Who knew that a dramedy about army doctors during the Korean War would become one of the highest-rated shows in US television history? With eleven seasons and 256 episodes, M*A*S*H is regularly considered one of the best television shows of all-time after overcoming a weakly rated first season. The show was based on tales from real MASH surgeons interviewed by the production team, a 1968 novel by Richard Hooker, and a failed film adaptation of that novel's sequel. New generations are still finding the show through syndicated reruns, and the series can currently be streamed on Hulu. (Rejoice!)
Let's fondly remember this groundbreaking show together with these forty behind-the-scenes secrets.
We always hear stories of series' leads originally auditioning for the wrong character before settling on their destiny. It happened with Leighton Meester on Gossip Girl and Sandra Oh on Grey's Anatomy. Also included in that long history of near-misses was Stevenson, who first auditioned for the role of Hawkeye. But Henry Blake and McLean was just a match made in heaven.
CBS rejected an episode idea that the writers had taken from real-life events. Soldiers during the Korean War would stand in the freezing cold in the hopes that they would become too sick for combat and be sent home, a common defection technique that the company didn't want depicted on its network. Thus that episode idea got scrapped!
The 1970 M*A*S*H film that predated the series was given an X rating by the MPAA. The series is actually the only television show in history to be based on an X-rated film, but X ratings were actually much more common from the late 1960s to the 1980s. Mainstream films like Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, A Clockwork Orange, and The Evil Dead were originally released with X ratings, so don't get your hopes up that your favorite James Deen, erm, film will get a television adaptation.
Radar's teddy bear was one of the most recognizable trademarks from the show, and was thought to be lost forever. After thirty years, it was found and sold at auction — bought none other than Radar himself, Gary Burghoff.
Ah, the perils of budget restrictions. Even the greatest television shows of all time were affected by lack of funds. Goofs like visible power lines in shots went unfixed during M*A*S*H's run because producers didn't have the funding for simple reshoots. It all just adds to the charm of the show, right?
Alan Alda really was in the Korean War's Army Reserve, and writers for the show regularly used names and details from their own lives when developing new characters. Radar's girlfriend Patty was named after Ken Levine's ex, and all of the patients on season seven shared names with the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Alda starred as Hawkeye while also contributing to the show as a co-writer on thirteen episodes and a director on over thirty installments of the series, including the finale. He was really testing out all aspects of the entertainment industry. But wait, there's more... he was good at all of them, too! Keep reading to see just how good.
We'd take just one Emmy Award, but Alda was the first person — and only — to ever receive Emmy Awards for acting, writing and directing on the same series for his aforementioned work on M*A*S*H. So much for that saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none." Looks like Alda was a master of all, instead.
In a manner befitting the patriotic nature of the show, when the showrunners needed to decide whether to continue filming M*A*S*H or end the show after season eleven, they put the cast to a vote. The majority of cast members voted in favor of ending the series, but those who wanted it to continue were given roles in the short-lived spinoff, AfterMASH.
The late Wayne Rogers ultimately portrayed the lovable surgeon Trapper John (before the role was taken over by Pernell Roberts on the spin-off, Trapper John, M.D.), but comedian Robert Klein was originally offered the role. Ironically, Roberts played Trapper John for more than twice as long as Rogers because of the success of the spin-off series, which ran for seven seasons compared to the three that the character was featured on M*A*S*H.
During the show's eleventh and final season, the characters buried a time capsule commemorating their time in the 4077th crew. This inspired the actors to create a real life time capsule in which the actors each put a keepsake related to their character inside and buried it near the commissary on the lot. It was found only two months after the show ended filming because the studio was sold to office building developers.
Throughout the series, fans only saw Colonel Potter's wife through a photograph he had on his desk. According to the cast, that photo was actually of actor Harry Morgan's real wife. It's so romantic we could cry. Add that to the growing list of on-screen couples who were together in real life!
Alan Alda and Jamie Farr both served in the Armed Forces, with Farr acting as a member of the Army Air Corps before being drafted and Alda serving in the Army Reserves. No wonder their portrayals were spot-on! It all makes sense now...
We've mentioned that Roger's character Trapper John was only on the long-running show for three seasons before being recast and given a spin-off series. The reason for the character's departure was clearly not a lack of fan support or possible storylines. Funnily enough, Rogers left because of a clerical error — he never actually signed his contract, and was legally able to leave whenever he felt like it. Always get it in writing, people!
Fan favorite Klinger was intended to only be on a single episode but was upgraded to a series regular because of positive reactions from viewers. This isn't actually all that uncommon in television series, with similar origin stories for characters like Kirk in Gilmore Girls and Sophia on Golden Girls. Sophia became known as one of the funniest television characters of all time, and Klinger appeared in all eleven seasons of M*A*S*H.
M*A*S*H famously transitioned from a comedy with some drama to a drama with some comedy during the decade it was on the air, but the producers originally fought against some of the more comedic tone of the show. Specifically, it was CBS that insisted the show use a laugh track, which was mixed lower and lower as the show continued. Producers compromised that the laugh track had to be cut during scenes in the operating room due to the serious nature of surgery.
While producers tried to find Korean actors for the show, the lack of Koreans in Hollywood at the time made it difficult to find actors to fill the Korean roles accurately. Instead, the show used actors of various Asian ethnicities, and ultimately only cast one Korean woman (actress Soon Tek Oh) during all eleven seasons.
