The television industry is driven by the Nielsen ratings, provided by the Nielsen Company. Ratings determine how much a network can charge for advertisements aired during commercial breaks. Every week, a list of television programs is compiled, with the programs ranked by rating. At the end of every television season another ranking is compiled, with the programs once again ranked by rating, but for the entire season.
On a weekly basis, M*AS**H was rarely the highest rated television program, although it did regularly rank in the Top Five, Top Ten, or Top Twenty, depending on the competition. It might surprise fans of M*A*S*H to learn that the series never once reached the top spot during any of its eleven seasons. Its first season on the air, from 1972-1973, it ranked 46th. The following season, however, it skyrocketed to fourth in the ratings and never fell out of the Top Twenty, only once falling out of the Top Ten. The eleventh and final season was the third highest-rated show of the 1982-1983 television season, the closest the series ever came to the number one spot.
The following tables list the weekly rankings for M*A*S*H, season by season. Nielsen information comes primarily from The Los Angeles Times for Seasons One through Six; The New York Times for Seasons Seven through Ten, and The Associated Press for Season Eleven. Starting midway through Season Two, the only Nielsen information I have found thus far lists either the Top Fifteen or Top Twenty rankings, with the occasional list reaching the Top Thirty. In some cases, I was unable to find any information for certain weeks and thus if an episode has no ranking, it could mean it finished outside the Top Twenty or I have no information one way or the other.
I have written brief overviews of each season, pointing out episodes of interest and explaining why certain episodes had low rankings where I could. Excluding Season 1, with the information I have available, the lowest-rated episode of M*A*S*H was Season Ten’s “Picture This,” aired April 5th, 1982, which ranked 36th due to heavy competition from NBC. It is possible that other episodes ranked lower, but even if they did, the vast majority of the 227 episodes broadcast between September 15th, 1973 and February 28th, 1983 ranked in the Top Twenty. An incredible achievement.
For its first season, M*A*S*H was given the 8PM Sunday timeslot opposite NBC’s The Wonderful World of Disney and ABC’s The FBI, both of which would finish the 1972-1973 season in the Top Thirty, with The Wonderful World of Disney in the Top Ten. In the face of such competition, M*A*S*H performed poorly.
The very first episode ranked 45th for the week and later episodes would sink even lower. However, during the second half of the season, M*A*S*H stabilized and even saw some improvement, reaching the Top 30 on occasion and even breaking the Top Twenty in March 1973. The turnaround wasn’t enough to keep M*A*S*H from finishing the 1972-1973 season in 46th place.
|09/17/1972||M*A*S*H — The Pilot||45th|
|09/24/1972||To Market, To Market||—|
|10/01/1972||Requiem for a Lightweight||—|
|10/08/1972||Chief Surgeon Who?||54th|
|10/22/1972||Yankee Doodle Doctor||—|
|11/05/1972||Bananas, Crackers and Nuts||43rd|
|11/19/1972||Henry, Please Come Home||38th|
|11/26/1972||I Hate A Mystery||36th|
|01/28/1973||Sometimes You Hear the Bullet||22nd|
|02/04/1973||Dear Dad, Again||36th|
|02/17/1973||The Long-John Flap||49th|
|02/25/1973||The Army-Navy Game||43rd|
|03/11/1973||Major Fred C. Dobbs||27th|
CBS wisely moved M*A*S*H to 8:30PM Saturdays, sandwiched between hits All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The new time slot worked wonders for M*A*S*H and the series spent the bulk of the 1973-1974 season comfortably in the Top Ten, ranking 4th for the season.
