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Jeff Simon: It was a TV series finale week for the ages

Jeff Simon

In this corner, weighing several megatons, all of them soaked with blood and singed with dragon fire and lasting 80 minutes, we have HBO's "Game of Thrones," which came to an official stop Sunday.

In the opposite corner, light as a feather and twice as campy, slathered with climactic schmaltz and starring a regular cast making millions per episode, we have "The Big Bang Theory," whose hourlong Thursday ending was rerun Monday night. What good's a juicy ratings smash if you can't squeeze a few more drops out of the lemon?

Before Sunday's finale weighed in, "Game of Thrones" was the object of one of the more delightfully surly viewer campaigns in the entire history of TV audience hissiness. More than a million signatures (and still counting) were collected for a petition demanding that HBO rewrite and then film an entire new season to replace the one that just passed and frosted so many people's pumpkins.

Now that, you've got to admit, is one dissatisfied audience segment. Add to those two shows, the recent brilliantly written final episode of "Veep" -- whose moving final seconds were among the show's finest and most tear-inducing moments ever -- and you've got a TV finale season for the ages.

The "Game of Thrones" finale and "The Big Bang Theory" were almost exact opposites. I've long confessed I wasn't a devoted fan of either show, but I think the contrast in finales was fascinating and instructive.

The "Game of Thrones" finale wasn't all that great, but it definitely had surprises for one and all. I can't imagine the fate of Emilia Clarke's character pleased the actress' fans any more than it did the actress herself (who was quoted, in advance, being genuinely disturbed by it when she first read the script). But her final moments on HBO were both true to the human species, as well as to the more creative and surprising stories about it that have been told since we crawled out of the pre-historic slime.

The show's finale ended with its most interesting actor, Peter Dinklage, condemned to preside over bureaucratic wrangling in Westeros, while Kit Harrington as Jon Snow was shipped into exile outside the wall to shiver and wander with his wolf friend and human castoffs for the rest of history.

Damned if there wasn't real poetry there. And, too, there was real poetry in Clarke's fate, as it was affected by her loyal pet dragon.

The Iron Throne -- whose seat was never going to contain a bottom I cared about -- was picturesquely melted by said dragon at the end. It was another bit of real poetry to finish off an episode that was also rife with more than a little stiffness, if not outright tedium.

"GOT's" finale wasn't great or even close, but it sure gave watchers of all possible devotion to the show some surprises they didn't see coming.

In contrast to "GOT's" mixture of surprise and tedium, "The Big Bang Theory" went out with a perfectly logical, even predictable, fate for all concerned. Whether it was a Nobel Prize or a pregnancy or a soakingly sentimental moment for its big breakout actor Jim Parsons, that was the case.

Everyone else on the show is pleasant and likable, but Parsons was its only authentic sitcom star in the Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sherman Hemsley, Alan Alda class. He has been openly gay for years and made it a point to identify with previous milestones in gay theater -- like the revival of Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band," for instance.

It is the history of American television that it did at least one astounding thing in the past 40 years: by employing an ever-growing phalanx of gay sitcom writers, it put gay characters -- whether open or coded -- in front of America every week in a way that totally domesticated their differences.

The result became immensely socially useful for a previously oppressed minority. That was one of the things so impressively on display weekly in "The Big Bang Theory."

The massive popularity of the show is one of the many things that has eased America into an era of same sex marriage and a Chicago whose new mayor is not only a black woman, but gay to boot.

We are most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

The writers and performers on "The Big Bang Theory" knew that however cliched the show could be, it did incredibly useful work opening up the society people actually live in.

. . .

Speaking of useful work, Steve Kroft -- a mere kid of 73 -- announced on Sunday evening's "60 Minutes" he was retiring from TV news' miraculous geriatric showcase and repository of senior wisdom (Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Andy Rooney, current star Leslie Stahl is 77).

I wish Kroft well but, to be frank, I think he'd probably have aged as interestingly, if not more, than anyone else in television news' bustling senior center.

Meanwhile, back on morning TV, Gayle King is now the one expected to carry the show's good cheer to her new cohorts Anthony Mason and Tony Dockoupil. The newbies at the table are as solid as TV news reporters get. King may mispronounce a name or so on the fly, but she makes easy and graceful news figure jokes with her new partners.

CBS news doesn't stand a snowball's chance in Morocco of gaining significant ratings ground on "Today" and "Good Morning America," but it will, as you expect, take news with admirable seriousness.

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