On this day in 1972, M*A*S*H premiered its first episode. The show, which started out as an underdog with its network, eventually grew to be an absolute smash hit, crushing the ratings. M*A*S*H followed a fictional team of doctors and nurses working in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean war.
Alan Alda, Gary Burghoff, Loretta Switt, Jamie Farr, Harry Morgan and Wayne Rogers all starred. Donald Sutherland also had a major role. The show lasted for 11 years, which is longer than the actual Korean war went on. While it started out as a comedy, it didn’t shy away from the tragedy and suffering involved in war. It got especially dark in its later years.
The season finale of M*A*S*H broke a major record that it still holds. The season finale is the most-watched live scripted TV event in history. In fact, it almost caused a bit of plumbing crisis in New York City, when some viewers of the show all used the restroom at the same time after the show was over.
While everyone played an important part, Alda was the true star of the show. Alda, who played the iconic Hawkeye, was on the show every single season. He also wrote and directed many episodes, having a surprisingly big role behind the camera as well. Alda went on to act for decades and is also a major promoter of effective science communication.
Alda’s Hawkeye was a cocky doctor and quite the womanizer, but Alda couldn’t be more different behind the scenes as he fostered a work environment that made people want to keep coming back.
The ‘M*A*S*H’ Cast and Crew Weren’t Always Treated Right by The Network
Despite its popularity, the cast and crew of M*A*S*H weren’t always treated right by the network. From problems to food on set to not getting much deserve credit, the cast and the higherups at CBS would often butt heads. But one consistent move from CBS once resulted in the cast sticking up for themselves.
CBS would even keep changing the time and day the show would air, hurting it in the ratings. It got to the point where the cast and crew were so fed up that they actually stormed the office. Amazingly, it worked, and CBS finally gave M*A*S*H a regular Monday timeslot that it stayed in for years.
Alan Alda also had to fight CBS on the laugh track for the show. The network didn’t allow any sort of laugh tracks in the operating room for a period, which Alda found like an odd choice.
Regardless of any setbacks from the network, M*A*S*H absolutely triumphed and is now viewed as one of the most successful and culturally important TV shows in history.