M*A*S*H Remains One of the Most Popular Shows of All Time
M*A*S*H seemed like an improbable movie to turn into a weekly series. The original movie was an extremely dark comedy with a decidedly anti-establishment bent. The series, on the other hand, while still remaining relatively dark, was softened for broadcast television – a change that was highlighted when the movie’s theme song, Suicide is Painless, was used in an instrumental version rather than one that featured its ironic lyrics. Still, despite initial low ratings when the show first debuted in 1972 that saw it on the verge on cancellation, M*A*S*H would eventually go on to become one of the most acclaimed TV series of all time. Its season finale, running two-and-a-half hours, remains one of the most watched shows in American TV history.
Set in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea during the Korean War, the cast of M*A*S*H featured an exceptional ensemble of actors, playing some of the most memorable characters ever to appear on TV. The cast was led by Alan Alda as Dr. “Hawkeye” Pierce and Wayne Rogers as Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre, whose irreverent antics frequently put them in opposition with various military authority figures, most notably Senior Nurse “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit) and Dr. Frank Burns (Larry Linville). Also playing a key role was McLean Stevenson, as the camp’s commander Col. Henry Blake, who genially watched over the goings-on in the camp and frequently intervened to prevent Hawkeye and Trapper John from being court-marshaled.
The cast of M*A*S*H would undergo many changes as the series ran on, although Alda stayed for the entirety of its eleven-season run, eventually going on to play a more important role creatively behind the scenes, as he would direct and write several key episodes. He would eventually be nominated a record 25 times for his work on the series, and would win five times as actor, writer and director. The series itself remains extremely popular in syndicated reruns, more than twenty-five years after it left the airwaves.