|09/15/1973||Divided We Stand||3rd|
|09/22/1973||5 O’Clock Charlie||15th|
|10/06/1973||For the Good of the Outfit||6th|
|10/13/1973||Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde||6th|
|10/27/1973||L.I.P. (Local Indigenous Personnel)||6th|
|11/03/1973||The Trial of Henry Blake||7th|
|11/10/1973||Dear Dad… Three||10th|
|11/24/1973||Carry On Hawkeye||6th|
|12/08/1973||Deal Me Out||9th|
|12/15/1973||Hot Lips and Empty Arms||11th|
|01/05/1974||Henry in Love||—|
|01/12/1974||For Want of a Boot||—|
|01/26/1974||The Chosen People||—|
|02/02/1974||As You Were||—|
|03/02/1974||A Smattering of Intelligence||5th|
M*A*S*H was moved again for its third season, this time to Tuesdays at 8:30PM. It would face The ABC Movie of the Week and The CBS Tuesday Night Movie. M*A*S*H easily beat its competition and would top the Nielsen charts for potentially the first time with the final two episodes of the season.
The series finished the 1974-1975 season in 5th place, down one slot from the previous season.
|09/10/1974||The General Flipped at Dawn||11th|
|09/24/1974||Officer of the Day||3rd|
|10/01/1974||Iron Guts Kelly||9th|
|10/29/1974||Life With Father||6th|
|11/19/1974||There is Nothing Like a Nurse||—|
|12/03/1974||A Full Rich Day||9th|
|12/10/1974||Mad Dogs and Servicemen||6th|
|12/31/1974||Private Charles Lamb||t12th|
|02/18/1975||Love and Marriage||7th|
M*A*S*H moved to Fridays at 8:30PM for its fourth season, which saw the introduction of Mike Farrell and Harry Morgan. CBS was hoping to blunt NBC’s dominance of Friday evenings. M*A*S*H was scheduled opposite NBC’s strong Chico and the Man and fell out of the Top Twenty for the first nine weeks of the season.
The November 11th episode, “Dear Peggy,” was given a test broadcast in the Tuesday 8:30PM time slot the series had occupied the previous season. Ratings shot up. Starting in December, M*A*S*H was moved to Tuesdays at 8:00PM and did well enough to rank 15th for the season, down ten spots from the previous season.
|09/12/1975||Welcome to Korea||—|
|09/19/1975||Change of Command||—|
|09/26/1975||It Happened One Night||—|
|10/03/1975||The Late Captain Pierce||—|
|11/07/1975||Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler||—|
|11/21/1975||Of Moose and Men||—|
|11/28/1975||Soldier of the Month||—|
|12/09/1975||Mail Call, Again||6th|
|12/16/1975||The Price of Tomato Juice||5th|
|01/20/1976||Some 38th Parallels||—|
|01/27/1976||The Novocaine Mutiny||10th|
|02/10/1976||The More I See You||—|
Continuing in the Tuesday 9:00PM timeslot, M*A*S*H spent much of the 1976-1977 season in the Top Ten. The 100th episode of the series, “Lt. Radar O’Reilly,” broadcast October 12th, ranked first for the week, as did the season finale.
Only one episode, “End Run,” failed to make the Top Twenty. The reason? It aired during the historic week when ABC broadcast the miniseries Roots and utterly dominated the Nielsen ratings.
The series rebounded to 4th place for the 1976-1977 season.
|10/05/1976||Out of Sight, Out of Mind||6th|
|10/12/1976||Lt. Radar O’Reilly||1st|
|10/26/1976||The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan||11th|
|11/23/1976||The Korean Surgeon||t6th|
|11/30/1976||Hawkeye Get Your Gun||7th|
|12/07/1976||The Colonel’s Horse||5th|
|01/04/1977||The Most Unforgettable Characters||3rd|
|02/15/1977||The General’s Practitioner||4th|
The introduction of David Ogden Stiers during the season premiere performed well, ranking 5th for the week. But for the next four months, M*A*S*H languished at the bottom end of the Top Twenty due to competition from ABC’s Three’s Company. Beginning January 30th, CBS moved the series to Mondays at 9:00PM and saw the ratings jump up, with the season finale ranking 1st.
