MASH T.V. Show Premiers

A picture of the actors of MASH sitting in a jeep.
American actor, director and writer Alan Alda in the driving seat of a jeep, surrounded by Loretta Swit and other cast members of the hit television show M.A.S.H, in costume as members of a US Army medical corp. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

MASH was an extremely popular TV series, which first aired on CBS on September 17, 1972. Based on the real experiences of a surgeon in the Korean War, the series centered upon the interrelationships, stresses, and trauma involved in being in a MASH unit.

MASH's final episode, which aired on February 28, 1983, had the largest audience of any single TV episode in U.S. history.

The Book and Movie

The concept of the MASH storyline was thought up by Dr. Richard Hornberger.

Under the pseudonym "Richard Hooker," Dr. Hornberger wrote the book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors (1968), which was based on his own experiences as a surgeon in the Korean War.

In 1970, the book was turned into a movie, also called MASH, which was directed by Robert Altman and starred Donald Sutherland as "Hawkeye" Pierce and Elliot Gould as "Trapper John" McIntyre.

The MASH TV Show

With nearly an entirely new cast, the same MASH characters from the book and movie first appeared on television screens in 1972. This time, Alan Alda played "Hawkeye" Pierce and Wayne Rogers played "Trapper John" McIntyre.

Rogers, however, didn't like playing a sidekick and left the show at the end of season three. Viewers found out about this change in episode one of season four, when Hawkeye comes back from R&R only to discover that Trapper was discharged while he was away; Hawkeye just misses being able to say goodbye.

Season four through eleven presented Hawkeye and B.J. Hunnicut (played by Mike Farrell) as being close friends.

Another surprising character change also occurred at the end of season three. Lt. Col. Henry Blake (played by McLean Stevenson), who was the head of the MASH unit, gets discharged. After saying a tearful goodbye to the other characters, Blake climbs into a helicopter and flies off.

Then, in a surprising turn of events, Radar reports that Blake was shot down over the Sea of Japan. At the beginning of season four, Col. Sherman Potter (played by Harry Morgan) replaced Blake as head of the unit.

Other memorable characters included Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit), Maxwell Q. Klinger (Jamie Farr), Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers), Father Mulcahy (William Christopher), and Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff).

The Plot

The general plot of MASH revolves around army doctors who are stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) of the United States Army, located in the village of Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul in South Korea, during the Korean War.

Most of the episodes of the MASH television series ran for half an hour and had multiple story lines, often with one being humorous and another being serious.

The Final MASH Show

Although the real Korean War ran only three years (1950-1953), the MASH series ran for eleven (1972-1983).

The MASH show ended at the end of its eleventh season. "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," the 256th episode aired on February 28, 1983, showcasing the last days of the Korean War with all the characters going their separate ways.

The night it aired, 77 percent of American TV viewers watched the two-and-a-half-hour special, which was the largest audience to ever watch a single episode of a television show.

AfterMASH

Not wanting MASH to end, the three actors who played Colonel Potter, Sergeant Klinger, and Father Mulcahy created a spinoff called AfterMASH. First airing on September 26, 1983, this half-hour spinoff television show featured these three MASH characters reuniting after the Korean War at a veteran's hospital.

Despite starting off strong in its first season, AfterMASH's popularity dumped after being moved to a different time slot during its second season, airing opposite the very popular show The A-Team. The show was ultimately cancelled just nine episodes into its second season.

A spinoff for Radar called W*A*L*T*E*R was also considered in July 1984 but was never picked up for a series.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "MASH T.V. Show Premiers." ThoughtCo, Feb. 27, 2016, thoughtco.com/mash-t-v-show-premiers-1779388. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2016, February 27). MASH T.V. Show Premiers. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mash-t-v-show-premiers-1779388 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "MASH T.V. Show Premiers." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mash-t-v-show-premiers-1779388 (accessed November 18, 2017).