Alan Alda said as M*A*S*H began filming its final scene of the final season, he got unnerved at the sheer number of people crowded onto the sound stage at 20th Century Fox.
Alda said there were at least 300 members of the media watching as his Hawkeye character along with the rest of the M*A*S*H cast buried a time capsule. The final scene was filmed Jan. 14, 1983.
And for the M*A*S*H purists out there, the final scene that was filmed actually was for the penultimate episode. Still, 11 years of terrific TV was coming to an end and a pop culture moment needed to be documented.
“And it was a really unnerving experience,” Alda told the Archive of American Television in 2000. “Because there were about 300 people from the press, which shocked us. We didn’t know there was going to be this much interest in us. Well, I knew we were popular, but I didn’t know there would be that many people watching you shoot the last shot.”
It probably shouldn’t have shocked Alda and crew that M*A*S*H drew so much interest. The show was high quality and it maintained its ratings throughout its 11-year run. The nation never grew tired of it. M*A*S*H ranked among the top 10 in nine of its 11 seasons. It finished the season rated No. 3 in 1983. The only two shows to top it were 60 Minutes and Dallas.
Alda Said 60 Minutes Was Supposed to Be There for Final Scene of M*A*S*H, But Didn’t Show
And according to Alda, 60 Minutes was planning to be at the final M*A*S*H scene, too.
“Well, that would be nice, 60 Minutes is a great show,” Alda recalled. “So that would be a real honor. Turned out, they didn’t do it. Instead, there were these 300 people, television crews, print people, radio people. And they were all standing there watching us act while we were trying to do the last scene, which was very emotional for us, anyway, because we knew it was the last scene.
“To have all these people to the side while you’re playing a scene in front of a camera was like having the whole audience in the wings while you’re playing the show for one critic,” Alda said of the final M*A*S*H scene. It was disorienting. You didn’t know where you were. And then we got the last shot, And then people closed in on us. It was a very weird experience.”
Alda Said As Cast Members Cried and Hugged Each Other, Reporters Kept Asking Questions
Alda said everyone was hugging each other and saying good bye. Most of the M*A*S*H cast had been together for the 11 years. It was akin to telling your family good bye. But there were all those reporters.
“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?’ Then we had press conferences and things. It was an honor, of course. 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. We weren’t getting up to be…. I mean, this sounds self-aggrandizing to say this, but we weren’t getting up to be self-aggrandizing.”
The final episode ran Feb. 28, 1983. And 77 percent of the U.S. households that owned televisions tuned in that night to watch M*A*S*H take its final bow. That translated into almost 106 million people watching the finale. It was an incredible number then.
And it’s a phenomenal number now because it still holds the record for the most-watched scripted TV show in history. So we understand why so many reporters wanted to document the final moments.