Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned extramarital affair to spice things up (IN A TELEVISION SHOW)? Well, in the original plot of M*A*S*H, creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds seemed to be looking to make things extra spicy, if you know what I mean. If you recall, there’s quite a bit of fraternization in M*A*S*H already.
You’ve got the constant ups and downs of Frank Burns and Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. Plus, there’s Trapper, who definitely had a wife back home. However, according to Sally Bedell’s book Up the Tube: Prime-Time TV and the Silverman Years, the plan was originally to have Hawkeye and Lieutenant Dish married to spouses and cheating, in addition to Houlihan, Trapper, and Burns.
As it turns out, CBS couldn’t handle that many affairs and had to ask Gelbart and Reynolds to tone it down. According to the book, the censors told Gelbart, “We’ll accept the ongoing extramarital relationship between Frank Burns and the nurse, but for God’s sake let’s not have everybody bouncing around.” Gelbart was willing to acquiesce to the change and leveled it down to an appropriate amount of affairs for CBS’s liking.
The excessive affairs were just a single element of the original story that Gelbart had thought out. However, he took much less time to write out the story than Reynolds had originally thought. According to Up The Tube, Alan Wagner at CBS approved the original story outline that the two had come up with, and Reynolds gave Gelbart the task of writing up the actual story. After two months, Reynolds hadn’t heard anything back from Gelbart, so he called him up.
Here’s how Up The Tube described the interaction, according to Gelbart: “Reynolds called Gelbart to inquire about his progress. ‘I just mailed the script,’ said Gelbart. He then sat down and wrote it in two days.” So, if you’ve ever procrastinated your work, just remember that you’ve probably never procrastinated as hard as Larry Gelbart did when he was writing M*A*S*H. Plus, I bet you didn’t add half as many extramarital affairs as he did to his work.