Television is hard work. Even the best creatives and most convincing actors are at the mercy of network executives. For the most part, profitability and longevity are prioritized over the story, and lots of lucrative shows stay on-air much longer than their “Sell By” date. If something proves popular, the network will often run it into the ground in an attempt to extract every last dollar from their product. Many fantastic shows have been re-tooled and meddled with by executives until it loses what made it great. Viewers can always point to dips in a show’s quality, but the cast and crew sometimes seem oblivious. This wasn’t at all the case for Mike Farrell, who took his role as B.J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H and closely examined the consistency of the show’s writing.
“We have a tacit agreement, the cast, producers, and writers, that when we feel it’s over, when we can’t give it the same quality, then we don’t want to do a disservice to the show,” Farrell told The Daily Journal in 1980. “But, it is heavy duty trying to keep the level of quality. We would rather end on the realistic high note than grow old and gray and dribble as networks prefer.”
Farrell was quick to explain that he meant no disrespect to other television programming by implying they went on too long. That year, in 1980, Mike Farrell’s contract was ending. He was the last of the cast to sign on for a 10th season, whereas Alan Alda and the rest were signed without question. There was always the possibility of Farrell returning or not. Although he kept the exit plan close to his chest, there was also always the chance that the show, its ratings, or even the milestone 10th season would draw Farrell back to the production.
Luckily for fans and the fictionally wounded, Farrell would return for both of the remaining seasons. Not only did Farrell wrap up the show with the rest of his castmates, but he also stayed quite busy while not in production for M*A*S*H, starring in TV movies and producing a CBS-financed adaptation of Allard Lowenstein’s book “Brutal Mandate.” The effort to diversify his show business portfolio was a conscious one for Farrell, who understood the fickle nature of a career in Hollywood.
“This is a crazy business,” said Farrell. “Momentum opens doors, and I might just as well take advantage of them. Some 20 years down the road, I don’t want to be less employable as an actor.”
Nowadays, Farrell isn’t just remembered as a great actor. He ended up joining M*A*S*H alum Alan Alda as a multihyphenate contributor to the show’s success. Farrell would go on to write and direct several M*A*S*H episodes, extending his credits to include multiple skill sets.
M*A*S*H, too, was better for his presence and stayed consistent through the Alda-penned finale.