M*A*S*H ended the 1977-1978 season in 9th place, down slightly from the previous season (Three’s Company, by comparison, ranked 3rd).
|09/20/1977||Fade Out, Fade In||5th|
|10/11/1977||War of Nerves||14th|
|10/18/1977||The Winchester Tapes||14th|
|10/25/1977||The Light That Failed||—|
|11/01/1977||In Love and War||—|
|11/22/1977||The M*A*S*H Olympics||18th|
|11/29/1977||The Grim Reaper||17th|
|12/06/1977||Comrades in Arms (1)||17th|
|12/13/1977||Comrades in Arms (2)||t16th|
|12/20/1977||The Merchant of Korea||12th|
|01/03/1978||The Smell of Music||17th|
|01/17/1978||Tea and Empathy||—|
|01/24/1978||Your Hit Parade||—|
|01/30/1978||What’s Up, Doc?||—|
|02/06/1978||Mail Call Three||9th|
|02/27/1978||Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde||4th|
M*A*S*H continued in the Monday 9:00PM timeslot it had taken over halfway through its sixth season. For the bulk of the season, the series continued to rank in the top Ten or Top Fifteen, with a few exceptions.
The third episode of the season, “Lil,” tied for 20th due to competition from NBC’s “Little Women” miniseries. The fifth episode of the season, “The Billfold Syndrome,” faced a special 90-minute episode of NBC’s Little House on the Praririe and fell out of the Top Twenty. In mid-February, CBS broadcast the second half of Gone with the Wind on Monday, February 12th, pre-empting M*A*S*H.
CBS gave the series a special Wednesday airing on February 14th and ratings fell somewhat in response.
For the 1978-1979 season, the series ranked 7th, a slight improvement from the previous year.
|09/25/1978||Peace On Us||4th|
|10/09/1978||Our Finest Hour||9th|
|10/16/1978||The Billfold Syndrome||—|
|10/23/1978||None Like it Hot||t10th|
|10/30/1978||They Call the Wind Korea||6th|
|11/13/1978||Baby, it’s Cold Outside||11th|
|11/20/1978||Point of View||9th|
|12/04/1978||Out of Gas||8th|
|12/11/1978||An Eye for a Tooth||5th|
|01/01/1979||B.J. Papa San||9th|
|01/22/1979||The Young And The Restless||8th|
|01/29/1979||Hot Lips is Back in Town||13th|
|02/14/1979||Rally Round the Flagg, Boys||24th|
|02/27/1979||A Night at Rosie’s||11th|
|03/05/1979||Ain’t Love Grand||9th|
M*A*S*H spent another season in its Monday 9:00PM timeslot, with every episode ranking in the Top Fifteen save two. On October 1st, an address from President Carter on the three networks pushed “Guerilla My Dreams” to 9:15PM and it faced stiff competition from “The 17th Anniversary Tonight Show,” which ranked 3rd from the week. And on December 31st, “Yessir, That’s Our Baby” fell out of the Top Twenty despite facing relatively weak competition from a pair of movies on ABC and NBC.
The series improved to 5th place for the 1979-1980 season.
|09/17/1979||Too Many Cooks||11th|
|09/24/1979||Are You Now, Margaret?||5th|
|10/01/1979||Guerilla My Dreams||t19th|
|10/08/1979||Good-Bye Radar (Part 1)||2nd|
|10/15/1979||Good-Bye Radar (Part 2)||3rd|
|10/22/1979||Period of Adjustment||8th|
|11/12/1979||Mr. and Mrs. Who?||12th|
|11/19/1979||The Yalu Brick Road||14th|
|12/03/1979||Dear Uncle Abdul||9th|
|12/17/1979||Stars and Stripes||5th|
|12/31/1979||Yessir, That’s Our Baby||—|
|02/04/1980||Lend a Hand||10th|
|02/11/1980||Goodbye, Cruel World||3rd|
The 1980-1981 television season was delayed due to an actor’s strike. When it did begin, M*A*S*H was once again airing on Mondays at 9:00PM and this time, every single episode did rank in the Top Fifteen. In fact, with the exception of the season premiere, every episode of the season ranked in the Top Ten, with eleven ranking in the Top Five. Those high ratings helped M*A*S*H end the 1980-1981 in 4th place.
