The Biggest Takeaways From The ‘M*A*S*H’ Fox Reunion Special

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M*A*S*H 40-Year ReunionM*A*S*H 40-Year Reunion

Stars and important behind-the-scenes figures from the ’70s sitcom M*A*S*H reunited on January 1, 2024 to reflect on the show, which wrapped up production forty years ago. Present for the Fox reunion special were actors Alan Alda, Gary Burghoff, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit, and executive producers Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalf.

The show also featured clips and archival interviews from producer Larry Gelbart, Larry Linville, Harry Morgan, McLean Stevenson, William Christopher, Wayne Rogers and David Ogden Stiers. Fans went down memory lane as the showrunners and cast members reminisced on the war-themed comedy-drama. Among the many takeaways from the two-hour production are the following:

‘M*A*S*H’ was not an immediate hit

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H*), Elliott Gould, Buck Holland, Donald Sutherland, 1970, TM & Copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection

Despite memories to the contrary, the classic was not an immediate hit, and it struggled between 40th and 50th place during its Sunday night run on CBS. Thankfully, it was moved to 8:30 pm on Saturdays, along with other well-received series like All In The Family, to ramp up its ratings. In fact, the CBS Saturday night line-up from 8PM to 11PM was All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show. That’s some lineup!

More than a comedy

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H*), from left: Roger Bowen, Gary Burghoff, 1970, TM & Copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved./courtesy Everett Collection

M*A*S*H is one of the few bodies of work that struck a balance between comedy and drama to communicate real social issues to viewers. A memorable part of the show was the “Sometimes You Hear The Bullet” episode, where Hawkeye reconnects with an old freelance journalist friend, Tommy, who was documenting experiences on the front line. Sadly, Tommy gets killed, and being the series’ first fatal tragedy, it received backlash from network executives and fans.

Harry Morgan played more than one role

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H*), clockwise from lower left: David Ogden Stiers, Harry Morgan, Mike Farrell, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, (1982), 1972-1983. ph: Mario Casilli / TV Guide / TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox Television. All Rights reserved. /Courtesy Everett Collection

Harry Morgan played the fan-favorite Colonel Sherman T. Potter, serving as Colonel Henry Blake’s (McLean Stevenson) replacement, but he also portrayed the character Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele in a season three episode with an off-kilter performance. Harry’s role as Potter earned him an Emmy award in 1980, and he reprised the part in the spinoff, AfterMASH.

Why Gary Burghoff left

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H*), Gary Burghoff, (19721983). TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox Television. All Rights reserved. /Courtesy Everett Collection

Viewers were stunned when Gary Burghoff left the show at the end of his contract, which he chose not to renew as he was already burning out. He felt his time as Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly was up and needed to spend time with family. “Family, to me, became the most important thing,” he said. There was a chance for his comeback if only W*A*L*T*E*R had been picked up as a series in 1984.

Alan Alda wanted more from Hawkeye

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H*), Alan Alda, (19721983). ph: Gene Trindl/TV Guide/TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox Television. All Rights reserved. /Courtesy Everett Collection

When Alan Alda received the script for M*A*S*H while filming another movie in Utah State Prison, he decided that showcasing the character’s humanitarian side must take priority over his alcoholism and womanizing ways. Production had gone through multiple actors to play Hawkeye before the part landed on Alda’s lap. He received five Emmys thanks to his part in the show.

Loretta Swit fought for ‘Hot Lips’

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H*), Loretta Swit, (19721983). TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox Television. All Rights reserved. /Courtesy Everett Collection

Swit fought for her conviction that her character could be more than a hookup with a married man. She also hated the name “Hot Liips” and asked writers to stop calling Margaret that. “She was so much more than a piece of anatomy. I kept telling the writers, ‘She’s more than this,’” she said in an interview.

What happened to Henry Blake?

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H), clockwise from bottom center: Alan Alda, Mike Farrell, William Christopher, Jamie Farr, David Ogden Stiers, Loretta Swit, 1972-1983. ph: TV Guide / ©20th Century Fox Television / courtesy Everett Collection

McLean Stevenson decided to exit the series in season three, leading to an even more complicated exit for his character, Col. Henry Blake. Blake left the base, but he died after his plane got shot down. The plot twist was kept secret from the rest of the cast, who eventually got to know shockingly. Before leaving the operating room, Radar announced, “I have a message. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. There were no survivors.” The camera showed the staff, who paused for a quick instant while in the midst of surgery before continuing as the show went to commercial break.

The show’s roots

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MASH, (aka M*A*S*H*), clockwise, from lower left: Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Wayne rogers, Alan Alda, McLean Stevenson, Gary Burghoff, (1973), 1972-1983. ph: Sherman Weisburd / TV Guide / ©20th Century Fox Television / courtesy Everett Collection

The record-breaking sitcom’s origins can be traced to military surgeon Richard Hooker’s book, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, which he released in 1968. 20th Century Fox turned it into a 1970 film and then hired Reynolds to shoot a pilot about a mobile hospital that did its best to save lives during the Korean War, and it became a success that is still talked about decades later.

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