The Americans Showrunners on the Pressure to ‘Stick the Landing’ With Their Series Finale

Plus, how New Girl pulled off its own final episode

Wednesday's Americans finale "is an iteration of the ending we’ve been planning for a long time," says co-showrunner Joel Fields. Jeffrey Neira/FX
Headshot of Jason Lynch

During its six-season run, The Americans has become one of the most critically acclaimed series of all time. But the showrunners behind the FX drama know that despite all those accolades—which include a fan letter that President Obama sent to FX Networks CEO John Landgraf—the show’s ultimate legacy will be judged to a large extent by whether they “stick the landing” with Wednesday’s series finale.

Since The Sopranos’ controversial abrupt-cut-to-black finale in 2007, series endings for long-running shows like Mad Man, Breaking Bad and Lost have been endlessly debated and judged on where they fall on the finale spectrum, from the best (The Shield) to the worst (Dexter). Those final episodes have morphed into referendums on the entire series, outweighing everything that came before.

“The truth is, it really is a lot of pressure,” said Americans creator Joe Weisberg.

Finales weren’t always this make-or-break, noted Weisberg, who recently rewatched the 1998 Seinfeld final episode with his daughter. “It wasn’t the greatest episode, but it just doesn’t matter. What’s the big deal? But [in] these cable dramas, the story ends in the last episode,” he said. “It’s the ending, and it’s enormously important. You’ve got to end it right, there’s no question about it.”

“The truth is, it really is a lot of pressure.”
Americans creator Joe Weisberg on series finales

That put additional pressure on Weisberg and his co-showrunner Joel Fields to stick the landing with their finale—even though they hate the term. “What’s so great about ‘sticking the landing’? I get it if you’re on a plane, sure. But if you’re doing a piece of drama, isn’t it more interesting if we cartwheel and then explode?” said Fields.

“You know what everyone still talks about? Lost,” said Weisberg, referring to the ABC drama, the 2010 ending of which was hotly debated. “Isn’t it good to still have people talking about your show?”

Fields and Weisberg spoke with Adweek one day after they finished writing The Americans finale, but before they filmed it. Even after turning in the script, “you can’t let it go, because you just keep asking yourself, ‘Have we got it right?’” said Weisberg. “The truth is, even if nobody was saying anything, even if people weren’t examining every one of these shows—and which ones had a great [ending] and which had a good one and which had a bad one—we would generate that same pressure on ourselves, anyway.”

Wednesday’s series finale, said Fields, “is an iteration of the ending we’ve been planning for a long time. That ending has had iterations over the years, but it’s been the same ending. The means of getting there has changed.”

Weisberg said he has two goals for the show’s finale episode: “One, that it really makes people feel a lot. And two, that it feels of a piece with the show. Honestly, it’s asking a lot to think that everybody is going to explode with, ‘Oh, that was the greatest.’ If it’s getting a lot of people in the heart and they realize that this is consistent with the show, I’d be pretty happy with that.”

New Girl’s finale approach

Weisberg and Fields weren’t the only ones trying to come up with a May series finale that would satisfy both the show and its fans. As New Girl creator Liz Meriwether was plotting the conclusion to her Fox comedy after seven seasons, “we talked a lot about it in the writers room. Certainly, people have strong opinions about series finales,” she said.

"I didn’t want it to be a big, flashy episode. I didn’t want to have a million guest stars. I didn’t want to have big plot points, or things like that."
New Girl creator Liz Meriweather on the show's season finale

For the New Girl finale, which aired May 15, “the thing I kept going back to was simplicity. I didn’t want it to be a big, flashy episode. I didn’t want to have a million guest stars. I didn’t want to have big plot points, or things like that. We got all of that out of the way the episode before,” said Meriwether.

While the second-to-last episode featured an everything-goes-wrong wedding between stars Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson), as well as several of New Girl’s most memorable guest stars from over the years, the last episode focused solely on the core quintet at the heart of the show.

“For me, the show has always been about this weird group of five people in a loft in Los Angeles, and so that’s what it is,” said Meriwether. “So for me, in moments when I was like, ‘Oh my God, are we going to stick the landing?’, I just had that focus on what I knew the show at its heart was, as opposed to ‘Are they going to get married?’ And that helped me a lot.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.