|11/17/1980||The Best of Enemies||14th|
|12/15/1980||Death Takes A Holiday||4th|
|12/29/1980||A War For All Seasons||6th|
|01/05/1981||Your Retention Please||5th|
|01/12/1981||Tell It To The Marines||6th|
|01/19/1981||Taking The Fifth||4th|
|02/16/1981||No Laughing Matter||5th|
|02/23/1981||Oh, How We Danced||4th|
|03/09/1981||The Red/White Blues||7th|
|03/16/1981||Bless You, Hawkeye||2nd|
|04/13/1981||The Foresight Saga||2nd|
|05/05/1981||The Life You Save||2nd|
The 1981-1982 television season was delayed due to a writer’s strike. M*A*S*H spent its fourth consecutive season in its Monday 9:00PM timeslot. Several episodes ranked outside the Top Fifteen due to strong performances by programming on ABC and NBC. For example, on November 9th, “Rumor At The Top” faced stiffer than usual competition from NFL Monday Night Football on ABC. And on February 8th and February 15th, 1982, M*A*S*H faced powerful films on ABC: the second half of Superman and The Jerk, respectively.
The April 5th episode, “Picture This,” was up against The Kid with the Broken Halo on NBC and sank to 36th for the week.
Weak performances from these episodes saw M*A*S*H drop slightly to 9th place for the 1981-1982 season.
|10/26/1981||That’s Show Biz||4th|
|11/09/1981||Rumor At The Top||t20th|
|11/16/1981||Give ’em Hell, Hawkeye||9th|
|11/23/1981||Wheelers and Dealers||12th|
|12/07/1981||Snap Judgement (Part 1)||19th|
|12/14/1981||Snappier Judgement (Part 2)||4th|
|12/28/1981||‘Twas the Day After Christmas||4th|
|01/04/1982||Follies of the Living – Concerns of the Dead||9th|
|01/11/1982||The Birthday Girls||t8th|
|01/18/1982||Blood and Guts||16th|
|02/01/1982||A Holy Mess||11th|
|02/08/1982||The Tooth Shall Set You Free||—|
|02/22/1982||Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way||7th|
|03/22/1982||Sons and Bowlers||10th|
|04/12/1982||That Darn Kid||1st|
M*A*S*H spent its shortened eleventh season — it’s last — in its customary Monday 9:00PM timeslot. The February 7th episode, “Friends and Enemies,” faced an installment of “The Winds of War” on ABC and was shut out of the Top Twenty. The series sprang back the following week, ranking 8th, followed by a 5th place ranking for the penultimate episode.
The series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” easily topped the Nielsen chart.
For the 1982-1983 season, M*A*S*H ranked 3rd, up six spots from the previous season.
|10/25/1982||Hey, Look Me Over||t2nd|
|11/01/1982||Trick or Treatment||4th|
|11/15/1982||The Joker is Wild||2nd|
|12/13/1982||The Moon is Not Blue||3rd|
|12/20/1982||Run For the Money||7th|
|12/27/1982||U.N., the Night and the Music||15th|
|01/24/1983||Say No More||10th|
|02/07/1983||Friends and Enemies||—|
|02/14/1983||Give and Take||8th|
|02/21/1983||As Time Goes By||5th|
|02/28/1983||Goodbye, Farewell and Amen||1st|
Brooks, Tim, and Earle F. Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present. Ballantine Books; 8th edition.
The Chicago Tribune
Herz, Peggy. All About M*A*S*H. Scholastic Books: 1972.
The Los Angeles Times
The New York Times
Last updated June 9th, 2016