'M*A*S*H' Finale: History-Making Series Ending That Captivated The World
Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, David Odgen, and Jaime Farr,and the Cast of M*A*S*H at the press conference for the show's final episode. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
The final episode of M*A*S*H, aired on February 28, 1973, was a country- and generation-uniting event. Just as so many people can tell you what they were doing when they heard John F. Kennedy had been killed, millions and millions can recall tuning in at that exact moment to bid farewell to Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, Wayne Christopher, Mike Farrell, Gary Burghoff and the rest of the cast of the most successful sitcom in history. The episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," stands as the most-watched TV episode of all time, and given the fractured nature of entertainment in the 21st century, will likely hold that title forever.
Truly special television shows bring people together like a campfire. In the history of TV no show brought more people together for a single episode than the finale of M*A*S*H. “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was seen by more than an astonishing 106 million people.
To put that in perspective, the most recent TV series to garner even a tiny slice as much attention was Game of Thrones. Sporting dragons and sex, the finale of Game of Thrones only attracted 16.5 million viewers. That’s only 15 percent as many people who amassed on couches all over the country to watch M*A*S*H! Chances are we’ll never see anything like it again.
M.A.S.H Created The Dramedy
Today, the blending of comedy and drama occurs in just about every show. However, back in the day, few show producers utilized such a merger. In fact, CBS executives were constantly badgering the producers of M*A*S*H regarding the heavy nature of some of the show’s plots.
One point of contention was whether or not to use a laugh track. The creators, Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart did not want a laugh track but ultimately gave in to a “chuckle track.” Perhaps most unbelievably, executives almost canceled the show after the first season. Luckily for them, they didn’t as commercials during the finale sold for $450,000, more than ads for some slots in the Super Bowl that year. In today’s money that’s nearly 1.2 million for 30 seconds.
Millions Held It In For M*A*S*H
As we mentioned, no TV show in history attracted so many viewers. But just as incredibly no event in New York City history made a million people hold off going to the bathroom. According to engineers roughly a million people used the bathroom immediately following the end of M*A*S*H.
That surge rushed 6.7 million gallons of water through the sewers of the City that never sleeps. Peter Barrett, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, told UPI, “In speaking to engineers who’ve been around 30 or 40 years, they haven’t encountered anything like this before.”
20 Million People Showed Up Just For The End
M*A*S*H was such an influential show that millions of people popped in just to see the end, even though they evidently weren’t following week to week. The rating for the final six minutes peaked at 121.6 million. The only televised events that come close to that are Super Bowls and that’s not actually a fair comparison.
That’s because the only Super Bowl that bests the M*A*S*H finale was the 2010 game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints. However, in 1983 there were only 83.3 million homes with TVs compared to 115 million homes in 2010. By percentage, M*A*S*H blew even Super Bowls out of the water. In considering the massive gap in televisions, that Super Bowl only outrated the M*A*S*H finale by 500,000.
A Creative Masterpiece
Anyone who watched Game of Thrones or Lost knows that ending a popular TV show is nearly impossible. Giving each character a proper send-off and satisfying millions of people while tying up all the loose ends amounts to mission impossible. Amazingly, M*A*S*H pulled it off with eight different people contributing to the writing process. Typically, when there are that many cooks in the kitchen a dumpster fire follows. That wasn’t the case with M*A*S*H.
Each character who had wormed their way into the hearts of Americans earned a send-off in heartwarming or gut-wrenching fashion. That twist of happiness and tears was emblematic of the show. To the credit of the cast, that episode was not filmed last. So the evocative emotions of each actor were pure theatrical talent. They still filmed other episodes of the final season after the finale. Hats off to the cast and crew of one of the greatest shows in history.
Tags: Alan Alda | MASH | Remember This?... | Sitcoms | TV From The 1980s | TV In The 1970s | US Military
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