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Wed, Feb 21, 2018 05:21 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2003-10-10 tracking life & times section
M.A.S.H. finale holds ratings record
Cletus Turner

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When I was a kid, my family only received one television channel in the summer and three in the winter. I longed for winter, not only because snow would get me out of school for awhile, but also because I could watch something else besides NBC. In 1970, 90 percent of all viewers watched either NBC, ABC, and CBS. How times have changed. Today, only 55 percent of all viewers watch those same channels.

I have often wondered what were the highest rated television telecasts of all time, and I finally was able to find them. It is no surprise that five of the top ten are sporting events. It is also no surprise that a classic movie would hold two of the spots. The household rating percent was used more than total viewers in the rankings.

The number ten rated telecast of all time is Super Bowl XII. It aired on CBS on Jan. 15, 1978 and featured the Dallas Cowboys beating the Denver Broncos 27-10. Over 34 million people watched the game with a household rating percent of 47.2. Although it had more viewers than the the number eight and nine telecasts, the household percent was lower.

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Number nine is the second part of Gone With the Wind. Over 33 million people watched Rhett and Scarlett on the screen with a household rating of 47.4 percent. The episode was aired on Nov. 8, 1976 on NBC.

Almost 34 million people watched the first installment of Gone With The Wind which aired on Nov. 7, 1976, the number eight telecast. 47.7 percent of all households watching television tuned in to watch the network premiere of the classic movie.

The number seven telecast is Super Bowl XX. The Chicago Bears defeated the New England Patriots as 41 million people watched. The telecast aired on Jan. 26, 1986 on NBC. The buildup for this contest was huge. The Bears actually released a song called "The Super Bowl Shuffle." The household rating percentage for this telecast was 48.3 percent.

Number six was the XVII Winter Olympics telecast on Feb. 23, 1994 on CBS. Over 45 million people watched the figure skating event and the household percentage was 48.5 percent. Why was this olympics so important? The controversy over Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan overshadowed everything. Earlier that year, Nancy Kerrigan was viciously attacked by an assailant who used a blunt instrument to hit Kerrigan in the knee. It was later said that Harding had caused this to happen, but that was never really proven. Kerrigan was still sent to the Olympics where she won a medal. Harding lost and virtually disappeared from history.

Super Bowl XVII came in as the number five telecast. The Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins in front of a television audience of 40.4 million on NBC. The telecast was aired on Jan. 30, 1983 with a household rating of 48.6 percent.

The highest rated sporting event was Super Bowl XVI which aired on Jan. 24, 1982. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21. The tight game made for dramatic effect and explains why the Super Bowl is considered one of the biggest sporting events in the nation. The advertising spots for a minute on the Super Bowl are extremely high, but advertisers know their product will be exposed to a tremendous number of television viewers. OVer 40 million people watched Super Bowl XVI on CBS with household rating percentage of 49.1 percent.

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Alex Haley is responsible for the number three telecast. Roots Part VIII was the pinnacle of the miniseries phenomenon. A miniseries is a story told over several installments. We were introduced to Kunta Kente and his family and American history and American television would never be the same. The episode aired on Jan. 30, 1977 on ABC and over 36 million viewers were glued to their televisions. With a household rating of 51.1 percent, this series gave birth to the miniseries genre that still exists today.

Who shot J.R.? Who could have guessed that Dallas would provide a cliffhanger that propelled Larry Hagman into superstardom and a episode to the number two position. Of course, we now know that J.R.'s sister-in-law Kristen did the deed because she was having an affair with him and was pregnant. Viewers couldn't wait to find out the big reveal and over 41.4 million viewers tuned in to watch. With a household rating of 53.3 percent, the episode which aired on CBS on Nov. 21, 1980 is considered one of the best kept secrets in television. No one knew who did the deed because the show actually filmed several different endings to make sure even the actors didn't know who really tried to kill J.R.

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The number one telecast of all time was M*A*S*H*. With over 50 million viewers and a household rating of 60.2 percent, the final episode of the popular series easily took first place. The episode aired on Feb. 28, 1983 and allowed us to say goodbye to Hawkeye, played by Alan Alda, and the rest of the gang. It is also in this episode that the longest television kiss occurred as Hotlips Hoolihan, played by Loretta Swit, and Hawkeye kissed goodbye. I still think that B.J., played by Mike Farrell, did it best by spelling out the word "goodbye" on the ground in rocks so that Hawkeye would see it as the helicopter took him away. Sweet, and a perfect ending.

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