instead.
Although actors only filmed one set of scenes for the finale, two possible versions were created through editing. The alternative ending is a lot happier and sees Tracy still alive, with a flashback showing the events that led them to each other. Co-creator Carter Bay revealed that they made their final decision just 16 days before it aired. He tweeted, “We chose the ending we chose and we stand by it. But we loved the other version too.”
Jericho takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, where 23 cities have been hit by a nuclear attack. And at the end of the second and final season, we see Jake Green and Robert Hawkins safely recovering the unexploded nuclear bomb that was supposed to be used on Jericho. And they manage to prove the government conspiracy to be accurate. It wraps the plot up neatly, while revealing to viewers that an American civil war is about to begin. But this was one of two endings that were filmed, with the second in place in case the show should return.
An alternative would have teased the plot for a third season. And in this version, the two men aren’t so lucky. Executive producer Carol Barbee told TV Guide in 2008, “In the original ending, Hawkins has to sacrifice himself to let Jake get away with the bomb and get it to Texas so it can be tested and prove that they were telling the truth. Texas would then swing their support to Columbus and defeat Cheyenne.”
3. 3rd Rock from the Sun
In the 3rd Rock From The Sun finale, Dick Solomon and his family are ordered to leave Earth and return to their home planet. And while he hopes human love interest Mary will come with them, she decides to remain where she is. So Dick wipes all the memories she had of him, leaving just his feelings of love for her behind.
But another ending to the sixth season was filmed just in case the show was picked up for a seventh. In this version, Dick still wipes Mary’s memory before he leaves but then realizes that he can’t lose her. So he shows up naked in her car, leaving her frightened because she doesn’t recognize him. And right at the end of the episode, he abducts her.
2. Ashes to Ashes
At the end of Ashes to Ashes, the audience are told that traveling to the past is really a police officer purgatory. That’s right, all of the central characters are members of the police force that have been killed in violent ways. And Matthew Graham, the show’s co-creator, explained more to The Guardian following the 2010 finale. He said, “The place that Alex finds herself in is a plane between heaven and Earth.” And the same goes for Life On Mars, the series that came before it.
Indeed, some viewers had guessed the ending. But there were a couple of other possibilities that the show bosses had in mind. Co-creator Matthew explained that Alex would have either died, woken up in the present day, or woken up and been able to go back. And they picked the darkest option. He continued, “If she could flit about and go home when she wanted to, when it suited us, it would then feel slightly too much like Alice In Wonderland. Whereas in this, it is Alice In Wonderland. But Alice doesn’t get to go home.”
One particularly provocative ending is the finale of Seinfeld. In the two-part special, Jerry Seinfeld, Elaine Benes, Cosmo Kramer and George Costanza are sentenced to a year behind bars after not intervening during a carjacking. In fact, the presiding judge states that they have a “callous indifference and utter disregard for everything that is good and decent.”
The idea is that the group are finally paying the price for their various sins across the show’s nine seasons. But not all fans took kindly to it. And in an alternative filmed version, they get away with their bad behavior and are found innocent. Indeed, this ending appears as a feature on the DVD of the final season.