This Day in World History
February 28, 1983
Final Episode of TV Series M*A*S*H Airs
On February 28, 1983, at the end of its eleventh season, M*A*S*H said goodbye to television. More than 105 million Americans in about 51 million homes watched the series finale, a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie directed by star Alan Alda, that featured the show’s characteristic blend of comedy and drama.
M*A*S*H debuted in 1972, two years after the release of the Robert Altman movie of the same name and four years after the publication of the Richard Hooker novel that was the original for both. Set in a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War, the show featured an ensemble cast that included three regulars — Alda as doctor “Hawkeye” Pierce, Loretta Swit as chief nurse Major Margaret Houlihan, and William Christopher as chaplain Father Mulcahy — who appeared in all eleven seasons.
In its first few seasons, the show’s Korean War setting made it a commentary of sorts on the Vietnam War. Even after Vietnam ended, the series examined the tragic personal cost of war and the extent to which people will go to try to maintain sanity in war. The last episode, set around the close of the Korean War, included storylines reinforcing those themes.
The show made several innovations, including use of multiple storylines in an episode, the mixture of comedy and drama, the way the camera was used to shoot scenes, and the fact that the characters developed over time.
M*A*S*H remains one of the most highly regarded of all television series. Though the records the final episode once held for number of households tuning in and total number of viewers have been surpassed by Super Bowl broadcasts, that last show remains the single most watched episode of a television series in US history. Its Neilsen rating of 60.2, which means that more than three-quarters of all televisions were tuned to it, makes it the highest-rated television show of any kind.