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Monday, May 20, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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John Voorhees

As The Season Concludes, Finales Serve Up Everything

Seattle Times Columnist

Ever since CBS' "Dallas" left us pondering "Who Shot J.R.?" in the summer of 1980, the season-finale episode of a TV series has become almost an art form in its own right.

This week and last week, as the various series air their last new episodes of the season, it's clear the old "J.R." ploy still works - witness the character played by Andre Braugher in NBC's "Homicide" last Friday night, Dan's heart attack on ABC's "Roseanne," the cliff-hanging tragedy on UPN's "Star Trek: Voyager" tonight on KIRO-TV, and ABC's "NYPD Blue" tomorrow night at 10 on KOMO-TV. Even NBC's "Mad About You" last night left the future of the Buchmans rather up in the air (although fans must be aware the show is on NBC's fall schedule, which should tell us something).

Then there's the puzzling "Where-is-this-going?" approach, which was done to perfection on Fox's "The X-Files" last Friday.

There's the finale built around the departure of a character, such as Grant Shaud's Miles Silverberg on CBS' "Murphy Brown," making his departure tonight at 9 on KSTW-TV. Jill Hennessey departs from NBC's "Law & Order" Wednesday night at 10 on KING-TV.

Weddings and babies make for good finales - ABC's Al Borland (Richard Karn) wants to get married in ABC's "Home Improvement" tomorrow night on KOMO-TV, while NBC's John Larroquette tries to mix weddings AND babies in his funny episode at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow on KING-TV. ABC's "Ellen" had a finale about a marriage that never took place; so did NBC's "Caroline in the City." Helen and Joe, from NBC's "Wings," already married but not expecting, have to make do with buying a new house tomorrow night at 8:30 on KING-TV.

There's always the season-ending ploy of extended episodes, such as the two-hour finales this week of Fox's "Melrose Place" tonight and "Beverly Hills, 90210" Wednesday night, both at 8 on KCPQ-TV.

Completely ending a series requires another approach. The one-hour finale of NBC's "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" signs off by dispatching all the characters in various directions at 8 tonight on KING-TV. Or you can go out with your head held high, as with CBS' "Murder, She Wrote" last night, which treated the end of its long run with the expected dignity of a business-as-usual episode.

But my two favorite finale episodes, in addition to "The X-Files," are UPN's "Nowhere Man" at 9 tonight on KIRO-TV and NBC's "Frasier" at 9 p.m. tomorrow on KING-TV.

"Nowhere Man," which managed to sustain its suspense and air of mystery all season (had it been on a major network it would have been a major hit), ends its season by offering a solution to the mystery - and then, like the twist of a knife by an expert, adding one more tricky, brilliant scene that's worthy of "The X-Files."

Bruce Greenwood may not have gotten much attention this season but his performance as the star of "Nowhere Man" - not to mention the weekly traumas he's had to deal with - make him Emmy-eligible.

"Frasier" takes an entirely different tack toward ending its season. Instead of looking ahead or leaving you with an unsolved problem, tomorrow night's episode begins by noting Frasier's third anniversary as a radio talk- show host, then recalling his first days back in Seattle.

Written by Linda Morris and Vic Rauseo, directed by producer David Lee and with wonderful-as-always performances by Kelsey Grammer, John Mahoney, David Hyde Pierce and especially Peri Gilpin, this one is a gem. Not only is it funny in its own right but it also adds a few more bits of information that bring even more substance to the show's characters. In NBC's Tuesday night lineup of comedies, "Frasier" is a shining diamond surrounded by zircons.

It isn't only the fictional series that aim to end the season with a bang. Bill Kurtis' "The New Explorers," for PBS, has become a series so varied and interesting it transcends its "science/adventure" category. It also can be inspiring, as in "Outsmarting the Brain," which ends the series' season at 8 p.m. Wednesday on KCTS-TV.

Its focus is Dr. Keith Black at UCLA Medical Center, working with new ways of treating brain tumors. That may sound too complex but, trust me, this is an engrossing, wonderfully human hour of TV.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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