Back when TV shows like MAS*H, Cheers, Hill Street Blues, and other beloved hits of the 1970s and ’80s first aired, fans didn’t have the internet to connect them to the latest news and tidbits about actors, their lives, and behind-the-scenes insider information. Some gossip still made its way around, but there was no way of knowing all of the fun secrets, inside jokes, and hidden details behind favorite TV shows.
It’s fun to revisit some of the shows of yesteryear and discover just what was going on during filming, what the series was actually based on, and other fun hidden facts about the programs.
Updated March 6, 2020 by Richard Keller: As we near the 50th anniversary of this iconic show, more behind the scenes information comes out. Rather than ruin its 11-year run, these items provide insight into small part of the television universe that was the 4077th. We’ve updated this list with a few more items that should make you nod in understanding about some of the show’s quirks.
15 More Christmases
The U.S. entered the Korean conflict at the end of June 1950. They remained until the armistice was signed in July of 1953. That means doctors and nurses at the numerous Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals were there for three Christmases.
Unfortunately, the producers of M*A*S*H may not have realized this. During its 11-season run, the staff at the 4077th celebrated the holiday four times. Technically, one was a Boxing Day episode, but the start of the program took place on the night of Christmas.
14 Radar’s Hidden Fingers
If you look closely at Gary Burghoff’s appearances on the show, you’ll notice his left hand tends to be hidden. It will either be inside a glove, behind a clipboard, or in his pocket. The reason for this was three of his fingers were deformed to a birth defect.
Though not always the case, it was something fans of the series learned later. We wouldn’t have realized it at the time. Especially in the episodes where he played the drums. A skill he developed despite the deformity.
13 B.J.’S Mustache
When Mike Farrell’s Captain B.J. Hunnicutt replaced Trapper John in the show’s fourth season, he was a young, clean-shaven, mild-mannered doctor drafted into the Korean War. Though he did show some stubble from time to time, he remained without a full face of hair during his first few seasons.
However, before the show’s seventh seasons premiered, Farrell’s best friend on the show and in real life, Alan Alda, asked him to grow a mustache. The main reason was to distinguish the two characters, who seemed quite similar. Interestingly, the growth of the mustache also coincided with a change in B.J.’s attitude toward the war and the military in general.
12 Real And Fake Wildfires
In the series finale of M*A*S*H, the staff has to bug out due to an incoming brush fire. When they return to the site, all that remains are the foundations of the wood and metal buildings. They were destroyed by the enormous heat of the wildfire.
This was not something added to the original script. In reality, the show’s set on the Fox Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains was devastated during filming of the final episode. It was then that Alan Alda and the rest of the writers incorporated it into the story.
11 Signpost Hometowns
Out of the characters on M*A*S*H*, the most famous is not Hawkeye Pierce or Maxwell Klinger. It’s the signpost that sat in the middle of the camp. Part of the original cast, the amount of signs grew as the show continued. In a season six episode, Major Charles Winchester added one for his hometown of Boston.
However, the home bases of some of the characters were never added. For instance, Hawkeye didn’t have one for Crab Apple Cove. Similarly, Radar never put one up for Ottumwa, Iowa. On the other hand, B.J. didn’t have to add one for Mill Valley as San Francisco was already on the signpost.
10 There’s A Book
Hornberger, who was described as a good surgeon with a sense of humor, worked in a VA hospital following the war before opening his own practice. He wrote his novel in 1956.
9 The Writers Had Secrets
Speaking of writing, M*A*S*H also had an incredible pilot episode turnaround. The entire script was completed in just three days by writer Larry Gelbart. Another weird detail: when cast members complained about the script too much, writers changed the script to make actors wear parkas, pretending it was cold weather, when it was 90 to 100 degrees on set.
8 Laugh Tracks Were Quiet On Purpose
As a compromise, CBS not only muted the laughs during the operating scenes, but also lowered the volume of the laughter throughout the series, making it less raucous than the normal canned laughs of a comedic series. It was a decent agreement to help relieve the tension of the show during its more dramatic moments.
7 Lots Of Future Stars Made Appearances
One of the most beloved actors of the ’80s, Patrick Swayze, was even on the show. He played a soldier who not only suffered an injury but also had leukemia.
6 The Time Capsule’s Fate Wasn’t Very Exciting
Once the land was sold, the time capsule was discovered only months after the series ended, which likely affected its relevance to the construction worker who found it and asked what to do with it. At least it wasn’t destroyed, as many time capsules unfortunately are.
5 Alan Alda Made History With The Show
From his memoirs to his involvement in kids’ science events, hosting Scientific American Frontiers to winning multiple Emmys, Golden Globe Awards, and other forms of recognition, Alda has remained a popular actor throughout his lifetime. He has most recently appeared on Ray Donovan, The Longest Ride, The Blacklist, and Horace and Pete. He’s also been on 30 Rock, The West Wing, ER, The Big C and made guest appearances on many other shows.
4 Patriotism Was Enforced
There were plenty of other details that were either omitted, changed or exaggerated as well, including the length of the war. The Korean War lasted under four years, yet the show itself ran for 11 years.
3 It Had The Most-Watched Episode In The History Of American TV
The episode, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” was two and a half hours long and viewed by a whopping 77% of the people watching TV that night, or 121.6 million people. No matter who pitches a TV show today, most writers and producers couldn’t dream of hitting those numbers.
2 Some Actors Were Soldiers
Other actors from the TV show served in additional branches of the military. Wayne Rogers, who portrayed Trapper John McIntyre, was in the U.S. Navy, and Mike Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicut, served in the Marine Corps.
1 Klinger Was Cast For A Single Episode
Imagine what MAS*H would have been like without Jamie Farr’s character! It’s unfortunate that the role was swapped for a heterosexual man who only cross-dressed to attempt to get out of the war, as the character was supposed to have been gay, which would have been some much-needed representation on television in the 1970s and ’80s. Audiences still looked forward to seeing which outfit Klinger would wear next and what stunts he’d pull to attempt getting discharged.