M*A*S*H in Syndication
Note: This article is about M*A*S*H in syndication in the United States of America and does not discuss international syndication.
Syndication refers to a method of distribution in which individual outlets are supplied with content by a central provider. Comic strips, for example, are syndicated to newspapers. In the television industry, shows can be placed in “first-run syndication” (where individual television stations are the first to air new programs) or “off-network syndication” (when a program originally broadcast on a network is later sold to individual stations). In the past, networks would also syndicate repeats of their own programming in daytime and late-night time slots.
M*A*S*H was broadcast by CBS from 1972 to 1983. While it was on the air, CBS aired repeats of the series during the afternoon and late at night. The series was also sold into off-network syndication in the late 1970s, where it was hugely successful. In 1998, the series went into cable syndication for the first time.
The CBS Late Movie (1977-1979)
From 1977 to 1979, M*A*S*H was shown once a week as part of CBS’s rotating umbrella series, The CBS Late Movie, first on Fridays and then Thursdays. Beginning Friday, September 16th, 1977 it was shown from 11:30PM-12AM, followed first by repeats of Kojak (until December) and then a movie (until March 1978).
Its last Friday showing was on March 24th, 1978; its first Thursday show took placing the following week on March 30th. The last Thursday broadcast — and the final broadcast overall — was on September 6th, 1979.
CBS Daytime (1978-1979)
During the 1978-1979 season, CBS added repeats of M*A*S*H to its daytime rotation. The series was shown daily, Monday through Friday, from 3:30-4PM, starting Monday, September 4th with the pilot episode. This corresponded with the final year M*A*S*H was part of CBS’s late night line-up, Thursdays at 11:30PM. Thus, for one season, M*A*S*H was shown in three different time slots on the same network. According to a CBS spokesman:
“Most of us here have pretty long memories and we can’t recall another program ever being aired in three different time slots at once by the same network” .
M*A*S*H stayed on the CBS daytime rotation until September 1979, when it was replaced by repeats of One Day at a Time. Its final broadcast was on Friday, September 14th.
Off-Network/Local Syndication (1979-Present)
M*A*S*H entered off-network syndication on local stations across the United States in September 1979. Negotiations over the sale of syndication rights may have begun as early as 1976. Interested stations in various markets bid against one another for the opportunity to show M*A*S*H weekly (Monday through Friday). In New York City, the country’s largest market, M*A*S*H sold for just under $35,000 an episode . In Los Angeles, the second largest market, the price tag was $12,000 per episode .
In February 1980, M*A*S*H was being syndicated to some 150 markets and winning its time slot in most of them . The president of 20th Century-Fox Television, W. Russell Barry, had this to say:
“I think ‘M-A-S-H’ is very unusual. People ask me all the time, ‘Why can’t you do another ‘M-A-S-H’? Well, it takes the right people and the right elements in proper combination, and it just doesn’t happen that often. About the most you can say is you start out to make the best stories you can. It’s in its ninth year and I think in terms of creative material, this is the best” .
M*A*S*H was soon the highest-rated program in syndication. During the 1981 November sweeps, the series, which was then seen in 184 markets, earned a 13.9/30 rating and was watched by 11.3 million households. Family Feud was second, followed by PM Magazine . When M*A*S*H went off the air in February 1983, it was being shown upwards of 16 times per week in some markets, leading Fox to coin the phrase, “The sun never sets on a ‘MASH’ episode” .
The news wasn’t all good, however. According to The Boston Globe, between May 1982 and May 1983, ratings for M*A*S*H declined in 98 of the 203 markets it was being shown . By February 1984, it was third in Nielsen’s syndicated ratings, behind Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud . A year later, it rose to second, with only Wheel of Fortune performing better . In November 1985 it was third again, with Jeopardy in second place .
