‘Leave It to Beaver’: How the Series Finale Changed TV Forever

The Leave It to Beaver series finale made a major impact on television. While “revolutionary” may not be a word often associated with the iconic TV show, the last episode changed television forever. 

‘Leave It to Beaver’ ended because Jerry Mathers wanted to go to school

Audiences said goodbye to the Cleaver family in 1963. Not because of poor ratings but primarily because Jerry Mathers, the actor who played the show’s title character Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, wanted to attend high school. 

After six years — the show premiered on Oct. 4, 1957 — the characters and the actors who played them had grown up. Beaver and his older brother, Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow), were getting older and moving on to other things outside of the Cleaver household. No more hiding a baby alligator in the toilet tank or climbing a billboard.

Wally and the Beav had simply grown out of the show’s signature shenanigans. So when Mathers expressed his interest in school, it only made sense Leave It to Beaver would end as opposed to forging ahead without the title character. 

RELATED: Were Ken Osmond and Jerry Mathers Friends in Real Life?

The last episode of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ introduced the series finale

'Leave It to Beaver' actor Tony Dow stands behind co-star Jerry Mathers as he sits in a chair in the cockpit of an airplane
Tony Dow and his Leave It to Beaver co-star Jerry Mathers | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

Leave It to Beaver changed television when it ended. Up to that point, TV shows had just sort of ended without any clear conclusion. When Leave It to Beaver Season 6 Episode 39: “Family Scrapbook” aired on June 20, 1963, audiences got a glimpse at what would become standard for a TV show’s sendoff. According to IMDb, the episode became the first series finale to air on prime time TV in America.

Beaver, Wally, and their parents June (Barbara Billingsley) and Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont), reminisced on what had happened in the previous six years of their lives. Mrs. Cleaver found a scrapbook and the family flipped its pages looking back at some of the show’s most memorable moments. More than that, Leave It to Beaver wrapped up storylines for viewers. Ultimately, the episode became the model for series finales. 

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The ‘Leave It to Beaver’ cast went on to reunite multiple times on screen

Even though TV viewers said goodbye to the Cleaver family in 1963 that wouldn’t be the last they ever saw of them. A handful of original cast members reunited on a number of occasions in the decades following the Leave It to Beaver series finale.

First, there was the 1983 TV movie Still the Beaver. Dow, Mathers, Billingsley, and Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell) all reprised their roles. Thanks to its success, the cast reunited on another project. The New Leave It to Beaver, a TV series about the adult versions of Wally and Beaver, premiered in 1983. The comedy series ran for four seasons before coming to an end. Then in 1997, Billingsley and Osmond appeared in a Leave It to Beaver feature film remake.

Watch Leave It to Beaver on Peacock.

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