'Cheers' ratings don't dethrone 'M*A*S*H' finale

May 22, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

A huge audience tuned in to see the final episode of "Cheers" Thursday night. But it wasn't nearly enough to challenge the 1983 finale of "M*A*S*H" as the most-watched TV show ever.

A.C. Nielsen measured the audience for the 90-minute-plus "Cheers" episode at a 45.5 rating and 64 share. By comparison, the final "M*A*S*H" episode had a 60.2 rating and 77 share. (A ratings point currently represents 931,000 TV households; shares are the percentage of sets in use.)

After seeing the ratings, NBC announced yesterday it will rerun the final episode tomorrow night at 7 (locally on WMAR-Channel 2). Such a last-minute schedule change in May sweeps is unheard of and should provide a strong lead-in for "In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco," the docudrama about self-proclaimed messiah David Koresh, which was expected to attract a large audience on its own.

But beating "M*A*S*H" in rating and share was never really a possibility for "Cheers," because the TV universe has changed so dramatically in the past 10 years, with the boom in cable TV and home video fragmenting the audience. Going strictly on ratings and shares, in fact, the "Cheers" finale would not even finish among the Top 10 network shows of all time.

Still, some thought "Cheers" might set the record for the most-watched episode of all time, since there are more TV sets and viewers than ever before. But "Cheers" also failed to top "M*A*S*H" using that yardstick. According to Nielsen figures, 42 million TV households and 93.9 million viewers saw "Cheers" Thursday night compared with 50 million TV households and 121 million viewers for the "M*A*S*H" finale.

That makes Thursday's "Cheers" the second most-watched episode of a TV series in history, according to Nielsen -- second to the finale of "M*A*S*H," but slightly ahead of the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas" on Nov. 21, 1980.

Viewership was slightly lower in Baltimore than it was in most major cities. But the audience here for "Cheers" was still enormous, with a 44.5 rating and 57 share. That translates to about 430,000 TV households. In Boston, the fictional home of "Cheers," the show earned a 54.1 rating and 68 share and was seen in 1.1 million TV households.

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