In 1984, after its initial syndication cycle (the one that began in 1979) ended, M*A*S*H was again offered to stations across the country. This time it cost a station in a major market between $800,000 and $900,000 an episode with the right to broadcast each episode six times . That works out to between $130,000 and $150,000 per broadcast. By 1986 it cost $1 million dollars for the same six runs or more than $165,000 per run .
Until the 1987-1988 season, M*A*S*H was always the top sitcom in syndication, even if it wasn’t the highest-rated syndicated program. By April 1988, however, Family Ties and Cheers were the highest-rated sitcoms . By 1990, M*A*S*H was estimated to have made more than $400 million in syndication alone 15]. In 1992, the episodes were digitally remastered — intended to brighten the episodes and generally clean them up — and closed captioned for the first time .
It wasn’t until February 1993 that “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was made available for showing in syndication, a decade after it was originally broadcast on CBS . M*A*S*H continued airing in local syndication throughout the mid-to-late 1990s but was no longer the powerful force it had once been. The syndication landscape had shrunk, with many independent stations signing with FOX in the late 1980s and UPN and The WB in 1995.
In 2001, M*A*S*H* was remastered again . It continues to air locally in some parts of the country.
Cable Syndication (1998-2013; 2016-Present)
In July 1997, FX announced it had purchased the cable rights to M*A*S*H at a cost of $165,000 per episode . The series premiered on FX on Sunday, September 6th, 1998 at 9AM ET with a 15-hour “Bootcamp Marathon” that included the series premiere and the series finale along with several classic episodes. Episodes were shown seven days a week from 1-2PM and Monday through Friday from 6-8AM .
By 2000, FX was showing M*A*S*H up to eight times a day and was regularly running marathons on April Fool’s Day or Memorial Day. It also broadcast the 1970 film MASH and the special “Memories of M*A*S*H.” An attempt by FX to launch a new schedule with dramas such as Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and The Practice in September 2001 backfired and M*A*S*H was moved to prime time .
FX began moving to original programming in 2002 and in July of that year Hallmark Channel announced it had purchased the exclusive cable rights to M*A*S*H. The move cost some $60 million dollars . FX aired its last M*A*S*H marathon on August 31st, 2003 and Hallmark Channel its first on September 1st, 2003. Initially, episodes shown on Hallmark Channel were uncut and thus ran long. Like FX before it, Hallmark Channel aired frequent marathons of M*A*S*H in addition to daily blocks.
In September 2006, TV Land acquired the exclusive prime time cable rights to M*A*S*H, meaning for the first time two cable channels would share the rights to the series . Hallmark Channel would continue showing the series between 8:00AM and 8:00PM (during the day) while TV Land could air the series from 8:00PM to 8:00AM (during the evening/night). On January 1st, 2007 TV Land began a week-long marathon of M*A*S*H episodes running from 8:00PM to 8:00AM.
In October 2009, Hallmark Channel dropped M*A*S*H from its schedule. The series soon returned but was pulled again in early 2010. A few months later, it was back before being removed for good in July 2010 (with the exception of a handful of marathons). TV Land stopped airing M*A*S*H several years later in September 2013.
After a period of time when M*A*S*H did not air on cable, the series debuted on SundanceTV in November 2016. Two months later, in January 2017, it premiered on AMC. The following month, in February 2017, M*A*S*H returned to TV Land.
Broadcast Network Syndication (2008-Present)
In February 2008, ION Television–a broadcast network launched in 1998 as PAX and later known as i–announced that it would begin airing M*A*S*H in prime time as part of its 2008-2009 schedule . M*A*S*H debuted on ION on Monday, September 8th, 2008. It was pulled in October 2009 but returned in February 2010. In September 2010, M*A*S*H was relegated to filler status, used on weekends after the network’s movie block, before being removed entirely.
In December 2010, MeTV (Memorable Entertainment Television) launched nationally as a digital broadcast television network carried primarily on digital sub-channels of local television stations. M*A*S*H is one of the dozens of classic television programs seen on MeTV. For a short time in 2011 another digital broadcast television network–ION Life, related to ION Television–also aired M*A*S*H.
