After 11 seasons, M.A.S.H. ended its stories of life in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital with a series finale, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," that became the most watched show in American television history with 106 million viewers, a record that stood until the 2010 Super Bowl.
The half-hour show was always a mix of comedy and drama. But M.A.S.H. behind the scenes wasn't always a smooth success story, with the show's creators, actors, censors, and network often creating drama of their own.
Corporal Klinger Was Originally Supposed To Be An Over-The-Top Gay Character Who Would Appear In Just One Episode
The character of Corp. Max Klinger (played by Jamie Farr) reportedly came to life after co-creator Gelbart read that comedian Lenny Bruce, while serving in the Coast Guard, once showed up at morning reveille wearing a dress. According to Farr, Klinger's character was meant to appear in only one episode.
Co-creator Reynolds told him to dress in a woman's Army uniform and high heels for his scene, but after Reynolds left the set, the director instructed Farr to play the part as if Klinger were gay. Farr, who was out of work and needed the pay, agreed. The following day, however, Farr's agent told him Reynolds didn't want Farr to play Klinger as gay, so the actor portrayed Klinger as straight when they filmed the scene.
Klinger, who dressed as a woman in a deliberate attempt to get a "Section 8" - a discharge from the Army for mental instability - proved so popular that Farr earned a recurring role in the first three seasons before being made a regular cast member beginning with Season 4.
The Series Finale Featured The Most Expensive Kiss In TV History
In the series finale episode "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," the Korean conflict has ended and the M.A.S.H. 4077 crew start to go their separate ways. As Hawkeye Pierce and Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan clumsily attempt to say goodbye, they come together for a long, passionate kiss as others awkwardly stand by.
This kiss between actors Alda and Loretta Swit lasted 30 seconds (including reaction cutaways). A 1983 Time magazine story reported that the cost of a 30-second commercial during this series finale was around $450,000; accordingly, that is how much the kiss would've cost.
"It was called the most expensive kiss ever on TV," Alda said.
In The Series Finale, The Incident That Led To Hawkeye's Mental Breakdown Was Based On A True Story
In the series finale, Hawkeye spends a good part of the episode in a mental hospital after suffering a mental breakdown. As Dr. Freeman (Allan Arbus) discovers, the breakdown was caused by Hawkeye witnessing a Korean mother smothering her crying baby to keep North Korean soldiers from discovering their hiding place. Hawkeye was guilt-ridden because he had yelled at the woman to keep the baby quiet.
Producer Metcalfe told The Hollywood Reporter that he learned about a real incident during the 1950s conflict when a North Korean patrol crossed a bridge, unaware that a large group of South Koreans trying to escape south to avoid being imprisoned or slain was hiding underneath.
When a baby in the group started to cry, its mother smothered the infant to keep the soldiers from finding the group.
The Network Wanted A Laugh Track, But The Creators Didn't, So They Compromised
In the 1970s, laugh tracks were common on television comedies, and CBS executives considered M.A.S.H. a comedy. Co-creators Gelbart and Reynolds, however, believed canned laughter was out of character for the show.
They compromised by leaving out the laugh track during scenes in the operating room, and a few episodes eliminated it altogether, such as "The Interview," in which a journalist interviews the M.A.S.H. characters (it aired in black and white, meant to be viewed as if it were a documentary). Overall, as the series went along, the laugh track became more muted.
In England, the BBC aired the show without a laugh track.