In 1968, Dr. Richard Hornberger wrote a novel under the pseudonym Richard Hooker, using his experiences in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War. Several years later, his novel served as the basis for a film that then launched an unforgettable show: M*A*S*H.With 11 seasons released to both audience and critical acclaim, it’s easy to say that M*A*S*H is a truly iconic series. However, there’s a lot about the show that you probably don’t know.
M*A*S*H is one of the most famous shows of all time and holds several records that no series has been able to beat. It’s still among the highest-rated television shows in U.S. history, nearly 40 years later.
Its final episode was the most-watched television broadcast for 27 years. The finale remains the most-watched finale of any show and is also the most-watched episode of a scripted series.
As with many shows, M*A*S*H had to deal with quite a bit of executive meddling. One of the most notable examples of this was the laugh track. Nobody on the actual production wanted a laugh track, deeming it unnecessary. Executives at CBS, however, worried that audiences wouldn’t understand that the show was a comedy without the canned laughter.
Over the seasons, the laughter got progressively quieter and is completely absent in BBC reruns of the show.
The showrunners specifically wanted a person who was flamboyant and pretty to play the role of Hawkeye, rather than the stoic action hero that most people had come to expect.
Because of this, Alan Alda didn’t even have to audition. Alda has mentioned that the character of Hawkeye had roots in the burlesque scene that he grew up around.
M*A*S*H takes place during the Korean War, which began in 1950 and lasted for three years. However, the show premiered in 1972 and continued to air until 1983, over three times as long as the war itself.
In the later seasons, many of the actors had notably aged, showing visible wrinkles and graying hair. Some of the cast and crew mentioned that this kind of worked in the show’s favor by implying the stress of the war had aged the characters.
Because it was one of the most popular shows at the time and aired for 11 years, a ton of celebrities made cameo appearances. Some notable guest actors include Jason Alexander, Laurence Fishburne, Leslie Nielsen, Noriyuki Morita, Patrick Swayze, and Shelley Long.
The next time you're free, check out the show's credits and learn just how many famous actors popped up in M*A*S*H.
In the original scripts for the show, Klinger still crossdressed but was a much more flamboyant, comedic character. He was also canonically gay and had roots in many stereotypes. His crossdressing was the source of jokes and other characters viewed him as strange.
It was his actor, Jamie Farr, who had the idea to play the character differently and have the other characters accept and respect both Klinger and his clothing.
Anyone who has attempted to sit down and write a story knows how hard it can be to come up with names. After several years and thousands of characters, M*A*S*H’s writers had begun to run out of names to use. They gave “generic” nurses names from the military’s phonetic alphabet to make it easier.
Writers also tended to follow a theme with each script. For example, a sixth season episode used names from the 1977 California Angels roster.
Henry Blake was one of the most popular characters on the show. Spoiler alert, he also has one of the most tragic and heart-wrenching endings. Viewers knew that Henry would be leaving and going home, but nobody was prepared for his plane to be shot down —not even the cast.
Alan Alda was the only actor who knew of Henry’s fate before they shot the scene.
Beyond the laugh track, CBS had a lot of influence over the show, especially in the early seasons. Despite its eventual popularity, M*A*S*H had extremely low ratings in its first season. Because of this, CBS was able to control the production significantly with a threat of cancellation.
Most of the meddling came in the form of censorship of blood or language. Executives also nearly canceled the show for using more dramatic plot points, claiming the audience would never watch these episodes.
It’s not surprising that executives attempted to capitalize on the success of M*A*S*H with some spin-offs. However, none were very successful. Because the spin-offs took place in the U.S. after the war, they lacked the driving force that kept M*A*S*H going. Trapper John, M.D. was the most successful spin-off, while AfterMASH was the most faithful to the original. The third, W*A*L*T*E*R, never made it past the pilot episode.
In the episode, "Preventative Medicine," Hawkeye and B.J. discuss falsely diagnosing an overzealous Colonel with appendicitis and then removing the healthy organ to keep him from resuming command. Mike Farrel, who played B.J., objected to this plot point, saying a doctor would never be justified in doing this and that B.J. wasn't the type of man who would do such a thing.
This led to arguments with Alan Alda, who felt that it was worth it to save other lives. Their arguments and ultimate reconciliation made it into the script and became the main plot of the episode.
The real Hawkeye and the original novel's author, Dr. Richard Hornberger, reportedly hated the M*A*S*H series, claiming it "trampled on his memories," and the only thing he would miss from it were the royalty checks. One reason he gave for despising the show was Hawkeye's notable anti-war sentiments.
Robert Altman, the director of the original film, also disliked the show, saying it missed the point of the film. He felt that it softened the anti-war and anti-authoritarian spirit of the movie. Altman also called the show racist, claiming that the basic message of many episodes was that Asian people are the enemy.
Alan Alda felt very uncomfortable with how flirtatious Hawkeye was in the early episodes of the show. He and several other members of the production worried that the character's behavior not only lessened Hawkeye's character but also reduced the women to nothing more than potential conquests for Hawkeye.
As a result, these events either took place offscreen or the women ignored them.
Because the writers needed to come up with so many plot points, they were worried they may fall into tropes and cliches. They decided to reach out to veterans, doctors, nurses, and civilians who had experience with the Korean War, asking them to provide stories.
Many episodes were somewhat based on actual events. In the later seasons, the writers actually had to reject some veterans' stories because they had already done episodes that were similar.
In the show's penultimate episode, the characters bury a time capsule. The crew actually did bury this time capsule and left it behind after the show ended. Several months later, the owners of the land sold the area.
A construction worker for the new owners quickly found the capsule and contacted Alan Alda. After speaking with the man, Alda let him keep the time capsule. Afterward, Alda noted that the man "didn't seem very impressed."
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