Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen



When I was growing up, there were many great series on television — and, with programs like "All in the Family," "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show", CBS may have been the undisputed champ of what could arguably be regarded as the Golden Age of Television.

But I would go so far as to say that the best show from the 1970s and early 1980s was "M*A*S*H."

Yesterday, The Hallmark Channel showed the 2½-hour final episode that was aired on Feb. 28, 1983 — and remains, more than 25 years later, the single most watched episode of a TV series in American history. With more than 106 million viewers, it was seen by more people than that year's Super Bowl and more than the highly regarded "Roots" miniseries from 1977.

I watched the show yesterday for the first time in more than 15 years, and I was reminded at many points of that time in my life — what I was thinking, what I was doing. I remember watching the show when it originally aired. I was 23 years old, and I watched it in my small apartment with an old friend from my college days.

The clip above is the now iconic final scene. The episode had many poignant, memorable moments for me, but perhaps the most memorable was the one in which psychiatrist Sidney Freedman coaxed Hawkeye to acknowledge his repressed memory of a South Korean woman who smothered her baby after being admonished by Hawkeye to keep the child quiet so a Chinese patrol would not discover them.

The anguished Hawkeye asked Freedman why he forced him to recall that painful memory. Freedman told him he had to let it out in the open before he could heal.

That is really what the show was about — healing. And, after 11 years on the air, it was essential for the show's devoted audience to find some closure as well.

I think it succeeded on that night in 1983. And I am confident its 251 episodes will still be relevant to audiences 26 years hence.