The final episode of M*A*S*H packed an emotional kind of punch. That was especially true when Alan Alda’s Hawkeye left the 4077th via helicopter and saw BJ’s GOODBYE message spelled out in large white rocks.
BJ had issues saying goodbye in person. But as he zipped away on a motorcycle, everyone knew he, too, was heartbroken that he may never see some of these friends, again.
It was all masterful acting. But did you know that this historic episode, which was called Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, wasn’t the final M*A*S*H episode that was filmed?
No, that honor went to the episode called As Time Goes By. Its original run date was Feb. 21, 1983. The cast filmed it on Jan. 14, 1983.
You may remember that in the final scene of this episode, characters buried a time capsule. The M*A*S*H doctors and nurses found items representing their time at the 4077th and buried them. The M*A*S*H cast did something similar. They found a bunch of costumes and show props and buried them somewhere on the 20th Century Fox lot.
‘M*A*S*H’ Director Told Actors Not to Cry
Mike Farrell, who portrayed BJ, said the director gave strict orders on how the cast should act.
“At one point, I think it was the director, who said I’ve never had to tell actors to not cry so much in my life. Stop. Crying,” Farrell told MeTV.
“We went through this thing knowing this will be the last time I’ll ever stand here,” Farrell said about filming the final M*A*S*H episode. “This is the last opportunity I’m going to have to say goodbye to these characters.”
In another interview, Alda, who won Emmys for his acting, writing and directing of M*A*S*H, recalled how reporters crowded the set for the final filming. He estimated that there were said there about 300 journalists there to document TV history.
“And it was a really unnerving experience,” Alda told the Archive of American Television in 2000.
“There were tears and stuff,” Alda said. “Then there were all these people (saying) ‘what’s it feel like? What are you going to do next? Tell me about this?’ … We didn’t have the private moment we all looked forward to. It really was kind of an image that made the show so good. To us, it was a personal experience.”
The M*A*S*H finale ran on Feb. 28, 1983. Ads that ran on the finale were more expensive than the Super Bowl. And there was a good reason for that. The finale drew a bigger audience than the country’s most-watched football game played earlier in 1983. The episode, which was more than two hours long, attracted a domestic audience of almost 106 million. It had a worldwide audience of almost 122 million.
The M*A*S*H finale still is the most-watched scripted show in TV history. And it ranks ninth overall behind eight Super Bowls.