From left to right: Corporal "Radar" O'Reilly, Major Frank Burns, Lt. Col. Henry Blake, Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre, Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce, and Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan.
Inspired by the film of the same name, M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) was an American television series about a team of medical professionals and support staff stationed at MASH 4077th in Korea during the Korean War. The series originally aired on CBS from September 17, 1972 to February 28, 1983, but can still be seen in syndication. The series spanned 255 episodes and lasted longer than the war which served as its setting.
Behind the scenes, those most involved with the show were Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Burt Metcalfe.
Much like the movie, it combined elements of comedy with a darker antiwar message. Many of the stories in the early seasons were based on real-life tales told by hundreds of real-life M*A*S*H surgeons, interviewed by the production team. Some said the series seemed to be more about the Vietnam War, given the attitudes of the characters, than the Korean War. The show's producers have said that the movie was really about war in general.
Originally intended as an ensemble show, M*A*S*H became increasingly centered around Alan Alda's character, Hawkeye Pierce. Alda wrote and directed some of the most emotional and award-winning episodes.
The show's tone changed over the years. Initially, it placed most of its emphasis on the "zany" elements, but later focused on more serious topics and character development; however, both the serious and the comedic sides were present throughout. Eventually much of the audience felt that the story lines became stale and the comedy dulled, though the show remained in the top of the ratings. Alda and his fellow actors voted to end the series with the tenth season, but CBS and 20th Century Fox offered the actors a shortened eleventh season, permitting an opportunity for the show to have a grand finale.
The series had three spin-offs, the short-lived AfterMASH, which featured several of the show's characters reunited in a midwestern hospital after the war, a more successful Trapper John, M.D., and a television movie W*A*L*T*E*R, in which Walter "Radar" O'Reilly joins the police force.
A letter to TV Guide, in about 1973, written by a former M*A*S*H doctor stated that the most insane jokes and idiotic pranks on the show were the most true to life, including Klinger's crossdressing. The hellish reality of the M*A*S*H units encouraged this behavior out of sheer desperate need for something to laugh at.
Gary Burghoff (Radar O'Reilly) was one of two M*A*S*H actors to reprise his role from the movie, and the only main character (the other was G. Wood as "General Hammond"), retaining his extraordinary ability to detect the arrival of choppers transporting wounded long before anyone else could hear a thing. When Burghoff left the series, the company clerk role was taken up by Jamie Farr as Corporal (later Sergeant) Klinger, whose cross-dressing never got him the discharge he wanted. Radar's departure meant Klinger became a more prominent character in the series.
The show survived many personnel changes. Out of all the starring characters Hawkeye, Maj. Houlihan, Klinger, and Father Mulcahy were the only ones in the show for its entire run. (Klinger and Mulcahy, in fact, were listed as guest stars throughout the first few seasons of the show.)
McLean Stevenson left the show at the end of the third season, and his character Henry Blake was discharged and sent home. In the final scene of his last episode it was reported that Blake's plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan and he was killed. None of the cast (with the exception of Alan Alda, who wrote the scene) knew about that development until a few minutes before Gary Burghoff was told to go in and have Radar report that Blake had died. Up until then, as far as anyone knew, they were going to get a message that Blake had arrived safely home.
Wayne Rogers left the series after the end of season three due to disagreements about his character. He felt that his character was never given any real importance, that all the focus was on Alda's character. Rogers has also mentioned that he was told to sign a "morals clause" on his contract renewal, which he refused to do.
The fourth season was in many ways a turning point for the entire series. At the beginning of the fourth season, Hawkeye was informed by Radar that Trapper had been discharged while Hawkeye was on leave, and audiences did not see Trapper's departure. At the same time, Colonel Sherman T. Potter was assigned to the unit as commanding officer, replacing Blake, while B.J. Hunnicutt was drafted in as Trapper's replacement. The series, while still having an element of comedy, began to become more rounded emotionally. Major Houlihan's role continued to evolve during this time; she became much more friendly towards Hawkeye and B.J., and had a falling out with Frank. The 'Hot Lips' nickname was rarely used anymore to describe her. Loretta Swit wanted to leave the series in the 8th season to pursue other acting roles, but the producers refused to let her out of her contract.
Further changes were still in store for the series. Larry Linville left during the first episode of season six as Frank Burns suffered a breakdown, was transferred stateside, and promoted. Major Charles Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) was brought in because the producers still felt a need for someone to play a role opposite of the other surgeons, but his relationships with the others was not anywhere near as acrimonious as Frank's was. Unlike Frank, Winchester did not really care for the Army and was a very highly skilled surgeon whom the others respected professionally. At the same time, as a Boston "blueblood", he was also a snobbish man, which drove much of his conflict with the other characters. Still, the show's writers would allow Winchester's humanity to shine through — such as in his dealings with a young piano player who had partially lost the use of his right hand, or his keeping a vigil with Hawkeye when Hawkeye's father went into surgery 8000 miles away.
"Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen"
The famous "Goodbye" scene in the final episode.
The final episode was titled "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" and was first broadcast on February 28, 1983. The episode was 2½ hours long and was viewed by nearly 106 million Americans (77% of viewership that night) which established it as the most watched episode in television history, a record which remains held as of 2004.  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A8447-2004May7¬Found=true)
The finale started in the waning days of the war with Hawkeye in a mental hospital, finally driven over the edge by a bus ride gone terribly wrong. The bus passengers, who were refugees, were in danger of being discovered and executed by a North Korean patrol. Hawkeye scolds the refugees to be quiet but a baby begins to whimper and its mother responds by smothering the child. Hawkeye repressed this by replacing the memory of the baby with that of a chicken.
