GFA: The Original Broadcast 30 Years Later
M*A*S*H fan Larry Petit was able to get his hands on a copy of the original February 28th, 1983 broadcast of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” complete with commercials and promotional spots. He was kind enough to review the broadcast to mark its 30th anniversary. Text © 2013 Larry Petit.
February 28, 2013 marked the 30th anniversary of the original airing of “Goodbye, Farewell And Amen”, the final episode of M*A*S*H. With a frenzy of hype preceding it that resulted in over 100 million viewers tuning in, the two and a half hour-long series finale of M*A*S*H wasn’t so much a final episode as it was an event. It’s no exaggeration to say that “Goodbye, Farewell And Amen” (hereafter referred to as GFA) was a defining moment in television history, a pop culture touchstone. Much-heralded finales of Cheers, Seinfeld, and Friends may have generated tons of hype and garnered impressive ratings, but, in my opinion, none can match the epic proportions or monumental scope of M*A*S*H‘s farewell.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t around for GFA when it was originally broadcast. It aired a little over three years before I was born. Growing up, I knew of M*A*S*H; It was so heavily syndicated and still so popular that it was impossible not to, but it wasn’t until I was about 14 years old and watching the late night reruns on Northeast Ohio’s WJW TV-8 that I became a fan. I was hooked instantly, I was hooked big time, and I’ve stayed hooked to this very day. So, of course I had seen GFA several times over the years, both broadcast on TV and on DVD.
But, I’ve long been a fan (and collector) of original TV broadcasts, and in early February of this year, I managed to obtain my own original, 1st generation Betamax recording of the finale (which I of course transferred to DVD for posterity). With the 30th anniversary of the original airing of GFA around the proverbial corner, I figured what better way to celebrate than to watch it the way so many others did that night in 1983? And so, on the evening of February 28, 2013, that’s just what I did.
The tape was recorded from WTVJ TV-4, Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and included not only GFA, but also the local edition of the syndicated PM Magazine, this one hosted by Katrina Daniel and Jimmy Cefalo. The topic was, of course, the end of M*A*S*H. The episode aired the night of GFA, but rather than watch it on 2-28-13, I viewed it the Sunday before, to sort of get a feel for the hype that was steadily building prior to GFA.
It’s an interesting special, although truth be told, I’ve never liked these newsmagazine-type shows. There are some neat moments, though. Obviously the frenzy leading up to the finale is spotlighted, including a giant party at a Miami country club, with attendees dressed and acting as their favorite characters (with varying amounts of success, but most actually do a pretty decent job). Also making up large portions of the show are clips from the last day of filming, and remembrances from the cast. Most of the material presented should be fairly well-known to big fans of the series, and I would guess most of the “exclusive” footage was the same provided to other markets in the country, although there is some neat trivia. For example, according to PM Magazine, the finale was originally supposed to be only 2 hours long, but there was “so much good material”, that the extra half hour was written. A future spin-off is also mentioned, which, as we all know, did indeed come to fruition.
My favorite part of the special is actually a segment spotlighting the various M*A*S*H merchandise that had been released. Of course t-shirts, hats and the like are shown, but the best moment is when the action figure line is given center stage. Since the figures are woefully underappreciated (and even unknown to some), it’s nice to see them get a little attention. The host of this segment even mentions his “favorite”: the Fr. Mulcahy action figure! “Ask for him by name!”. The infamous 4077 Vodka dispenser is briefly spotlighted, and touted as being controversial, which I guess I can see. It was real Vodka, after all.
The PM Magazine show has some interesting bits, and features a real nice insight to just what sort of phenomenon the show had become by that point. The hosts presented each segment in army uniforms, saluting, using army lingo, etc. There was even an army truck there. I guess it makes sense, and was probably pretty funny back then, but watching it nowadays, it was sort of corny, even a little irritating, at least to me.
PM Magazine was a nice appetizer, but when 2-28-13 arrived, I was ready, and at the strike of 8:30 PM, I turned on the DVD. Aside from the first half of the opening theme, my copy of the episode is complete. All of the actual GFA finale is there. Keeping in mind that this is a 30 year old over-the-air Beta recording we’re talking about, the tape’s quality was actually still pretty decent (relatively speaking, of course).
