In the first season of MAS*H, Frank Burns has some villain vibes, painted in early episodes as foil to Hawkeye, the series hero. Whenever those two were at odds, audiences were rarely on Frank’s side.
In the first season episode “Sticky Wicket,” for example, Hawkeye and Frank are at odds after Hawkeye insults Frank’s surgical skills and Frank ridicules Hawkeye over an unfortunate patient situation.
On the show, Frank Burns sticks around for five seasons before the actor behind the character, Larry Linville, decided his time trading barbs with Hawkeye was done.
And though Linville never had any regrets about leaving the series, in 1986, he once again proved himself a villain in the eyes of MAS*H fans when the character actor gave The News and Observer a three-word review of the show’s most-watched episode, the series finale.
“Boring as hell,” Linville said.
In the interview, Linville declared that the best episode of MAS*H was not its last episode, but an episode from the first season: “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet.”
This episode is a favorite of classic TV fans because it guest stars Ron Howard, but for Linville, the episode was special for a different reason.
Linville said when they were filming the episode, he ended up giving notes to Hawkeye that changed the way Hawkeye behaves in a scene where he loses one of his oldest friends on the operating table.
Originally, Hawkeye was supposed to storm out of the O.R. in tears, but Linville suggested that instead Hawkeye be ordered to work on another patient.
Linville preferred the drama of episodes like “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” to the final note of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which features less drama in favor of providing closure.
In interviews, Alan Alda has said that the only reason he wanted to do a final season was to do this finale episode.
His tender scene with Mike Farrell at the episode’s end likely packs more meaning for him personally than for Linville, who was by that time six years removed from the series.
Alda was also more involved than Linville in writing for the series as it stretched on.
But for Linville, in interviews, he expressed feeling detached from the show right from the beginning, so his detachment to the finale makes a certain sense, beyond any potential bias he might have in feeling it was “boring.”
He only auditioned for the show because MAS*H producer Gene Reynolds asked him to, and when he signed on, he only expected to stick around a few weeks.
Instead, his character Frank Burns became notoriously popular for his slimy ways, and he stuck around for five years longer than Linville ever imagined the series lasting.
His negative view of the show apparently stuck around, too, from the first episode to the last.
“When the show began, we thought it was a disaster,” Burns said. “We were on the shirttails of a brilliant motion picture. The public and critics thought we were going to be doing F-Troop. They were all over us; they hated us.”
Perhaps Linville – whose character was sometimes portrayed as jealous on the show – envied how much more invested Alda was in the show by its finale, and possibly how much he earned.
In the Eighties, Alda became the highest-paid TV actor, pulling in $5.6 million a season on MAS*H, while Linville reported in 1986 that he’d only made $6,000 for his final episodes.