Dr. Winchester befriended a rag-tag bunch of Chinese musicians and taught them to play Mozart's "Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581". However, he later saw all the musicians killed and as a result classical music, his number one solace during the war, became unpalatable to him.
Sergeant Max Klinger, known for constantly seeking a Section 8 discharge, decided to stay in Korea to be with his new wife, Soon Lee, and assist her in her search for her missing parents __ even though he, like most of the soldiers, finally had his release papers.
The final scene was between Hawkeye and B.J. Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt was unable to say goodbye and Hawkeye mocked him for this failure. Both men lament that they will be on opposite sides of the country after they go home and conclude that they will probably never see each other again. They tearfully embrace for the last time and Hawkeye boards a helicopter and lifts off. Hunnicutt rides off on a motorcycle and as the helicopter ascends Hawkeye sees a final message from his longtime friend spelt out with stones on the sandy soil, "GOODBYE." The message, of course, served a dual purpose: it was also a message from the creators of the series to its fans, saying Goodbye after 11 years. As such, it is the last image shown on the screen before the final credits.
Alda reportedly had a different idea for what to do for the finale: he wanted it to be a typical half-hour episode, at the end of which a director would be heard saying "cut!" during a surgery scene, and crewmen would walk on the set and do what they normally did. Alda would then say to the camera "Well, for the last 12 years we tried to show you what war was like, but it's not as much fun."
M*A*S*H was one of the most successful shows in TV history. It therefore isn't surprising that CBS wanted the franchise to continue. Hence was born AfterMASH, following the adventures of Colonel Potter, Max Klinger and Father Mulcahy after the war. Featuring the weakest characters and worst aspects of the parent series, AfterMASH lasted a mere 2 seasons.
- At the end of its first season, the show was 46th in the ratings. CBS responded by moving the show to Saturday night, between hits All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. M*A*S*H ended the next nine of ten seasons in the top ten.
- The show's theme song was "Suicide is Painless" (by Johnny Mandel), an instrumental version of the song (with lyrics by Mike Altman) used in the film.
- The producers wanted the show broadcast without a laugh track, but were overruled by CBS; eventually, as a compromise, the operating room scenes were shown without a laugh track. The show's original broadcast in the United Kingdom had no laugh track at all, although the US versions were later screened there. The DVD release offers a choice of soundtracks with or without laughter.
- Gary Burghoff said in an interview that he realized it was time to leave the show when he was relaxing in his pool. He heard a plane fly overhead and froze, like his character would do on the show.
- The full name of Captain B.J. Hunnicutt is never established, with B.J. always answering "Whatever you want it to stand for." In one episode, B.J. asserts that he was named after his parents - Bea Hunnicutt and Jay Hunnicutt. Hawkeye, for one, chose not to accept this explanation, and the matter remained unresolved.
- In the series finale, Dr. Freedman repeats a line from one of his first appearances: "Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice: pull down your pants, and slide on the ice."
- Whenever a character left, the producers intentionally filled the gap with a character who was wholly dissimilar from their predecessor:
- Trapper John McIntyre, who was every bit the womanizer and prankster Hawkeye was, was replaced by B.J. Hunnicut, a devoted family man who tended to take life with a benign stride.
- Colonel Blake, a draftee placed in charge of the M*A*S*H despite a thorough lack of command skills, was replaced with Colonel Potter, a life-long member of the Army whose authority could never be questioned.
- Major Burns, a completely incompetent doctor and rather unintelligent person in general, was replaced by Major Winchester, who is not only as skilled a surgeon as Hawkeye, but frequently outwits the other doctors.
- Radar O'Reilly, a pure and innocent midwestern youngster with an unflappable ability to keep the M*A*S*H running like a well oiled machine, was replaced (in his job function) with Maxwell Klinger, who was already well known to lie and scheme on a daily basis - and who was the epitome of disorder.
- Hawkeye is the only character to appear in every episode, by virtue of the episode fittingly titled "Hawkeye", in which the character has a 30 minute monologue while in the home of a Korean family, to avoid falling asleep with a concussion.
- McLean Stevenson, who played Lt. Col. Henry Blake, died of a heart attack on 15 February 1996. The next day, 16 February, Roger Bowen, who played Lt. Col. Henry Blake in the movie, died of the same cause. --Kmg90 05:50, Feb 2, 2005 (UTC)
- Hot Lips Houlihan (Loretta Swit), Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher)are the only three characters who appear both in the first episode and the last episode. __Kmg90 05:50, Feb 2, 2005 (UTC)
Note: Arranged alphabetically by actor. Years in parenthesis mark when the character appeared on the show; those without years were on the show for the whole of its run.
* The only regular character portrayed by the same actor as in the film version.
** Played by George Morgan in the pilot episode.
The M*A*S*H series frequently used recurring characters. While they were not given "star" credit, their familiarity to the viewers is an integral ingredient to the success of the show.
- Joe Garner, Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments (Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2002) ISBN 0-7407-2693-5
- M*A*S*H FAQ (http://www.faqs.org/faqs/tv/mash)
- Finest Kind - Fan Site w/ News, Episode Guides, Video Clips (http://www.finest-kind.net/)
- U.K. Fan Site w/ Interviews, Episode Guides (http://www.mash4077.co.uk/index.php)
- Best Care Anywhere - Fan Site w/ Episode Guides, Memorable Moments (http://www.bestcareanywhere.net/)
- TV Tome (http://www.tvtome.com/MASH/)
- IMDb Entry (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068098/)