I find this pretty funny: the networks’ habit of finding other images to show during the credits — instead of just showing the credits — has caught up with them. During the final credits of Lost, ABC didn’t want to show promos for other shows (and there were no upcoming episodes of Lost to plug), but they continued to put the credits in a rectangle at the bottom of the screen, and picked something to put at the top of the screen. What they chose was the footage of the destroyed plane that started it all. Except that, by showing this image, they were unwittingly making it part of the show, like those tags sitcoms sometimes have over the closing credits. Which means that many viewers decided that the footage meant something, argued over what it meant, and finally forced ABC to issue a denial that all the characters died in the plane crash.
ABC’s denial actually doesn’t mean a whole lot at this point; whether they wanted it to or not, let alone whether the creators wanted it (they didn’t), they made that footage part of the episode, and people who watched it are perfectly free to incorporate it into their viewing experience and their reading of the show. (What the creators intended is never as relevant as what was actually up there on the screen.) So while there’s an argument that the final footage doesn’t, in fact, mean that the characters were all dead all along, it’s hard to argue that it means nothing: it’s there, so it means something to us. People watching the show in other formats — for example, the DVD will just have the white credits on a black background — will not have that as part of their experience, so this is a case where watching a show “live” on the network can literally be a different experience than watching it anywhere else.
None of this would have happened if the network had just shown the credits as produced, but networks have always been leery of just showing the credits at the end of the night; the thinking is that the audience needs some sort of extra content to keep them at the television set until the news comes on. This used to be done in the form of voice-overs, which at least didn’t attempt to add new visual content to what we’d just seen. Maybe they should have taken a page from Jay Leno and had Jimmy Kimmel do a voice-over announcement over the original credits.