M*A*S*H was one of the highest rated television shows of all-time, and its series finale set records for being the most watched TV episode of all-time. Nearly 77 percent of television viewers had their dial tuned to CBS on the night of February 28, 1983, totaling 125 million.
The show was concluding its eleventh season which began back on September 17, 1972. The story was re-purposed from a similarly titled novel about three army doctors during the Korean War; it was released in 1968.
The TV show also followed a group of medical support personnel in a United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War (1950-1953). Because the conflict lasted just three years, each episode over the 11 year run effectively covered four days of real time. Because M*A*S*H began at the tail end of the Vietnam War, much of the series was allegorical to that conflict even though it was technically set during the Korean War.
Each episode went in-depth on one or multiple characters, causing audiences to get to know all of them intimately. But the biggest star was undoubtedly Alan Alda who would go on to enjoy a prominent career in TV and movies, including The West Wing, ER, and host of Scientific American Frontiers. He also either wrote or directed many episodes of M*A*S*H.
Like many new shows, M*A*S*H was under a cloud of potential cancellation during its first season on air. Somehow it survived and would land in the top 10 in the TV ratings for the entirety of its run.
The show also used advanced filming techniques that truly set it apart at the time. From eloquent editing techniques to creative tracking camera shots, it truly set itself apart from other shows of the day and revolutionized modern television. It also revolutionized decency standards in TV, becoming the first network series to utter the phrase "son of a bitch."
Tourists who come to LA should make time to visit the location of the M*A*S*H set. It's nestled in Malibu Creek State Park about 20 miles west of Los Angeles and is reachable by hiking. Some of the old vehicles and props remain intact.
You can even eat at the barracks.
There was a Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to the show at the National Museum of American History from July 1983 - February 1985, drawing more than 17,000 visitors per week, not quite as much as tuned in when it was on the air.
This was the golden age of TV and it will never be repeated.