MASH, was a great TV show for a lot of reasons. The actors, the writing the directors ect , but MASH was on a great successful path pretty much from the very beginning with the exception of a few time slot bumps. The show made a very radical gamble when the ’74-’75 season ended. The show lost two of it’s most popular cast member’s on the same final episode of that season. Which was McLean Stevenson’s characters finial show, and the writers, and producers had to scramble to fix the mess, when his character was killed off. Wayne Rogers there was no special goodbyes, or send offs he just abruptly quit because of a dispute regarding is role on the show, and just did not return for the 1975-1976 season.
So on the finial show of McLean Stevenson, it was also the last show for Wayne Rogers, and the fall 1975 season began. It shows Hawkeye returning from Tokyo, and learning that Wayne Rogers character Trapper John McIntyre got all his point and was sent home great quick fix in writing. Well written, to explain his absence. It’s the Army at war in Korea, and people go home, or die.
Another big roll of the dice was replacing Trapper with is crazy womanizing ways was with squeaky clean BJ Hunnicut family man, and all the above, young just out of medical school. The chemistry with Hawkeye, and Trapper was very good, and to flip the chemistry was a major gamble that worked. The show was enormously popular so the flip in the show was something they could try even if it failed.
Lets take it a step farther, we had to replace the Stevenson’s role with a veteran full bird Colonel with Henry Morgan veteran character actor from old Hollywood, this guy was kind of forgotten. The last major thing he did was a re hash of Dragnet in the late 60’s; which ended in 1970; he was old school acting appearing in classic movies such as The Ox Bow Incident opposite Henry Fonda, and High Noon with Gary Cooper, and a string of B movies leading up to his MASH time.
The key to the show, as long as they had Alan Alda as there anchor, and kept him happy they could try, and make these radical changes. They lose Alda the show is over, and out. The most wild thing about MASH the show was very stingy. It was not like the wild CBS of the Norman Lear era, pumping out spin off after spin off. As long as MASH was on TV, from 1972 to 1983; there was not one spin off while the show was in its full run. The show Aftermash started the fall of ’83; and there was a very, very horrible one episode that never got past a pilot which was called WALTER starring Gary Burghoff. Theses shows were not technically spin offs since MASH had already ended in 1983
Unlike all those great CBS Normal Lear shows, like All In The Family, and Maude, Lear was all about the spin off. I think you just had some anger, with some departing cast mates of MASH, that kind of killed opportunities for Stevenson, and Rogers. Wayne Rogers did not fair well after MASH he did a show that lasted maybe 13 or 14 episodes called City Of Angels that debuted in the fall of 1976; I did see one or two episodes. Wayne Rogers started an investment company which the bulk of his wealth probably came from, but his TV career floundered badly after MASH, with a small spark in the 80’s with House Calls. The same pretty much went for McLean Stevenson he did 3 very poor TV shows that came out back to back to back.
We had The McLean Stevenson Show 1977; In The Beginning 1978; and the worst of all Hello Larry 1979; but it was the only of the three shows that lasted a full season, and and there were some shows into 1980’s, but by then Stevenson was sadly regulated mostly to guest spots on shows like Love Boat, and The Golden Girls. The problem with Stevenson was. He was virtually an unknown actor when MASH debuted, which did not help him when he left the show. If his character was not killed off, and a spin off was created it would have probably worked.
In the following years other original cast member would leave. We would lose Larry Linville, and Gary Burghoff, and with the addition of David Ogden Stiers another risky move, but with the show in full swing in a new direction his addition to the cast worked. The show was taking a more serious tone, the wild antics of the early years mimicking the antics of the original movie were gone. The best overall greatest success story of the show was the addition of Jamie Farr’s character Max Klinger who was trying to get out of the Army with a section 8, dressing as a woman. His character first appeared in the first season maybe a dozen shows in one of Hawkeye’s dear dad letter shows.
Jamie Farr’s character was just suppose to last just that one episode, but proved to be so popular, the producers wrote him in as a permanent character. Jamie Farr stated in an interview, this would have been the end of his acting career. If his role was not extended. Jamie Farr’s acting career dates back to the early 1950’s; and with a role in the Movie Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford, and a young Sidney Poitier, but by the 1960’s his acting had been regulated to what is called being a day player, just picking up roles here, and there in a variety of TV shows, like Gomer Pyle USMC, and The Andy Griffith Show.
As the show got into the late 70’s; and it was getting kind of silly that a show about a war that only in real life lasted about 3 year, from 1950 to 1953; was dragging on about 7 seasons, and by 1982 10 seasons in. It must have been getting harder and hard to write shows; and have holidays, and keep the continuity right which was completely thrown out the window at this point. MASH became a much serious show, by the late 70’s and early 80’s, and no more laugh track. A lot of the main stars of the original show are gone now. McLean Stevens died in 1996; Wayne Rogers died 2015; and Larry Linville died in 2000; and with the recent death of William Christopher passing away December 31, 2016
I’m still a very big mega fan of MASH, I have many of the shows DVR’ed on Dish, and can watch some of my favorite, and most memorable episodes. The show sends me back in time, back to the 1970’s. MASH when it first aired it did not do well in the first season. It was bounced around to several different time slots, and days of the week. I as a 10 year old kid watched, but honestly didn’t get the show, but with Alan Alda getting the spotlight it jumped in the ratings, and the rest is history. The MASH finale Goodbye Amen and Farewell which aired February 28, 1983 with 125 million viewers, I watched of course, was the most watch TV show ever. A record that will never probably be broken.