The finale to Bob Newhart's sitcom Newhart is probably more famous than the show itself by now: The show ended by revealing to almost 30 million viewers that the entire eight-season series was nothing but a dream imagined by the character Newhart played on his previous sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show. They even got the actress from the old series to reprise her role as Bob's wife.
When The West Wing ended by revealing it was all a dream by the cat from ALF, it didn't go so well.
The episode still consistently ranks among the most memorable in the history of television, and a big reason why it worked is that, unlike the fairly predictable finales of other classic shows ("Ross and Rachel end up together," "they're all in purgatory or something"), no one, absolutely no one, saw this one coming.
How They Kept It Quiet:
To ensure that the script of the final scene didn't get leaked, Newhart and company used a very simple method: There was no script of the final scene. Instead, a fake ending was written for the specific purpose of misleading the tabloids if they somehow caught wind of it, and guess what? They did, announcing to the world that Newhart's character, Dick Loudon, was to die in the final episode and end up in heaven talking to God, played by George Burns. Or George C. Scott. Or some old guy named George, anyway.
"Oh, hey, Mr. Harrison. If it's alright, I'd like to hold out for a better George."
Bob Newhart claims his wife, Ginny, came up with the idea for the finale years earlier, presumably while she and Bob were enacting a different type of bedroom scene. The show's writers, meanwhile, have said it was actually them (why they were in a bedroom with Bob, we're not sure). Whoever came up with it, when it came time to film the scene, only a handful of people knew what would really happen -- not even the crew filming the scene or the other members of the cast knew what was going on at the time.
Also, since her presence alone would've spoiled the surprise instantly, Suzanne Pleshette, the actress who played Newhart's wife, was sneaked into the studio and remained hidden until the final scene. And then they had to edit out two solid minutes of applause from the completely mind-blown audience.
Don Klumpp / The Image Bank / Getty
Contrast this to the Seinfeld finale, where the audience rioted and killed Jackie Chiles.
STF / AFP / Getty
Imagine you went to see, say, World War Z, and then 40 minutes into the movie, Brad Pitt got eaten by a zombie. And then for the rest of the movie, you're following one of the zombies as the main character. That was what it was like for audiences watching 1960's Psycho.
"I sure am looking forward to watching this character grow and develop for another hour or so."
Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece was full of shocking, genre-defining material -- from the "shower scene" to the rotting corpse to the unprecedented, highly controversial shot of a toilet flushing. However, its impact on cinema history and society at large is a direct result of the fact nobody knew quite what to expect when the film first debuted. Sure, we all know by now that the movie takes a turn when the main character, played by Janet Leigh, gets killed less than halfway in. But back then nobody knew about the plot twist ... or, like, anything else about this movie.
Gee, we wonder why they went to see it anyway.
How They Kept It Quiet:
After spending $9,000 for the rights to Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name, Hitchcock was so mind-blown by the story's twists that he wanted to make sure the audience experienced it exactly as he did ... even if it meant sending his assistant to buy as many copies of the book as she could find to make sure no one else read it. That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. The insane, somewhat potato-shaped iceberg.
For starters, the film didn't even have a real trailer -- they just shot Hitchcock walking around in the film's sets being all creepy and used that as the "trailer."
Many viewers thought they were paying to watch a documentary on home renovations.
The film itself was shot in total secrecy, which Hitchcock accomplished by using a closed set and forcing the cast and crew to sign an agreement promising not to leak the ending, then to promote the movie without actually mentioning what the hell they do in it. As if that wasn't enough, Hitchcock also launched a marketing campaign in which he prohibited anyone from seeing the movie early, critics included, and convinced theater owners all over the world to lock their doors after the start of each viewing to ensure no one be allowed to walk in late.
"Those who sneak in will be forced to act in my next movie. Hope you like birds."
Finally, the last weapon in Hitchcock's secret-shielding arsenal was a recording that played as people left the theater in which he personally pleaded with them not to mention the movie's ending to anyone who hadn't seen it. This mainly worked, because it was 1960 -- today, we're pretty sure that would do nothing but make sure the twist became a Twitter hashtag 30 seconds later.
Make all the hashtags you want about our new Star Wars: Adventures in Jedi School mini-series. Just watch the trailer, whatever you do.
For more pop culture knowledge to impress your friends with, check out 7 Celebrity Careers That Launched by Accident and 6 Terrible Decisions That Gave Us Great Movie Moments.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Movies You Won't Believe Hollywood Is Remaking .
And stop by LinkSTORM because it's Friday, so screw it.
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Further Reading: As it turns out, competent professionals are way worse at keeping secrets than coked-up directors. During the Cold War, some Russian spies used secret documents as toilet paper -- making every page one wet-nap away from incriminating. Even Presidents can't keep their secrets for long: which is why we now know Thomas Jefferson was completely terrified of his public. If you're STILL jonesing for leaked secrets, these excerpts from the NSA's internal magazine should really hit the spot.