The M*A*S*H ending was as perfect as the show. It was emotional, poignant and so very authentic. Two friends were saying goodbye at the end of a war.
You remember the scene. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce had just been released from a mental hospital. He was set to board a helicopter and leave the 4077th. Best friend B.J. Hunnicutt couldn’t say good bye. It was too difficult. They both were heading back to the United States. But there was a good chance the two would never see each other again.
Then the cameras cut to a big GOODBYE.
Burt Metcalfe, a M*A*S*H executive producer, talked about what the goodbye meant and how he thought of the idea to spell it out in rocks. It was a nod to his own childhood. Metcalfe did the same thing at summer camp to tell friends goodbye.
“That was goodbye from BJ to Hawkeye,” Metcalfe told MeTV. “But more important, it was goodbye, of course, from M*A*S*H to the world.”
M*A*S*H started in 1972. But by 1983, it was time to end it. The show was created with the Korean War as its backdrop. But the Korean War lasted only three years, so it was difficult to sustain M*A*S*H for 11 years and still have the series to be fresh and funny.
M*A*S*H Actor Said They Were Given Orders Not to Cry ‘So Much’
The show’s finale, which was called Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, aired Feb. 28, 1983. On the show, a ceasefire was declared. The doctors and nurses were scattering as they packed up to return to their normal lives in the United States. There was joy at going home. But the characters grew close to each other, probably closer than their own families. So that was why saying goodbye hurt so much.
It also hurt the actors who’d been part of the M*A*S*H cast for so many years. They’d never gone to war. But so many of them were so close.
Mike Farrell, who played BJ, told MeTV: “
“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 said.
Farrell said Metcalfe told them ‘You’re letting the audience have the experience, don’t have the experience yourself.’ So we sucked it up and managed to get through it.”
The finale actually was filmed out of order. The cast said goodbye after what became the next-to-last episode. And the last M*A*S*H filming happened Jan. 13, 1983. Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye, said there were about 300 reporters on set to document the last M*A*S*H cast moment.
The country flipped on the finale in historic numbers. About 77 percent of the U.S. households that owned televisions tuned in to watch M*A*S*H say its goodbye and end the Korean War. That translated into almost 106 million people watching the finale. Thirty-eight years later, it’s still an incredible number. The finale owns the record for the most-watched scripted TV show in history. That record likely never will be broken.