The first thing you notice when watching original broadcasts of older shows is the often huge difference in picture quality compared to today’s versions, be they DVD or broadcast. M*A*S*H is no exception, especially considering the entire series has been remastered twice over the years. GFA doesn’t look bad by any means, but you can definitely tell when comparing it to modern releases/airings how beneficial the remastering has been. Much sharper picture, more balanced color than the original broadcast. This is all, of course, to be expected, and I’m not complaining in the least, merely observing. And truthfully, compared to some of the syndicated versions that made the rounds before the first remastering job in 1992, GFA looks pretty darn good. I have syndicated WUAB TV-43 broadcasts from 1987, and some of them look pretty rough, even for non-remastered presentations.
While the purpose of this article is to detail the actual original broadcast of GFA (something I haven’t seen elsewhere on the internet), it’s impossible for me to do that without speaking of the actual episode. Otherwise, it’s just a review of picture quality and 30 year old commercials. Most of us have already seen GFA multiple times over the years, anyway, so I’ll refrain from a scene-by-scene overview. Be forewarned, though, that if you haven’t seen GFA yet, there are some spoilers ahead, but nothing that I’d think would ruin the episode. If you’re a M*A*S*H fan, this is absolutely essential viewing, even if you do already know some of the plot details.
The main plot of GFA, of course, is the ending of the Korean War, but there’s a ton of other things going on. While many, I’m sure, consider GFA to be overlong, I’m not one of them. There was always (well, usually) a lot going on in M*A*S*H anyway, and the movie-length running time allows each plot point to be explored without rushing. Something I’m continually amazed at is how much ground the finale covers with apparent ease. The end of the war is the overarching theme, but the number of things going on under that theme is what makes the episode so fantastic. From a personal standpoint, I’ve always been completely satisfied with GFA, which is unusual, because I usually don’t go for endings that try to wrap it all up at once. It usually feels so artificial, to me at least.
But, M*A*S*H has always been a cut-above the rest, and it shows here (plus, since the war in ending, everything naturally has to end at once). One thing I noticed not only in GFA but also in the penultimate episode “As Time Goes By” (the last ‘regular’ episode, and the last episode actually filmed), is that it really does feel like the waning days of the war. There’s a weariness, I guess, that hangs over the proceedings. I don’t mean in the acting or even the actual plot (although that’s obviously a big part of it), but in just how the episode feels, as if everyone’s been through so much, but there really is some kind of resolution on the horizon. The opening scenes of “As Time Goes By” are a good example of this. I can’t fully explain it, and maybe it’s just partially a feeling on my part as a viewer, but frankly, I think it points to just how good the series was, even after 11 seasons.
There’s really a lot going on in GFA. Perhaps the best remembered detail besides the iconic ending is Hawkeye’s nervous breakdown. For a good chunk of the episode, he’s under Dr. Sidney Freedman’s care, due to an incident that led to a Korean mother smothering her child. Hawkeye repressed memories of the actual incident, and it’s pretty amazing to see Sidney bring each ‘real’ memory to light. Of course, eventually Hawkeye makes it back to the 4077th, in time for the final stages of the war.
But, that’s far from everything. Among the other threads running throughout the episode: A tank is driven and abandoned at the 4077th, leading to incessant mortar fire, BJ’s orders to go home (which are quickly rescinded), Klinger’s further attempts to reunite Soon-Lee with her parents, Margaret’s plans for after the war, an injury to Fr. Mulcahy’s hearing, and Winchester’s training of five POW musicians. That’s a very streamlined account of what happens in GFA, there’s certainly more than just that, and some threads, Klinger’s for example, lead to others by the end of the episode. But, it’s all masterfully put together. The movie-length really pays off here, every thread is allowed to unfold much more naturally than if, say, the episode had been a 1 hour ender.