Netflix began streaming M*A*S*H in the United States on February 1st, 2015. Initially, only the first five seasons were available. Seasons 6-11 were added on April 1st with the exception of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” Netflix listed the episodes from the final six seasons in production order rather than broadcast order and also grouped them by production block rather than broadcast season. This wasn’t fixed until July 1st, which is also when Netflix finally added “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”
On April 1st, 2016, Netflix removed M*A*S*H from its streaming service in the United States after its license to stream the series expired.
2 Brown, Les. “TV Reruns Are Bought for Record Prices.” New York Times. 28 Aug. 1979: C17.
3 Saltzman, Joe. “Syndication–Pot of Gold at End of the TV Rainbow.” Los Angeles Times. 28 Oct. 1979: W6.
4 Jory, Tom. “TV Talk: Russ Barry and 20th Century-Fox Television.” Associated Press. 21 Feb. 1980: AM Cycle.
6 Margulies, Lee. “Channel 2 Marking Its Golden Year.” Los Angeles Times. 28 Jan. 1982: H9.
7 McFadden, Robert D. “‘M*A*S*H’ Farewells Mix Fun and Nostalgia.” 1 Mar. 1983: B1.
8 Siegel, Ed. “Ch. 38 to Air Hitchcok Presents’.” Boston Globe. 22 Jul. 1983: 1.
9 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 9 Apr. 1984: B8.
10 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 17 Apr. 1985: B10.
11 Fitch, Ed. “Spinning the Wheel of Programing.” Advertising Age. 16 Jan. 1986: 15.
12 An article in The New York Times states that M*A*S*H was selling for $800,000 in 1983 (Harmetz, Alejean. “Independents Buying New Sitcoms.” 1 May 1986: C26.) while an article in The Philadelphia Inquirerer puts the amount at $900,000 in 1984 (Winfrey, Lee. “On UHF The War of Independents.” 1 Aug. 1986: D.1.).
13 Harmetz, Alejean. “Independents Buying New Sitcoms.”
14 Roush, Matt. “A Lot of Viewers Pay Attention to a new ‘Law’.” USA Today. 18 Apr. 1988: 03.D.
15 Knutzen, Eirik. “Everything Old is New Again.” Toronto Star. 10 Mar. 1990: S6.
16 Collin, Dorothy and Kathy O’Malley. “O’Malley & Collin INC.” Chicago Tribune. 30 Oct. 1992: 24.
17 Bickelhaupt. “Say Goodbye (Again) to the M*A*S*H Crew.” Boston Globe. 22 Feb. 1993: 34.
18 Schlosser, Joe. “Making the Digital Cut.” Broadcasting & Cable. 31 Jan. 2000: 35.
19 Lieberman, David. “No Joke: Comedy Central to Turn Profit.” USA Today. 29 Jul. 1997: 05.B.
20 King, Susan. “Weekend TV; ‘MASH’ and ‘Planet of the Apes’ Get the Marathon Treatment.” Los Angeles Times. 3 Sep. 1998: 54.
21 Chunovic, Louis. “FX Replaces ‘McBeal’ with ‘M*A*S*H’.” Electronic Media. 26 Nov. 2001: 1A.
22 Barnhart, Aaron. “Hallmark Channel Wins Cable TV Rights to ‘MASH’ Reruns.” Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. 2 Jul. 2002: 1.
23 “Hawkeye, Hot Lips, Radar and the Gang from the M*A*S*H 4077th Roll into TV Land’s Line-Up Beginning in January.” PR Newswire. 27 Sep. 2006.
24 “ION Television to Add “M*A*S*H” to Its Fall Programming Lineup; Secures Rights to Critically-Acclaimed Series from Twentieth Television.” Business Wire. 12 Feb. 2008.
Published February 22nd, 2009
Last updated February 16th, 2017