9 Most-Watched TV Events Ever, Including the ‘M*A*S*H’ Finale

M*A*S*H finale Apollo 11 landing O.J. Simpson chase
20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy: Everett Collection, NASA/Getty Images, Mark Malabrigo/TV Guide/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Four decades ago in 1983, an estimated 60 percent of American households flicked on their televisions and tuned their sets to CBS for the series finale of M*A*S*H. That final installment got a 60.2 Nielsen rating and is the highest-rated telecast to date, according to the analytics company.

When accounting for total viewers, though, the ranking changes. Citing Nielsen data, Wikipedia users have listed of the 30 most-watched television broadcasts in the United States, and the M*A*S*H finale isn’t in the top slot. After consolidating the Super Bowl broadcasts on the list — since those NFL games take up 22 entries in the top 30! — here’s where the ranking stands.

Walt Disney
Everett Collection

8. Dateline: Disneyland: 90.0 million (tie)

In a live TV special airing on ABC on July 17, 1955, Walt Disney showed off his latest creation, his self-named theme park in Anaheim, California. According to D23, the broadcast — hosted by Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and Ronald Reagan — was the largest live production ever attempted at the time.

Muhammad Ali
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8. Leon Spinks vs. Muhammad Ali II: 90.0 million (tie)

“The Greatest” made a comeback on September 15, 1978, as boxer Muhammad Ali defeated Leon Spinks, to whom he’d lost seven months prior. Ali thus became the first man to win the World Heavyweight Championship three times, as a record 63,350 spectators watched at New Orleans’ Superdome and millions more watched on ABC.

O.J. Simpson on the cover of TV Guide
Mark Malabrigo/TV Guide/Courtesy: Everett Collection

7. Police pursuit of O.J. Simpson: 95.0 million

TV viewers who tuned into Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 17, 1994, also saw another sports story unfold: a white Ford Bronco leading police on a low-speed pursuit through Los Angeles, as the authorities tried to apprehend NFL star O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

The Day After
Everett Collection

5. The Day After: 100.0 million (tie)

When ABC aired this nuclear-war TV movie on November 20, 1983, it got the attention of then-President Ronald Reagan. “It’s very effective & left me greatly depressed,” he wrote in his diary. “My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent & to see there is never a nuclear war.”

Roots - Ben Vereen as Chicken George and Olivia as Cole Matilda
Warner Bros Television/Courtesy: Everett Collection

5. Roots, “Part VIII”: 100.0 million (tie)

ABC’s Emmy-winning historical drama based on the Alex Haley novel of the same name wrapped up on January 30, 1977, with more than 70 percent of that night’s total TV audience tuning in to see the post-Civil War conclusion of the sweeping saga.

M*A*S*H - Alan Alda
20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy: Everett Collection

4. M*A*S*H, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”: 105.9 million

M*A*S*H star Alan Alda co-wrote and directed the comedy-drama’s final episode. And for that episode’s broadcast on February 28, 1983, CBS charged advertisers $450,000 for each 30-second spot, a higher rate than the ad price for that year’s Super Bowl, as James H. Wittebols reported in the book Watching M*A*S*H.

Richard Nixon
History Films/Courtesy: Everett Collection

3. Richard Nixon’s resignation speech: 110.0 million

“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first,” Richard Nixon said in an Oval Office address on August 8, 1974, as he announced his resignation as U.S. president following his administration’s Watergate scandal.

Super Bowl LVII Travis Kelse
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

2. Various Super Bowl games: 90.0–114.4 million

NFL championship games going back to Super Bowl XX are on the list of the 30 most-watched TV broadcasts, and the two most recent showdowns rank in the top three: 2022’s Super Bowl LVI gave NBC 112.3 million viewers and this year’s Super Bowl LVII gave Fox 113.0 million.

Apollo 11 landing Buzz Aldrin
NASA/Getty Images

1. Apollo 11 Moon landing: 125–150 million

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, and one enormous audience for television. An estimated 125 to 150 million viewers tuned in on July 20, 1969, to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon.