M*A*S*H a comedy-drama television series that ran for eleven seasons on CBS about the Korean War celebrates its 50th Anniversary.
M*A*S*H the television series is based on the 1970 feature film M*A*S*H that was in turn based on Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel of the same name. The series was produced by 20th Century Fox Television, following the doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, South Korea, during the Korean War (1950–1953).
The show premiered on CBS on September 17, 1972, with “The Pilot” episode where Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre have a party while commanding officer, Lt. Col Henry Blake is away on business to raise tuition money for Ho-Jon, the houseboy who has been accepted to Hawkeye’s college. At the party they raffle off a weekend of R & R in Tokyo with a nurse in which Hawkeye has fixed the raffle so that the winner is Father Mulcahy.
When M*A*S*H premiered on CBS the cast originally consisted of Alan Alda as Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce and Wayne Rogers as Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre, surgeons, McLean Stevenson as Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, surgeon and base commander, Larry Linville as Major Frank Burns, surgeon, Loretta Swit as Major Margaret J. “Hot Lips” Houlihan, the head nurse and Gary Burghoff as Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, company clerk. Other recurring characters in the first season were John Orchard as Captain “Ugly John” Black, Timothy Brown as Captain “Spearchucker” Jones, William Christopher as ‘Father’ John Patrick Mulcahy, chaplain (played by George Morgan in the pilot), and Jamie Farr as Corporal Maxwell Klinger.
Over its eleven seasons several cast members would leave, and new ones would be brought in. Ugly John and Spearchucker were dropped after the conclusion of the first season, while Klinger and Father Mulcahy would return and eventually become part of the main cast in future seasons. Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson were the first of the main cast to leave the show at the conclusion of the third season. Rogers left the show after a contract dispute with the producers while Stevenson asked to be released from his contract during the show’s third season. At the end of the third season the writers wrote the episode entitled “Abyssinia, Henry” where Lt. Colonel Blake is discharged and on the way, home is plane is shot down over the Sea of Japan and everyone on board is killed.
The start of the fourth season would see the arrival of Mike Farrell as Captain B. J. Hunnicutt and Harry Morgan as Colonel Sherman Potter. Larry Linville as Major Frank Burns would depart the show after the conclusion of the fifth season and would be replaced with David Ogden Stiers as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III at the start of season number six.
Gary Burghoff the only actor from Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970) movie to be cast in the television series left M*A*S*H after the seventh season in 1979 due to burnout and a desire to spend more time with his family. Burghoff would agree to return in the early part of season eight for the two-part farewell episode “Goodbye Radar”. The episode was originally to be the final episode of the seventh season, but CBS extended it to a double episode to air during November sweeps in season eight. Burghoff’s character of Radar was the only main character to leave the series and not have another actor brought in, instead Jamie Farr’s character of Klinger was made company clerk.
The show was filmed over its eleven seasons at two different locations. An outdoor set in the mountains near Malibu, California, it was the same location where the 1970 movie was filmed although the number of tents were reduced, and changes were made to the positions of several tents. An indoor set was also utilized on Stage 09 at Fox Studios in Century City. The Malibu location is today known as Malibu Creek State Park. Formerly called the Century Ranch and owned by 20th Century Fox Studios until the 1980s, where the site is returning to a natural state.
During the first season of M*A*S*H the show was at risk of being cancelled. When season two premiered in the fall of 1973, CBS moved it to air after the popular All in the Family and it immediately became a top 10 show and remained in the top 20 until it ended in 1983.
The Korean War lasted just over three years or 1,128 days. M*A*S*H ran for eleven seasons and 256 episodes, meaning each episode of the series would have averaged almost four and a half days of real time.
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was the final episode airing on February 28, 1983, at 2 1⁄2 hours long the episode earned a Nielsen rating of 60.2 and 77 share with a 125 million viewers. It is the most-watched television broadcast in American history and remains both the most-watched finale of any television series and the most-watched episode of a scripted series.
When M*A*S*H premiered in September of 1972 I was still three months from turning two years old. My first remembrance of watching MASH was when the show was in early syndication while the show itself was still airing in primetime on CBS. When the series came to an end in February of 1983 (“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”) it was one of those rare moments when my parents allowed my brother and I to stay up past our bedtime so we could also watch it.
I have continued to watch MASH even after all these years as I also own the entire series on DVD and on digital. I have probably watched every episode multiple upon multiple times, needless to say I am a huge fan of this series.
Like any series I have my favorite episodes and ones that I don’t care for as much. Some of my favorite episodes are.
“Chief Surgeon Who?”
“Deal Me Out”
“The Chosen People”
“The Merchant of Korea”
“Good Bye, Radar: Parts 1 & 2”
“Oh, How We Danced”
“Sons and Bowlers”
“The Moon is Not Blue”
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”
Of course, this is not all the episodes that I like, or feel are great, but just a small sampling. I hope to post more about MASH and my favorite episodes from each season as well as a couple of podcast over the next several months.
How many of you out there are fans of M*A*S*H and what are some of your favorite episodes or least favorite episodes? Would love to know what other fans of series think.