The final half-hour or so, that’s where the episode’s heart truly lies. Following the cease-fire, the 4077’s farewell party is something to behold. There’s some laughs (GFA, while obviously not a ‘humorous’ episode, does have several good laughs in it, more than it’s usually given credit for, particularly by it’s detractors), but when each cast member informs the party what he/she is going to do after the war, well, it’s a very emotional part of the show.
But not nearly as much as the final scenes, where the main cast all say their goodbyes and depart as the 4077th is dismantled. Thanks to AfterMASH, we know it’s not a truly final goodbye for some of the characters, but it’s incredibly touching nevertheless.
Of course, it’s the last scene that is truly iconic. We see Hawkeye and BJ say farewell to each other, and as BJ departs on his motorcycle and Hawkeye’s chopper lifts into the air, we see as close to a perfect ending as any TV show has ever had: BJ’s “note” spelled out in rocks: “Goodbye”, a message directed at not only Hawkeye, but to the viewers as well. As Hawkeye’s chopper flies away and takes us away from of the 4077th forever, the effect is truly powerful. The “Goodbye” has become the defining image of GFA, and for good reason; You simply couldn’t ask for a better conclusion to 11 outstanding seasons.
One particular concept that factors into not only GFA, but also (more heavily) the penultimate “As Time Goes By” (and indeed, can be found throughout the rest of the series) is that of recalling past moments and characters. The time capsule at the end of “As Time Goes By” is a better example, but there are some “callbacks” in GFA that provide a nice full-circle type of closure. At one point, Margaret and Charles argue over past incidents seen in previous episodes. My favorite example from GFA, however, is when BJ has temporarily left, without finding time to leave Hawkeye a goodbye note (obviously the catalyst for the “note” seen at the end). Hawkeye, believing he’ll never see Beej again, mourns that Trapper didn’t leave a note before leaving, either. It’s a brief moment, but it speaks volumes about Hawkeye’s feelings of hurt regarding the loss of his best friend(s).
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but there wasn’t much mention of the finale during the GFA’s commercial breaks. Which makes sense, of course. I mean, this is it, this is what the hype has been building towards, we know this is the end, what more could I expect? (Keep in mind, this is how it was in WTVJ’s market, breaks in other markets would have been slightly different.)
There were a few moments, though. The first was a brief promo for that night’s news, following GFA, as the announcer intones “A farewell to M*A*S*H, tonight”.
The other is a brief local promo for WTVJ’s local M*A*S*H airings: “Don’t say farewell! Say Hello! 5:30 [PM] M*A*S*H tomorrow!”. It’s unclear if WTVJ was already rerunning the series prior to GFA , although it’s likely, since they don’t say “beginning tomorrow!”. It was a clever little way to tie into the finale, nevertheless.
Another interesting moment was a CBS Newsbreak segment. Besides other headlines of the day, there’s a mention of the heavy winter storms in California. It was these exact storms that ironically kept some California viewers from seeing GFA!
Speaking of the commercial breaks, they’re really what make up this broadcast. Without them, you might as well watch the old CBS/FOX VHS. But with them, this presentation of GFA is practically a time capsule. I can’t exactly say I’m “nostalgic” about the time period (can you be nostalgic for a time you weren’t alive during?). Perhaps “fond” is a better description of my feelings. Most people would probably prefer to watch their shows/movies without broadcast commercials, but I’ve always found the old ads to be an absolute blast from the past, even if some of them can come off a bit goofy today.
Make no mistake though, the commercials during GFA are a trip. The actual GFA episode has proven itself timeless, but the ads are an instant trip back in time. It would be far too time consuming to detail every single one, but here are some of the more notable spots (which reportedly cost a pretty penny to have run during GFA!).
GM commercials are all over this airing. The opening and closing “sponsored by” segments are for Chevrolet, and there are several GM commercials throughout. Being a lifelong Chevy guy, the Chevrolet ads are my favorite, particularly one (hosted by, I’m pretty sure, Robert Stack) that briefly spotlights the then-upcoming new Corvette.
