The television show “M*A*S*H” was beloved by fans during its many years on the air. It was so beloved, in fact, that its series finale in 1983 had more than 100 million viewers.
The famous show was a combination of drama and comedy – or a “dramedy” – as the genre has come to be called. And, it blended both possibly better than any other show ever had.
However, “M*A*S*H” almost didn’t get to have that famous finale because it was almost canceled a few years before. That definitely wouldn’t have been painless for the show’s production team, cast, and fans of the show.
So, what almost got the show canceled? According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show was being bested in the ratings by the “Wonderful World of Disney” on ABC.
Maybe, more importantly, the executives at CBS just didn’t understand what the show’s writers, producers, and cast were trying to do with “M*A*S*H.”
One Episode of Show Caused Concern for TV Executives
One cause for concern was that the show often portrayed the very serious and tragic parts of the Korean War. This reportedly really came to light after one first-season episode. This episode of “M*A*S*H” was titled “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet.”
In this episode, a friend of Hawkeye’s comes to visit the 4077th. This friend is a war correspondent. So, of course, he goes to the front. He gets injured and is brought to Hawkeye for care. Sadly, Hawkeye’s friend dies. This is obviously the plot of a drama, not a comedy.
“They made you care about this guy so that not just Hawkeye lost him, but the audience did, too,” Dan Wilcox said. “That may have been the first patient we lost. Alan (Alda) told me it’s his favorite episode and it’s mine, too.” Wilcox was a producer and writer on “M*A*S*H.”
Burt Metcalfe, who was a writer, director, and executive producer, on the show also recounted the response to this episode of “M*A*S*H.”
“At the end of that season, this jerky CBS executive comes into our offices and says, ‘Let me tell you guys how you ruined ‘M*A*S*H,’ and cites that episode,” Metcalfe recalled. “It’s just so far from the truth.”
Wife of CBS Executive Praised ‘M*A*S*H’ and Helped Keep Show on Air
One factor that helped keep the show on the air was the wife of a top-level executive at CBS. She helped save the show after its first season.
“Babe Paley (the then-wife of CBS founder William S. Paley) supposedly saved us by telling her husband that ‘M*A*S*H’ could be the crown jewel for the network,” actor Jamie Farr said. Farr played Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger on the show.
It took a couple of years, but Farr then saw a difference in how “M*A*S*H” was viewed.
“By the end of the third season, (show creator) Larry (Gelbart) came up to me and said, ‘You know what, I think we’re the next ‘I Love Lucy,’” Farr also said.