Alan Alda said he didn’t fear political reprisals or censorship for things that the characters on MAS*H said or did. But that’s not to say they weren’t censored.
The 85-year-old explained to Television Academy Foundation in a 2014 interview that the network often censored the show for other things — mostly anything to do with sex and violence. Alda wrote and directed several episodes in the later seasons of the show.
“I didn’t worry about controversy,” he said, “I didn’t know controversy was something I had to worry about. I was probably my Eve in that regard, but we weren’t in danger of we weren’t ever in danger of political censorship we were you know subjected to other kinds of censorship all the time every day.”
M*A*S*H’ Showrunners Fought for What They Believed In
M*A*S*H dealt with a lot of taboo subjects. And the showrunners weren’t afraid to fight for what they believed in, Alda said. But at first, they had to go through a process with CBS’s department of Standards and Practices, who decided what they would or wouldn’t broadcast.
He called it a form of “self-censorship.”
“I think self-censorship is the worst kind, but the network not only would censor you,” he said. “They would get you to collaborate. They would get the artists to collaborate. The writers and directors to collaborate in that self-censorship.”
But he said the writers would find ways to get back at the CBS censors each week. For instance, in one early episode Radar admits he’s a virgin, but CBS made them cut the line. So, the following week, Larry Gelbart, the show’s creator, was so annoyed by the cut, he added a line where a soldier says he was from the Virgin Islands.
However, Alda, admitted that as M*A*S*H got more popular, the less often they had to deal with the CBS censors.
Alda Said That M*A*S*H Did Things Differently
In an interview with Studio 10, Alan Alda said MAS*H’s rigorous shooting schedule meant they were constantly behind schedule.
“(M*A*S*H) shot like a movie,” he said. “We shot a half-hour show in four days, and we always ran out of time. We were shooting until almost midnight. It was the pleasure and the fun of getting good work done, even though you didn’t have time to do it, so that was fun.”
Alda wasn’t just working crazy hours on the M*A*S*H set, he also had to travel. He frequently commuted from his home in New Jersey to Los Angeles for the show. He didn’t know how long the show would last and didn’t want to move his entire family. The show ended up becoming one of the biggest hits in television history.
In a 2019 Interview with Vanity Fair, Alda spoke of why M*A*S*H worked so well.
“We were lucky to be able to present human stories—in spite of the fact that it was a comedy—to let in the tragedy and horror of war,” he said.