In what would have been a great opportunity to see LGBTQA+ diversity in Hollywood, Klinger was written as a gay man. Writers then decided it would be more interesting for Klinger to be a heterosexual male who wore dresses in an attempt to be discharged. This was a loss for early representation, but also shed light on a homophobic rule within the armed forces that characterized homosexuality as a form of mental illness worthy of a Section 8 discharge.
Remember that scene in Friends when Joey said he wrote a lot of his own lines and then the writers got mad and killed off Dr. Drake Ramoray? Yeah, this is like that. When actors got a little too comfortable and would whine about their storylines, the writers would make them act out winter scenes during the hottest days of the year so they would be uncomfortable and overheated. It's pretty ruthless, so why do we love it so much?
As we know, the series was based on a 1968 novel written by Richard Hooker. Richard Hooker, however, is actually the pseudonym of Hiester Richard Hornberger Jr., a former army surgeon who wrote the book based on his real experiences during the Korean War. Hornberger actually hated the way that M*A*S*H made light of the war, and was unhappy with the portrayal of character he had based on himself: Hawkeye. Awk!
Because the series ran during the Vietnam War, patriotism was a sensitive topic for CBS. M*A*S*H did contain subtext that commented on the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War, but the soldiers in the show largely represented soldiers that were willingly fighting for American values.
Writer Ken Levine named patients Bobby Rich and Dean Goss after radio personalities he had worked with in California, and the blind patient Hawkeye befriends in "Out of Sight/Out of Mind" shared the name of one of Levine's high school friend who also became a writer for television. The more you know!
The background nurse in the series was always called "Nurse Baker" by the characters, but many, many actresses portrayed her. Her appearance was ever-changing but her name stayed the same, pointing towards Hollywood's viewpoint of women as interchangeable objects. Kind of a bummer but not all too rare for '70s television, unfortunately.
Isn't it wild that a TV show can last longer than the war on which it was based? Then again, that's actually kind of a good thing since television tends to be a lot more uplifting than widespread violence. While M*A*S*H ran for eleven seasons, the Korean War was fought between 1950 and 1953. This means that each episode should have taken place over roughly the span of four days.
Maybe the costumers thought we wouldn't notice that the wedding dress Klinger wore to marry Laverne Esposito was the same dress Soon Lee wore at her wedding... to Klinger. Yikes. The dress was also seen on Margaret Houlihan during her marriage to Donald Penobscott, so maybe it was just the only wedding dress the 4077th had access to for three years.
We're not sure if this is a record, but this was long before spin-off shows were run-of-the-mill in Hollywood. Although Trapper John, M.D. ran for seven seasons, the other two spin-offs weren't so lucky. AfterMASH ran for two short seasons, but W*A*L*T*E*R only lasted one episode. That's... not good.
In most circumstances, receiving fourteen Emmys would be a massive W for any television production. Still, with 109 nominations, that puts M*A*S*H's success rate at 12.8%. That means you have a better chance of getting into UC Berkeley than M*A*S*H had at winning an Emmy, in hindsight. Considering its lasting impact and audience, we'd say the Academy may have been mistaken during the show's original run.
While the finale of M*A*S*H was "Goodbye, Farewell, Amen," which received over 100 million views and has been raised to the status of pop culture legend, it wasn't the final episode for the cast and crew. The last episode filmed was the penultimate episode, "As Time Goes By," which featured the previously-discussed time capsule.
If you read that last item and thought, 100 million viewers, you've got to be kidding me!, your shock is valid. The 121.6 million viewers that tuned in to the finale made it the most-watched in American TV history, and contained 77 percent of all television viewers that evening. That is a third of the current population of the U.S., and is actually a larger number than the population of 221 of the Earth's countries.
The amount of guest stars cast on the show before they became famous is staggering. Some names include Patrick Swayze, Shelley Long, Blythe Danner, Laurence Fishburne, Rita Wilson, John Ritter and Leslie Nielsen.
During the series, the time difference between South Korea and the USA was repeatedly cited as being eighteen hours ahead, especially when a character was making a long-distance call. If only Google had existed then, the show's writers would have realized that the real time difference is between twelve and fourteen hours depending on daylight savings.
Many of the plots in M*A*S*H were based on real stories from patients, soldiers, nurses and doctors who served in Korea during the war. Some of these stories were actually way too graphic to be shown on television and had to be edited to be appropriate for the network.
Purple hearts are an honor awarded to soldiers who have been injured in battle. While the show did simply explain them as an award for "service," the real factual issue came from when purple hearts were awarded to the same characters multiple times. Purple hearts are only awarded after a soldier's first injury. A subsequent injury would award the soldier an oak leaf cluster.
In the closing credits, the character of Captain Tuttle was said to be played by "himself." You'll also notice that we never actually saw this "Captain Tuttle." That's because Captain Tuttle is a figment of Hawkeye's imagination mentioned throughout the show and NOT an actual character.
Each episode took about four days to complete, but each workday for the cast and crew lasts around 12 to 15 hours. This is actually a fairly regular occurance in Hollywood, and has led to many accidents such as Riverdale star KJ Apa's horrible "drowsy driving" crash in 2017.
When Stevenson asked to leave the show, the writers saw it as an opportunity to make a statement about the wastefulness of war and its dangers. Although Stevenson knew his character was going to die, the rest of the cast wasn't given the final page of the script which stated Henry Blake didn't make it out of surgery until right before filming. This was one of the most unpopular decisions made during the show.