‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Revealed that Show Had to Fight CBS Over When Laugh Track Played

by Chris Haney

During a 2013 interview, M*A*S*H star Alan Alda opened up about the hit show negotiating with CBS about when the laugh track was appropriate to play.

Alda spoke with The Comic’s Comic in October 2013. The actor took part in a Q&A session that covered all 11 seasons of the popular 1970/80s show. From 1972 to 1983, M*A*S*H was one of the biggest shows on television. Even after it went off air, the hit comedy-drama series continued to have a huge following among fans.

One of the more interesting segments of the interview revolved around Alda talking about the laugh tracks on the show. While the show didn’t always utilize the laugh tracks, showrunners had to negotiate with the network about when to play them. For example, you’d think it would be obvious not to have laughing in the background of a M*A*S*H operating room scene. However, that wasn’t the case.

Larry (Gelbart) and Gene (Reynolds) got the network to agree that they wouldn’t have a laugh track in the operating room. The operating room scenes. I don’t know what the rationale was,” the M*A*S*H actor revealed to the outlet.

“It didn’t make any sense in the tent either,” Alda added. “But, where’s the audience? I didn’t know where the audience was supposed to be. It wasn’t in the studio. Somehow it was the tradition that if we didn’t show the audience at home where to laugh, they would think it wasn’t funny.”

‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Shares Why He Hated Rehearsing

In 2019, the 55th SAG-AFTRA Life Achievement award honored M*A*S*H star Alan Alda. Previous to the event, the actor sat down with Beverly Hills, 90210 star and SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. The pair spoke in a series called the Actor-to-Actor Interview.

At one point, the conversation turned to his disdain for rehearsing. In contrast, Carteris said she loved rehearsals, especially in theater productions.

“One thing I miss about theater, even though I loved doing television, is the rehearsal process,” Carteris said. “Because I do love the discovery, the time that you have to discover and to rediscover, to rediscover through a rehearsal process.”

“I have to say I hate rehearsing,” the M*A*S*H actor responded bluntly.

“Oh do you really?” Carteris asked. “I love rehearsal.”

“It’s like lifting weights,” Alda explained. “It’s good for you but I don’t like it. You know in French they call it ‘repetition’ and that’s what it feels like, repetitions. Repetitions are boring.”

“Yeah but you’re doing a year a show, that’s repetition eight days, eight shows a week,” Carteris said back.

“Yeah but it’s always different,” Alda replied. “Rehearsal isn’t like that [on M*A*S*H]. You know, people say, ‘How can you do the same show day after day?’ Well, I don’t do the same show day after day. It’s spontaneous, it’s always different.”

“That’s how I feel rehearsal is,” Carteris said.

“It should be,” Alda agreed.