Legendary dramedy series M*A*S*H came to a close in 1983, and here’s why the finale remains the most-watched scripted TV episode of all time. M*A*S*H started life as a 1968 novel by Richard Hooker, which was based on his experiences as a surgeon during the Korean War. The book was later adapted into the acclaimed Robert Altman movie of the same name, which in turn led to the TV series.
M*A*S*H the TV show began in 1972 and was fronted by Alan Alda as maverick surgeon “Hawkeye” – no relation to the Jeremy Renner version. While the TV version was something of a wacky sitcom in its early years, it gradually morphed into more of a dramedy. Later seasons would explore subjects like trauma, PTSD, homosexuality and more during a time when TV shows rarely touched on such topics. M*A*S*H also gradually dropped its laugh track over the years, and while many cast members departed throughout its 11 seasons, audiences grew to love its core ensemble.
How Many People Watched M*A*S*H’s Series Finale
M*A*S*H famously lasted much longer than the war it was based upon, with the show running for 11 years while the Korean War spanned three years total. Alda himself would direct the M*A*S*H finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which was a major television event. This feature-length M*A*S*H – which inspired Scrubs – episode saw the surgical camp learning the war was coming to an end, and they were being sent home. While “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” has plenty of humor, it was also a bittersweet, emotionally charged ending. An estimated 106 million viewers in the U.S. turned in to watch M*A*S*H’s finale when it aired in February 1983. (via Statista).
Why M*A*S*H’s Series Finale Ratings Record Still Hasn’t Been Beat
To put that in context, the second most watched scripted TV episode was the season 11 finale of Cheers. “One for the Road” aired in 1993 – over a decade on from M*A*S*H’s “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” – and pulled in 84.4 million viewers. The Friends finale came in at 52.5 million in 2004, while a more modern comparison like Game Of Thrones’ “The Iron Throne” received a series high viewership of 19.3 million.
Great as those numbers might be for modern television, the 106 million who tuned into M*A*S*H’s ending beats GoT ratings many times over. Of course, viewing habits have changed in a major way since the ’80s, so the odds of getting that number of viewers to tune in for a television episode as it airs in the modern day – especially during the streaming era – is almost impossible. M*A*S*H’s “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” held on to its impressive record for over 25 years, with 2010’s Super Bowl XLIV eventually topping it with 106.5 million. Subsequent Super Bowls have also topped that number, but for scripted shows, the M*A*S*H finale is still on top. There’s also a legend that in New York, over a million viewers went to the bathroom at the same time after “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” ended, which (according to The Washington Post) led to 6.7 million gallons of water flushing through the sewers.