‘M*A*S*H’: Legendary Finale Was Written By a Surprising Number of People

by Josh Lanier
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M*A*S*H was a team effort. Dozens of writers, actors, and directors crafted the show during its 251-episode run. Nearly all of the show’s writing staff worked on the watershed finale to help the cast say goodbye.

More than 106 million people tuned in to watch “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the two-and-a-half-hour final episode of M*A*S*H. That was nearly half of America’s population in 1983. It’s the highest ratings ever for a scripted television series, and it will likely stay that way. Eight writers helped craft that finale, including show star Alan Alda, who also directed the episode.

David Pollock, who wrote the book on M*A*S*H, said producers split the episode into chapters. A different writer or team wrote each one. They were Alda, Burt Metcalfe, John Rappaport, Dan Wilcox, Thad Mumford, Elias Davis, David Pollock, and Karen Hall. It’s the most people that ever wrote an episode of the show.

Star Alan Alda said choosing the writers for the finale was tough. Everyone knew it would be big, he said, and they all wanted a chance to work on it.

“All the people who were writing on the show at a time wanted to take part in it,” he told the Television Academy Foundation in 2000. “We worked out a system where I wrote head to head with each of them on a segment of it. I collaborated with each of them separately.”

While the series was a comedy, the writers went heavy in the finale. M*A*S*H showed how doctors and soldiers on a military base can use black humor to distance themselves from the horrors of war. But the finale shows their reality finally breaking through that exterior just as the war was ending.

M*A*S*H Finale Wasn’t The Final Episode

As Hawkeye Pierce helicopters out of Korea, he looks back at the place one final time. On the ground is the word “Goodbye” spelled out with rocks by the landing zone at the 4077th MASH unit. It was as much them saying goodbye to America as each other. It was a beautiful note to end to the show. But it wasn’t the end. Not for the cast at least.

While that was a great end piece for the series, the cast came still had another episode to film. The last episode they shot for M*A*S*H was the penultimate episode, “As Time Goes By,” Alda said.

Though, that schedule was probably best. Filming the finale was stressful and emotional. Alan Alda said there were so many people there on the final day of shooting that it was hard to perform the scenes. Reporters, CBS executives, former castmates and crew members, and family and friends turned up to witness history. Alda said it was “disorienting.”

“To have all these people off on the side while you’re playing a scene for the camera was like having the whole audience in the wings while you’re playing the show for one critic or something,” he said. “I mean, it was disorienting. You didn’t know where you were.”

Outsider.com