WALTER was the final spin-off of MASH and easily the rarest, but it’s easy to seek out online. MASH debuted on CBS in 1972, and like the acclaimed Robert Altman movie that proceeded it, was based on the 1968 novel of the same name. The show started poorly in the ratings, but it soon became one of the most popular shows on television. While the Korean War itself lasted three years, MASH ran for 11 seasons. It’s a sign of how much it became part of the culture in the U.S. that MASH’s finale is the most-watched scripted episode in television history.
Gary Burghoff’s Walter “Radar” O’Reilly was one of MASH’s most popular characters and famed for his borderline supernatural ability to know what his superiors needed at any given moment. Burghoff left MASH during season 8, but returned for a guest appearance in spin-off AfterMASH, followed by a pilot for his own series WALTER. This revealed Radar had lost his family farm and that his wife ran out on him. He winds up becoming a police officer working alongside his cousin, and strained comic hijinks ensue. While a rare item now, the full WALTER pilot can be found on YouTube courtesy of channel TW Walker.
WALTER Only Aired Once – Ever
1984’s WALTER may have brought back one of MASH’s most popular characters, but such a tepid sitcom made poor use of Radar. It plays like a pilot for a Police Academy series – which is impressive, considering the first Police Academy movie only arrived in ’84 – and it spams its laugh track to cover the lack of genuine gags. CBS clearly had little faith in WALTER, as it wasn’t picked up for a full series and only aired once as a “Special Presentation.” This marked Burghoff’s final appearance as Radar also
The MASH Spinoffs Were Doomed To Fail
MASH’s quality may have waned in later seasons – a fate that befalls many sitcoms – but it remained consistently popular in ratings. It’s no surprise CBS did its best to keep the property running past the final season, but without Alan Alda’s “Hawkeye” or the rest of the core ensemble, it wasn’t going to work. AfterMASH had an intriguing premise, with three of the ensemble – Potter (Harry Morgan), Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) – working in a veteran’s hospital. Exploring the aftermath of the Korean War and its impact on vets could have worked, but spin-off AfterMASH was quickly trampled in the ratings by The A-Team.
Despite plans for guest appearances by the likes of Alda, the cancellation of AfterMASH in 1985 was the official end of the spin-off experiment. WALTER itself felt doomed from the beginning, as it had little understanding of what made the original series work. MASH was groundbreaking in its merging of comedy and drama and famously dropped its laugh track. The WALTER pilot is an interesting relic from a different era, but it carries the sense that even the people making it knew it wasn’t working.