M*A*S*H star Alan Alda once opened up about how the show became so popular, and it’s probably not what you would expect.
There is no question that Alan Alda is best known for his role on M*A*S*H. He played the wisecracking Army doctor, Hawkeye Pierce. And in addition to starring in the hit 1970s show, Alda also made appearances in other big-name TV shows like The West Wing and 30 Rock.
But M*A*S*H didn’t become a popular show overnight. Alan Alda once said that the show was actually near cancellation before it finally took off and became a hit with fans.
“Other shows were in the top 10, we were in the top 70,” Alda said, courtesy of a 2008 Foundation interview. “We were right down at the bottom until they started to go into re-runs. By then, the audience had seen the other shows so they tried us out.”
And once viewers tried out M*A*S*H and liked it, they stuck around. As a result, the show stayed on the air and wound up running for just over 10 years.
“And they thought they liked us so we had a bigger audience, a really good audience when we came back for the next season.”
It might not have caught on at first. But once it did, Alda and company started considering just what about the show was so interesting for fans. In the end, he says that the show M*A*S*H was unique. At the time, they were the only military-based show like that on TV.
“One of the most important reasons that the show worked, although I don’t think anyone knows why it worked as well as it did, is that we were dealing with a unique situation,” Alda said. “There never was a situation like that on television before.”
‘M*A*S*H’ Star Says That Show Would Be Canceled Today
Because it debuted back in the early 1970s, M*A*S*H was afforded the luxury of time. However, Alda said that might not be the case if the show was airing its first season today. He doesn’t believe that any network today would have been as patient as CBS was back then.
“The network liked the show enough. People at the network liked the show enough, to keep it on the air even though it wasn’t doing well in the ratings,” the M*A*S*H star said. “Today, they cancel shows like during the first commercial.
“They don’t stick with them. They stuck with us for the whole season and we were at the bottom of the list.”