‘M*A*S*H’ Almost Got Canceled Due to Dramatic Scenes

M*A*S*H, from left: Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, Gary Burghoff, William Christopher, Alan Alda, David Ogden Stiers, Harry Morgan, 1972-83
20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

M*A*S*H was not always a guaranteed success. Before the show premiered, some executives thought that the show would never make it. M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell remembers how the show was criticized at first for showing dramatic moments among the comedic bits, at a time when most shows had to choose what kind of show it was going to be.

Farrell, who played Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt explained, “You know, we now hear about things like ‘dramedy’ rather than comedy… I remember a studio executive, or maybe a network executive, contacting us after a couple of the things we did, saying, ‘You’re going to knock yourselves off television with these things, people are expecting laughs.'”

M*A*S*H Mike Farrell, 1972-83

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

He added, “And we tried to provide the laughs, but we also wanted to provide a realistic situation. So I can’t tell you exactly what happened that made it happen. But I remember coming to the understanding later that the show had become a social phenomenon, and not because it was a comedy and not because it was a drama, but because it was a situation that people understood. I think not everybody goes to war, not everybody signs up for the military, but everybody understands having to leave home for some reason, and sometimes for a good reason, and leave their loved ones behind. And it struck a chord.”

M*A*S*H Alan Alda, Linda Meiklejohn, Mike Farrell, 1972-1983

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

That executive ate their words because the show was a huge hit. It garnered 14 Emmy Awards and the finale remains the most-watched episode of television in history, despite it airing over 40 years ago. Farrell shared that it truly became a “social phenomenon,” one that continues to gain popularity. He believes that the show’s finale record may never be broken due to streaming services and how differently people watch television today.

M*A*S*H Jamie Farr, David Ogden Stiers, Mike Farrell, Alan Alda, William Christopher, front from left: Loretta Swit, Harry Morgan in 'Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen' (Season 11, Episode 16, aired February 28, 1983), 1972-78

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

As the show’s seasons went on and the cast and crew realized how important the show was to so many people, their responsibility to make a great show grew. Farrell, who joined in the fourth season, shared, “We just talked about the fact that this show has a significance that we can’t forfeit. We can’t let down. We’ve got to make damn sure that everything we do is as honest and as real and as meaningful as it can possibly be. And everybody got it and everybody pitched in. And it was the crew and the producers and the writers and the cast and everybody in it. So the feeling was, whatever has happened to this show, we want to make it deserve the way people seem to feel about it.”

Watch the two-hour special featuring stars such as Farrell, M*A*S*H: The Comedy That Changed Television, on Hulu now.

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