Even though M*A*S*H was a hit television show for more than a decade, that does not mean its multiple spin-offs were nearly as successful.
The sitcom was so popular it received three spin-offs: AfterMASH, Trapper John, M.D., and W*A*L*T*E*R. The latter of those shows focused on Gary Burghoff‘s popular M*A*S*H character Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly. What seemed like a good concept to create a show based on the goofy, innocent Radar ended up a total disaster.
As M*A*S*H came to an end in 1983 after 11 seasons, CBS picked up a pilot episode of W*A*L*T*E*R. The network hoped to rekindle some of the golden years of M*A*S*H‘s hit ratings. However, that wouldn’t be the case considering Burghoff’s spin-off didn’t even make it past its first episode.
The show focused on Radar returning home to America after serving in the Korean War – where M*A*S*H took place. He dropped his nickname though and stuck with Walter instead. After settling down in St. Louis, Missouri, he joins the city’s police force. That’s about as far as the plot got since the show never had a chance to take off.
Additionally, since CBS didn’t pick up the show, the pilot was alternatively shown as a “CBS Special Presentation.” To make the show’s failure even that much more embarrassing, the pilot only aired in the Eastern and Central time zones. Its West Coast airing was bumped for news coverage of the Democratic National Convention.
‘M*A*S*H’ Creator Explains Why Kids Identified With ‘Radar’
Fans of M*A*S*H adored Gary Burghoff’s character Walter “Radar” O’Reilly. He quickly became a fan favorite on the show because of his quirkiness and wit. In fact, even kids gravitated to the show because of Radar.
M*A*S*H executive producer Gene Reynolds once opened up about Burghoff and why he was so relatable to children.
“Beautiful character, very funny. Marvelous actor, very gifted actor,” Reynolds said of Burghoff to The Interviews. “And he was, for us, he was like a little boy in the camp. Kids could identify: I could be Radar. Then identified with M*A*S*H through Radar.”
In addition, Burghoff had another connection that made him easy to relatable to kids. Previous to his time on M*A*S*H, his first big break was starring as Charlie Brown in the 1967 off-Broadway production You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
There’s nothing much more relatable to kids than popular cartoons, and Charlie Brown is one of the most beloved of all time. It’s no wonder children identified Burghoff and, therefore, Radar.