Feb 10, 2010, 7:00 PM EDT
It was inevitable that eventually some show would surpass the final episode of M*A*S*H in the category of most eyeballs glued to the TV screen. But this big rumpus over Super Bowl XLIV being the most-watched TV event ever is quite misleading, and to us M*A*S*H diehards, more than a little insulting. First, the numbers:
A record 106.5 million people watched the Saints beat the Colts in Miami on CBS, according to Nielsen. That figure surpasses the biggest audience for a televised event in the U.S. ever — besting the M*A*S*H finale’s average of almost 106 million viewers in 1983. My reaction: So what? Those numbers are virtually meaningless. Especially when compared to soccer.
When the M*A*S*H finale, Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, ran in 1983, there were 83.3 million television homes. Today there are nearly 115 million. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, surpassing M*A*S*H in sheer numbers was inevitable; population growth was always working against it. But the M*A*S*H finale received a rating of 60.2 (percentage of all homes with TV), while Super Bowl XLIV got a 45. That’s the real number everyone should be looking at. By that measure, the Saints-Colts game isn’t even the most popular Super Bowl; the 49ers’ win over the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI in 1982 tops the list at 49.1. That’s No. 4 all time, behind M*A*S*H, the Nov. 1980 episode of Dallas Who Shot J.R.? (53.3) and the 1977 finale of Roots (53.1).
If M*A*S*H’s 60.2 rating were adjusted for today’s TV viewing population, the episode would have drawn about 142 million viewers.
And of course we’re only talking U.S. TV here. The most-watched sporting event ever has to be a World Cup. According to Initiative Worldwide, the 2006 Cup final between France and Italy averaged 260 million viewers, with more than 600 million watching some part of the match. Most watched overall? According to Wikipedia, the funeral of Princess Diana was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people. And the 2008 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony from the Beijing National Stadium was seen on TV by an estimated four billion viewers worldwide.
And so I leave you with this:
Frank: “I’m a good doctor. Just ask any of my patients!”
Hawkeye: “We’re not digging up people just for that.”
Saints’ Super Bowl win nips ‘MASH’ finale for most-watched show ever [Los Angeles Times]
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