One of my vivid memories of the 1980s was the airing of the final episode of MASH in February 1983. Incredible as it sounds, that was more than thirty years ago. For those under a certain age it would be difficult to understand the cultural significance of this event. There was once a time, young reader, when millions of Americans sat down each week, watched television shows such as this, and talked about them the next day around the water cooler or in the school cafeteria. That is difficult to imagine in the internet/satellite/200 channel cable universe we live in today. And yet it was not that long ago.
That winter night college students skipped their evening classes, parents cut the PTA meeting short, and folks hurried home to make sure they did not miss the 2 1/2 hour finale. The reason people were so intent on not missing it is because if you missed it, well, you missed it. I remember fifteen years ago, in 1998, a friend skipping the Seinfeld finale to play softball. Why bother?, he explained. One can tape it and watch later. In the early 80s a VCR was still prohibitively expensive–as in several thousand dollars–for most people. Still, that was changing quickly. Terry Teachout bought his first VCR around this time, and in a Wall Street Journal piece explains how the device changed his very perceptions of art and culture:
What changed my point of view? The VHS videocassette recorder, which was introduced to the U.S. by JVC in 1977. Like many other Americans, I bought my first VCR in 1983, six years later, right around the time that prices were coming down. “Citizen Kane” and “Grand Illusion” were the first “classic” films of which I owned VHS copies. I’d never seen either one before, and I’ll never forget how thrilling it was to be able to view them at will.