Press Pass 18: “M*A*S*H Move is Almost Like Starting New”

The first season of M*A*S*H was not a ratings success. Far from it, in fact. But the show’s second season was more successful and finished the year solidly in the top ten in ratings. While M*A*S*H did see some ratings success during the summer re-runs, it was CBS’s decisions to move the show from Sunday nights to Saturday nights, with its most successful shows, that helped boost its ratings. In this press release, dated August 27, 1973, we see the announcement of the season premiere episode of season two and the move of show to a new night. The title proclaimed, “M*A*S*H move is Almost Like Starting New,” and it was true as it breathed new life into the series.

In the release, Gene Reynolds’ excitement about the change of M*A*S*H‘s schedule is very apparent. He knew, along with season two opening episode writer Larry Gelbart, that the move would attract a much larger audience due to the shows that bookended it. For the 1973-74 season, the CBS Saturday night lineup included: All in the Family (8pm ET), M*A*S*H (8:30pm ET), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (9pm ET), The Bob Newhart Show (9:30pm ET), and The Carol Burnett Show (10pm ET). Looking back, this was a serious block of classic television. At the time, CBS was only up against ABC and NBC for ratings, and M*A*S*H would go up against movies on both networks on most Saturday nights. It was a great night of television, and M*A*S*H joining the lineup only solidified the television viewing audience for CBS.

Season two is probably my favorite season of the series, and I believe that is when the show found a good balance between drama and comedy. That is acknowledged in the press release when it says, “Much of M*A*S*H is straight comedy. But, as Reynolds points out, the show will have its serious moments. Last season, for instance, a major character died in an episode in which Hawkeye unsuccessfully tried to save a childhood friend.” Of course, this is referring to “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” (01×17), and there would be more serious storylines in the second season.

This press release came at pivotal time for M*A*S*H. It had lackluster ratings in its first season, and the second season had to improve or it was bound to be cancelled. While the show had gained in popularity over the summer of 1973, I would argue that the move to Saturday nights with the powerful CBS lineup is what ensured it got the audience attention it needed and deserved. M*A*S*H would move again for season three, this time to Tuesday nights, but the move in the fall of 1973 made M*A*S*H a linchpin of the CBS lineup.

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