Oh wow, Ms. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600! Could there be any better proof that this is 1983? While it’s odd at first to realize this is more of a kids-targeted ad, the PM Magazine episode’s merchandise segment actually confirmed something I long suspected, particularly regarding the action figures: M*A*S*H was a “trendy adult show” (their words), but once it hit syndication, the kids began watching it, too. M*A*S*H had long been syndicated by ’83, and add in the huge hype regarding the finale, and Ms. Pac-Man doesn’t seem so out of place. Atari and M*A*S*H had quite a history together. Not only was there a M*A*S*H video game for the 2600, but Alan Alda was at one point the spokesman for their computer line. This Ms. Pac-Man ad aired during the tail-end of Atari’s glory days, but even during the above-mentioned WUAB TV-43 syndicated airings I have, commercials for the Atari 7800, revived Atari 2600, and Atari XEGS could be easily found.
Introducing the world premiere of Diet Coke! Diet Coke actually debuted in ’82, but apparently it was still early enough to be airing this ad at the end of February ’83. A multitude of stars watch a Diet Coke-themed dance number. Near the end, Telly Savalas tells us “Just for the taste of it!”. Who’s gonna argue with Kojak?
Why, it’s the Xerox 620 typewriter! Complete with a little screen so you could see your mistakes and correct them before printing! Kids would probably find that laughable today (if they even knew what a typewriter was in the first place), but in ’83, when home computers were gathering steam at an alarming rate, this was probably a pretty necessary feature.
Of course, plenty of ads promoting CBS shows were fun. Much to my chagrin, none feature Magnum, P.I.
Wizards & Warriors.
Small & Frye. Judging by the promo (and a quick glance at an online synopsis), apparently one half of a private eye duo involuntarily shrank for a temporary amount of time. I hate to judge a show before seeing it, but it sounds perfectly awful to me.
Alice on it’s new night!
The Jazz Singer’s Network Premiere
Other Fun Things
And a few things about this broadcast you also won’t find on DVD:
Bumpers! Bumpers fell out of favor during, what, the early-90’s? Mid-90’s? But they were still widely used in the 80’s, and of course there’s quite a few of them during GFA. I don’t know if there were different ones during other episodes, but during this broadcast, it’s always the same picture, with either the message “M*A*S*H will continue.” or a quick snippet of the theme.
Following the end credits, the last thing we see of first-run M*A*S*H is a “Read More About It” segment. CBS used to run these quite often following certain broadcasts. In this one, Larry Gelbart informs us about three good M*A*S*H books to read: The original book by Richard Hooker, “M*A*S*H: The Five Years” by J. Clauss, and “M*A*S*H: The Exclusive Inside Story Of TV’s Most Popular Show” by David Reiss.
And with that, M*A*S*H ended it’s first-run episodes. Following the Larry Gelbart ender, a card informing us Cagney & Lacey would return next week is shown, and then, it’s all over.
I don’t want to say that watching the final M*A*S*H on February 28, 2013 at the same time and with all the advertising as it aired 30 years ago was a surreal experience, but it definitely left me with a feeling that I don’t think simply throwing in the DVD would have. I actually saw what audiences saw, every moment. I can only imagine what it felt like to see “Goodbye” at the end for the first time back in ’83, with no idea it was coming. Of course, we know now that AfterMASH continued the story, but GFA was truly the end of an era.
Outside of the original broadcast, watching GFA again reinforces my long-held feelings that this is quite possibly the best finale to a television series ever. It’s certainly my favorite. I know not everyone will agree with that, and that’s fine, but for me, no other final episode floors me like GFA. There’s been other very, very good ones, no doubt, and naturally it’s all subjective, but GFA feels like the perfect ending to an 11 season journey.
“Goodbye, Farewell And Amen” has been named the greatest series finale of all-time by any number of publications, deservedly so in my eyes. But more importantly, it allows us to properly say goodbye to the characters we have loved for so many years, and all the stories that have made us laugh, made us think, or otherwise moved us over the years, and it does it all in a way that’s befitting a TV series that is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest there will ever be.
I suppose you can’t ask for more than that.
Published March 6th, 2013
Last updated March 6th, 2013