“M*A*S*H” said goodbye 40 years ago, with an outro for the ages

(CNN) “M * A * S * H” lasted 11 seasons, although the Korean War, during which the CBS series was shown, lasted three years. When the show was finally signed on 40 years ago—with a 2.5-hour special called “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”—it set a ratings record that will never be rewarded and, in fact, nearly impossible in the fragmented media market that exists today.

Broadcasting during a time when there were still only three major networks (Fox didn’t sign on until 1986) and cable was in its infancy, the finale of “M*A*S*H” drew 106 million viewers, still a record for any spin-off series.

Even more surprisingly, the finale was watched in more than 60% of US homes, drawing the attention of more than three out of four television sets in use (that is, their share of the audience), which means that every other programmer might have been on as well. test pattern.

The population has grown exponentially over the past four decades, so Recent Super Bowls It can go beyond the general public. But no entertainment program has ever rivaled this “M*A*S*H” feat, and in an age of endless networks and multiple streaming services, it seems safe to say that no one ever will.

“M*A*S*H” achievements barely begin and end with ratings trivia. With its mix of wartime drama and broad comedy, the show is basically I created the template For what became known as “drama”, a combination of the two genres that grew increasingly popular in the 1980s and continues to this day.

The series has also changed and replaced main cast members during its run, often emerging stronger with new additions.

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Constants included star Alan Alda, written last year as a former CBS executive turned academic and now professor of television history at Middle Tennessee State University. USA Today piece Marking the 50th anniversary of the show’s debut, he exercised greater control over the series during the latter half of its run.

Alan Alda, front, with original “M*A*S*H” cast members Loretta Sweet, Wayne Rogers, and McClain Stephenson.

Alda doubling as writer and director (and won Emmys for both, in addition to acting), she helped direct “M*A*S*H” as the show — which, like the movie it’s based on, premiered during the Vietnam War — “drifted into Broader social commentaries about the human condition (PTSD, sexism, racism) and the general fog of war,” McCairns said.

The finale itself emphasized those traits, including a devastating subplot involving a compromising bus that left Alda’s character, Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce, psychologically damaged and in need of counseling from a visiting psychiatrist, a recurring character played by Alan Arbus.

Other programs have splashy farewell In the years since “M*A*S*H” (the title, by the way, of a spin-off series that followed), including “Seinfeld” and “Cheers”. The Fugitive also set a high bar in 1967, five years before “M*A*S*H” debuted, drawing 78 million viewers when its protagonist, Dr. Richard Kimble, finally bumps into the one-armed man he’s protested for a while. long as the real killer of his wife. The Roots also stunned America, emptying restaurants eight nights in a row in 1977.

However, this kind of shared viewing experience is becoming increasingly rare. For more than a decade, “M*A*S*H” began with a picture of helicopters ferrying the wounded to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (hence the acronym), and closed, appropriately, with a helicopter shot heading in the opposite direction of the war, along with the show, Finally finished.

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The picture remains apt, marking the end of a chapter in television history, in which the days of three networks that amassed huge audiences almost by default were about to begin their own journey into the sunset.

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