The cliche of a Hollywood writer is the overworked and jaded curmudgeon. They’re constantly being given impossible notes from the studio and ungrateful actors. But writers for M*A*S*H said it wasn’t like that. In fact, one writer said the experience changed his approach to writing for television for the rest of his career.
Dan Wilcox said M*A*S*H changed his life. Both in the jobs he’d take, and how he’d approach them. MeTV interviewed him about the finale and he opened up about how much he still missed the show. Not just the friends he made, but he worked on something he believed in.
“It was sad. It was sad just walking into the room. So, I remember being very proud of what was on the screen and saying goodbye to something I love, but I still miss that show,” he told MeTV. “I came to Hollywood … to prostitute my talent. And (M*A*S*H) showed me that I could still do it for love. And I tried never to lose that again, to make sure I didn’t work on something unless I had a reason to do it.”
Wilcox had a long career in Hollywood. He worked on some great comedies as well, like Newhart, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, and Murder, She Wrote among many others.
But his heart will always lie with M*A*S*H. He did a podcast recently where he discussed writing one of the show’s most memorable episodes, “Bottle Fatigue.” It’s the episode where Hawkeye gives up drinking for a week.
Alan Alda Pushed for ‘M*A*S*H’ to End
Alan Alda, star of M*A*S*H, explained that he knew it was time to end the show, despite the network wanting more episodes. Even some of the cast wanted to do another season, but Alda was firm.
He explained in a 2019 interview with SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris that he felt the show was peaking. And leaving now would ensure the show would be remembered for going out on top. And not the slow pitiful decline of a dying dynasty.
He admitted that he started discussing ending the show after the 11th season.
“It came a lot from me because I felt we were still doing our best most of the time,” he said. “But it looked like, before long, we’d be headed downhill.”
Alda joked that he didn’t want the show to “jump the shark,” the name given to the phenomena when a show stoops to dumb premises and spectacles to keep viewers. I.E. Fonzie jumping a shark on a pair of water skis on Happy Days.
“Some of us said, ‘We could go one more,’” Alda said. “The head of the studio said, ‘Why do you want to stop? I love it.’ We could have gone on, we could have enjoyed it, but we were too old for the characters. Those people [who actually were in M*A*S*H units] were in their 20s.”
But the show ended after 11 seasons. And the final episode is still the most watch scripted television show of all time, drawing in more than 100,000,000 viewers.