The “M*A*S*H” television series, inspired by Altman’s film, débuted in the fall of 1972, on CBS. Although not immediately a hit, the network believed in the show, and by Season 2 it had garnered a significant following.
In his director’s commentary for the film, recorded for the 2000 DVD release, Altman calls the show “The antithesis of what we were trying to do,” and claims not to know or like any of the people involved with it.
Gary Burghoff, the only featured actor to appear in both the film and the series, treasures both experiences, and told me that Altman’s resentment probably stems from the fact that the show’s popularity came to almost entirely eclipse the influence of his film.
“We needed an attractive, funny guy,” the show’s original producer and co-creator, Gene Reynolds, told me, “a leading man, a hero, someone who could carry the show.” Reynolds had seen Alda onstage in New York and was convinced that this was the guy.
“David Ogden Stiers’s Major Charles Winchester, another character created for the TV series, arrives in Season 6, a far more nuanced foil for Hawkeye and B.J. But there was no replacing Burghoff when he left the show, a year later, at his own initiative. While Alda had long since become the marquee face of the series, Burghoff’s Radar was, in a sense, its gentle heart. Corporal Walter O’Reilly, an Army clerk”fresh out of high school,” is the first character introduced in the novel, in Hornberger’s very first sentence.
If the show had always been brighter than either the book or the film, it had also been warmer, but that brightness becomes a bit garish in its last years as the series seems to drift completely out of the orbit of Hornberger’s original vision.
The show’s final season, which began in the fall of 1982, saw some valedictory returns to form, but the coup de grace is the show’s final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the two-hour “movie” that is, for all intents and purposes, the end of “M*A*S*H.” Roughly three out of four people watching television the night of the finale tuned in.
Unlike Hornberger’s novel, or Altman’s film, in the television “M*A*S*H,” the characters show a deep love and respect for each other, and a large part of the show’s tremendous appeal has to do with the ways in which it could model healthy, open communication, and the vital importance of community.
The orginal article.