Updated:
Original:
Year
1983
Month Day
February 28

Final episode of M*A*S*H airs

On this day in 1983, the celebrated sitcom M*A*S*H bows out after 11 seasons, airing a special two-and-a-half hour episode watched by 77 percent of the television viewing audience. It was the largest percentage ever to watch a single TV show up to that time.

Set near Seoul, Korea, behind the American front lines during the Korean War, M*A*S*H was based on the 1968 novel by Richard Hooker and the 1970 film produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by Robert Altman. Its title came from the initials for the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, an isolated compound that received wounded soldiers and was staffed by the show’s cast of doctors and nurses. At the heart of M*A*S*H were the surgeons Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda) and Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers); these roles were played in the Altman movie by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, respectively. Hawkeye and Trapper’s foils on the TV show were Dr. Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Senior Nurse Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit), who disapproved of the surgeons’ boozing, womanizing and disregard for military authority. Other key characters in the series were the bumbling camp commander, Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and his clerk and right-hand-man, Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff).

M*A*S*H premiered on the CBS television network in September 1972. Under threat of cancellation during its first season because of low ratings, the show turned things around the following year, landing in the top 10 in the ratings and never dropping out of the top 20 for the rest of its run. While the show began as a thinly veiled critique of the Vietnam War, its focus switched to more character-driven plotlines after that war’s anti-climactic end, allowing the series to continue to hold the public’s attention as it developed. In the middle of the show’s tenure, Alda began to take more and more creative control, co-writing 13 episodes and directing more than 30, including the series finale. Alda became the first person ever to win Emmy Awards for acting, directing and writing for the same show.

Elements such as long-range and tracking camera shots as well as sophisticated editing techniques distinguished M*A*S*H from more traditional TV sitcoms. From the beginning, the influence of Altman’s movie was evident in the cinematic nature of the show’s camera work. In addition, each half-hour episode of M*A*S*H contained a signature mixture of dramatic and comedic plot lines, and its success marked the rise of a new genre of TV show dubbed “dramedy.”

After earning consistently high ratings throughout its 11-year run, M*A*S*H enjoyed enduring popularity in the following decades, as it became one of the world’s most syndicated shows. It also spawned an unsuccessful spin-off, AfterMASH, which CBS aired from 1983 to 1985.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Pope Benedict resigns

On this day in 2013, less than three weeks after making the unexpected announcement that he would step down, 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI officially resigns. Citing advanced age as the reason for giving up his post as the leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, ...read more

First NATO Military Action

In the first military action in the 45-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. fighter planes shoot down four Serbian warplanes engaged in a bombing mission in violation of Bosnia’s no-fly zone. The United States, 10 European countries, and Canada ...read more

ATF raids Branch Davidian compound

At Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, agents of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) launch a raid against the Branch Davidian compound as part of an investigation into illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Christian cult. As the ...read more

Congress creates Colorado Territory

With the region’s population booming because of the Pike’s Peak gold rush, Congress creates the new Territory of Colorado. When the United States acquired it after the Mexican War ended in 1848, the land that would one day become Colorado was nearly unpopulated by Anglo settlers. ...read more

Gorbachev calls for nuclear weapons treaty

In a surprising announcement, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev indicates that his nation is ready to sign “without delay” a treaty designed to eliminate U.S. and Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe. Gorbachev’s offer led to a breakthrough in negotiations and, ...read more