The producers of M*A*S*H knew that there were numerous challenges to be faced down the road before success could be achieved. First, they had to be subtle in expressing their opinions about the war, and clever in their innuendos covered behind dark comedy. But their first year actually tanked for a different reason: some viewers found it far too foreign and unrelatable. They needed to appeal to a wider audience if they were going to survive.
As a result of its low ratings, the network found itself on the verge of canceling M*A*S*H. There was a moment of reassessment, where it could’ve gone either way, before they decided to take a risk by moving it to Saturday nights, taking advantage of the audience who were holding out for The Mary Tyler Moore Show after having watched the ever-popular All In The Family. And it paid off! Thanks to this tactical maneuver, M*A*S*H secured its place as one of America’s all-time favorite TV programs.
One of the advantages that the M*A*S*H hit TV series had, was the fact that some of its cast actually had real military experience, so much so, that the emotion, mindset, and discipline reflected on screen looked authentic and natural.
M*A*S*H was Alan Alda’s opportunity to shine, and shine he did, taking on the largest role of his career as Captain Hawkeye Pierce. Having served during the Korean War as a reserve, he perfectly adapted to his character, it fit like a glove! Alda was a gunnery officer, while Jamie Farr—known to most of us as Corporal Klinger—had experience acting in army training films. The stories and the acting resonated with the American viewers- some of them veterans themselves.
America's Favorite Teddy Bear Before Ted
As mentioned, M*A*S*H has become many things to many people, with some even managing to take a literal piece of its history home with them. One an otherwise uneventful day on set, a nameless teddy bear was discovered in a random corner of the set at Fox Ranch. It was pulled out of oblivion by staff and given a starring role as Radar’s pillow pet. Its value has skyrocketed since.
That was all it took for the teddy bear to etch its way into our consciousness. Long after the last episode aired, the scrappy little bear was sold at auction, along with a letter from Gary Burghoff attesting to its authenticity. A total of 19 bidders fought it out for this adorable little piece of history. It was finally sold for a grand total of $14K. To think that somebody had just left it there at the set to rot!
From Gust Appearance To Iconic Cast Member
Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger, played by Jamie Farr, was apparently a mere afterthought; his effeminate, high-heel-wearing character, was there merely to insert quick jokes into episodes. He was never really intended to last longer than a single episode, but something about his character just clicked with the writers and audiences alike. His character’s unique way of traversing the war effort opened up new avenues and fresh ideas, so they kept Farr around.
Corporal Klinger was a sneaky character, often involved in opportunistic scenes, one-time get-rich scenarios that drew laughs and an odd kind of admiration. His long run in the show and the lasting love people have for him are a far cry from the original idea of having him depart after failing a psychological exam… which is ironic considering that’s exactly what Klinger was always hoping to do!
Inspired By Real People
M*A*S*H was interlarded with characters named after real people, and in a way, all those who were involved in the production were playing when they came to work. This gaming theme was taken quite literally when, in seasons 6 and 7, names of patients were inspired by professional baseball players for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Angels.
It was like having bits and pieces of reality mixed in a whirl of fiction; all in the name of fun. Even actor, Mike Farrell, made a request to name his fictitious daughter after his real-life daughter, Erin. And Radar’s girlfriends were derived from his real-life past relationships.