How do you end a major TV drama?

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But what happens when you have neither the luxury of winding a show down naturally, or a hope of returning to the story? A mid-season cancellation, a rarity on either side of the Atlantic, forces writers and producers to be especially creative. Yvonne Grace was the executive producer presiding over the revival of  ITV’s soap opera Crossroads when it was axed unexpectedly in 2003. She found that bringing an established soap to a juddering halt at short notice is no easy task.

“Once you’re involved in story and you’re involved in production the camera has to roll and roll and it can’t stop or you’re left with a blank screen,” says Grace, who now runs workshops on television writing. “I wasn’t prepared for the network to come to me and say ‘oh, the show’s axed, so you have to tie up the storylines.’”. A show like Crossroads, going out five days a week, would typically be juggling multiple story threads, some planned to play-out across an entire year; there was never going to be an elegant solution.

With just a month to wrap up, Grace’s team opted to bring the knife down using one of TV drama’s classic get-out clauses: it was all a dream. In the final scene, Jane Asher’s super-bitch hotel manager, Angel, is revealed to be a daydreaming supermarket check-out girl. “I remember getting a text from Steve Matthews, one of my writers. He said: ‘We’re all in Nottingham, don’t worry, we’ve just been to the Robin Hood Experience and we’ve come up with the ending.’ I loved it, it was so punk!” Grace pauses for a second. “I think I must have been tired.” The blunt finale simply severed the story mid-flow: whole episodes, already filmed and edited, were doomed to go unbroadcast, their scripts and performances forever unviewed.

When the BBC teen drama Byker Grove was axed in 2006, mid-way through its 18th series, script editor Bryan Johnson had no intention of hanging his characters out to dry so callously. “You don’t want to end the story,” he explains, “I love those characters and I got a bit obsessed with ‘what happens to my characters once nobody is writing them?’ So I thought I’d give them the chance to end their own story.”

Johnson’s solution has gone down in history as one of the all-time bonkers TV finales: the teen denizens of Byker find out that they are characters in a television show, and that their creator has been told to end their story, but can’t bring himself to do it. Instead each character is allowed to write their own ending. Inhabiting his young creations, Johnson allowed his imagination to run riot. 

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