B.J. spelling out “GOODBYE” in stones. It gets us every time.
The MAS*H finale got most of America at the time, too. “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” received a gargantuan 60.3 rating and 77 share, luring well over 100 million viewers. A whopping 105.9 million people watched on average over the two-and-a-half hours, with that number peaking at 121.6 million in the final six minutes. Yes, that means that about 20 million people only caught the ending.
That makes it the most viewed television finale of all time — only Cheers and The Fugitive come close — and one of the most viewed television broadcasts in American history. Only Super Bowls can top the MAS*H numbers, and that is likely to remain the case forever.
While the numbers are impressive, what makes “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” endure are the emotions. Simply put, the long ending stuck the landing.
Here are some interesting factoids about the epic finale.
1. Alan Alda and Loretta Swit are the only actors in both the first and final episode
It’s hard to believe considering the sprawling cast. Alda is the only actor to appear in every single M*A*S*H. Alda also directed the finale, one of 31 episodes he helmed. His first time behind the camera for M*A*S*H was “Mail Call” in season two. George Morgan, not William Christopher, played Father Mulcahy in the first episode.
2. It was the only episode to feature an on-screen title
As with B.J.’s message written in rocks, the show was bidding adieu and thank you to its audience with this title screen. It’s a shame they didn’t show the title more often, as they were frequently poetic and clever. “Abyssinia, Henry” is great of course. We are suckers for puns like “The Novocaine Mutiny” and “Gorilla My Dreams,” too.
3. A real fire at the Fox Ranch was worked into the script
The finale was originally slated to run 90 minutes. An unfortunate brush fire broke out at the Fox Ranch set in Malibu Creek State Park. The blaze was filmed and worked into the script, padding out the show with an extra 30 minutes. Considering 30-second commercial blocks for the February 28 airing were selling for $450,000, the network likely had no complaints.
4. It featured the most writers of any episode
What is it they say about too many cooks? Fortunately, this broth was far from spoiled. According to writer David Pollock in the book TV’s MAS*H: The Ultimate Guide Book, the writing duties were chunked out: “[Elias Davis & I], with Alan, wrote the first half-hour of ‘Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.'”
5. It was filmed early in that season’s production schedule
In case you need more evidence of how great this cast was, look at the emotion on their faces as they say goodbye. It feels as if you are watching the last minutes the actors are spending together. That was not the case. “Goodbye” was shot early in the season. They had to wear and wipe those emotions, and then carry on to craft a handful of other episodes.
6. “As Time Goes By” was the last episode filmed
So, you are wondering, what was the finale episode to be filmed? That would be the penultimate entry, “As Time Goes By.” The final scene shot was the time capsule bit. As Arlene Alda explains in the photo book The Last Days of MAS*H: Photographs and Notes, the cast actually buried a time capsule to commemorate the end of production. Can someone go dig that up?
7. The finale affected the plumbing in New York City
Sometimes urban legends are true. So many people rushed to the restroom after the ending, the subsequent pressure drop from flushing toilets caused a surge in the tunnels that bring water from the Catskills to New York. So, if this happens again, remember your local utilities and pause the show early and often on your television to give the plumbing a break.
8. A M*A*S*H Smithsonian exhibit opened five months after the finale
This is to underline the cultural impact of the show. The Smithsonian opened the “MAS*H: Binding Up the Wounds” exhibit in the summer of 1983, and it ran for a year and a half. Bert Allen, the set decorator from the series, went to D.C. to set up replicas of the O.R. and the Swamp. Allen kept the signpost from the set for years. It sold at auction in 2005 for $25,000.