Longer than the actual war
Beginning in 1950, the Korean War went on for three years. However, the show, which was meant to cover the same period of time, ran for almost four times as long as the war itself. Luckily, viewers loved it so much that they generally overlooked the graying hair and increasingly lined faces of the actors.
No audition for Alan Alda
Alda played Chief Surgeon, Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce in the TV series. It was an example of that rare role that the actor never had to audition for. The showrunners had picked him out as perfect for the part of the flamboyant Hawkeye well before official casting got underway.
Ever noticed that the canned laughter gets progressively quieter as the TV series proceeds through the seasons? The production team didn’t want the laughter in the first place but CBS executives, concerned that the audience might not know it was a comedy, insisted on the laughter track. Undeterred, the production team went for the slow and stealthy approach towards achieving their desired result.
Celebrity cameos are a time-honored tradition in the entertainment industry. M*A*S*H, however, is notable for the number of future stars who took on a small role. For instance, John Ritter appeared in “Deal Me Out” and Patrick Swayze in “Blood Brothers”, while Bruno Kirby was happy with a non-speaking part in the pilot episode.
Although cast and audience alike knew that Lt. Colonel Henry Blake, one of the show’s most popular characters, would be leaving, no one knew the details. That is, almost no one. Even before filming, actor Alan Alda had been told that Blake’s plane would go down in a fiery and fatal crash over the Sea of Japan.
Story of a bear
Radar O’Reilly’s teddy bear was an after-thought. Found lying on the ground on the filming lot, someone had the bright idea of giving it to O’Reilly to accentuate his innocence. After filming, the now-famous bear went MIA. Years later, it turned up again and actor Gary Burghoff, who played Radar, was the winning bidder when it went up for sale at auction.
A naming problem
With any lengthy series, the writers are apt to lose inspiration when it comes to naming characters. Those in the M*A*S*H writers’ room dealt with the problem by using the US military’s phonetic alphabet to come up with generic names for new minor characters on the nursing staff.
The views of the author
Dr Richard Hornberger, author of the novel that inspired the show, is said to have hated the resulting TV series, citing Hawkeye’s anti-war stance as a particular gripe. Robert Altman, who directed the original movie, was also not a fan of the TV series but for rather different reasons. He felt it diluted the movie’s anti-war message and was uncomfortably racist.
In an effort to give the show the gloss (or grime) of reality, the writers spoke to many veterans of the war and also some civilians who’d experienced it first-hand. Although some of the stories made it into the scripts, unsurprisingly others were deemed too graphic and unpleasant for a place on a prime time TV comedy.
Unearthing the time capsule
In the penultimate episode, some of the characters bury a time capsule. This wasn’t TV trickery: the actors really did put a capsule into the ground and leave it there. However, it was found not long after by a new owner of the land. When invited to keep the capsule, the owner’s lackluster response suggested he wasn’t the show’s biggest fan.