One of Utah's longest and most successful television partnerships is about to end. Beginning in September, "M*A*S*H" will no longer be seen on KSL-Ch. 5 - it's moving to KSTU-Ch. 13.
And KSL and "M*A*S*H" go back a long way - some 19 years, which is nearly an eternity on TV.According to the files of the Deseret News, "M*A*S*H" made its KSL debut on Monday, Sept. 24, 1979, at 5 p.m. Other than the change in the TV listings, no other notice of the event was taken.
But then, who knew that the show was going to become such a local phenomenon in syndication?
Perhaps a more significant date is Monday, March 31, 1980 - the day that "M*A*S*H" joined KSL's late-night lineup, airing at 10:35 p.m. after the news.
Johnny Carson may have been the King of Late Night, but not in Utah during the 1980s and '90s. It was Hawkeye, Trapper John, B.J., Col. Blake, Col. Potter, Hot Lips, Frank, Charles, Radar and Klinger that Utahns were tuning in to see after the late news. And in enormous numbers.
For years, "M*A*S*H" was so dominant in the local ratings that "dominant" isn't even a strong enough word. Not only was the 5 p.m. airing a powerhouse in the ratings, it wasn't unusual for the late-night showing of "M*A*S*H" to have considerably more viewers than all of its competition combined. The numbers were nothing short of enormous.
This was the show that Utah watched while it was going to sleep. And it wasn't long before it became perfectly suited to such a role - everyone had seen every episode so many times that it really didn't matter if you feel asleep in mid-episode because you already knew how it ended.
The partnership between "M*A*S*H" and KSL was at least a bit odd. The show - while set during the Korean War - was in many ways a commentary on the Vietnam War. And a rather liberal, anti-war, anti-establishment commentary at that.
Ch. 5, on the other hand, was about as conservative a television station as you could find. And it was the establishment.
Of course, the fact that the largely conservative populace of Utah fell so deeply and strongly in love with a liberal show like "M*A*S*H" remains a bit of an oddity itself. But the fact is that the show was well-written, well-acted and populated by characters the viewers in large numbers seemed to love.
Eventually, the show's appeal waned somewhat. Repeated reruns will do that. By the end of the '80s, it was no longer Utah's 800-pound gorilla of late-night TV.
It remained, however, at least a 300- or 400-pound gorilla. "M*A*S*H" was still winning its 10:35 p.m. time slot rather handily well into the '90s. As a matter of fact, it was doing so well that KSL, then a CBS affiliate, was one of a rather small number of CBS stations across the country that didn't originally air the "Late Show with David Letterman" right after its late newscast when that show premiered at the end of August, 1993.
Ch. 5 held out until the following year, when it succumbed to CBS pressure and moved "M*A*S*H" to 11:35 p.m., after "Letterman." And it remained in that time slot when KSL became an NBC affiliate, airing after "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" until September 1996.
"M*A*S*H" was then exiled to the mornings. And, not surprisingly, the ratings aren't what they used to be - somewhere between 22,000 and 24,000 homes tune in to the 9 and 9:30 a.m. double runs of the show on Ch. 5 these days.
That's certainly respectable for the time slot, but nothing to get excited about.
Still, there's some sense of melancholy as "M*A*S*H" prepares to head off for KSTU-Ch. 13 in September. KSL and "M*A*S*H" were a big part of Utah's viewing experience for more than a decade and a half.
CHANGING CHANNELS: On the other hand, there isn't a great deal to get melancholy about. "M*A*S*H" isn't leaving town, it's just moving across the street.
The show will continue to be seen weekdays at 9 and 9:30 a.m. - only as of Monday, Sept. 7, it will be seen on Ch. 13. And "M*A*S*H" is even making a return to late-night in Utah - it will be seen weeknights at 11:30 p.m. on KSTU.
There's no big mystery about the change. "M*A*S*H" was produced by Fox, which still owns the show. Fox also owns Ch. 13.
And it's corporate policy to make sure the rights to the show go to Fox-owned stations. The first opportunity for it to do so comes in September, when KSL's long-term contract to carry the show expires.