While CBS may have demanded changes to certain MASH storylines, there was only one script that they outright refused to produce. MASH arrived shortly after Robert Altman’s hit dark comedy of the same name, which followed a medical unit during The Korean War. Given the amount of bad language, gore and other adult themes of the 1970 movie, the CBS TV adaptation naturally had to tone things down considerably. That said, MASH would still break ground regarding how it approached storytelling on television.
The death of Henry Blake on MASH was a shocking moment, simply because TV shows at the time rarely – if ever – killed such important supporting players. MASH ditched the trademark sitcom laugh track during surgery scenes (and eventually entirely), and explored topics like PTSD and trauma at a time when no other show did. MASH’s showrunners clashed with CBS over the show’s tone and the subjects they chose to explore, but there was only one script called “Hawkeye on the Double” that the network refused to greenlight.
CBS Rejected A MASH Story Involving Hawkeye Seeing Two Nurses
“Hawkeye on the Double” was set to go into production during MASH’s first season, and involved Alan Alda’s “Hawkeye” Pierce getting involved with two nurses at the same time. When they learn he’s using them, the nurses decide to teach the amorous surgeon a lesson and claim he’s gotten them both pregnant. While the script never made it to air, it was eventually included as a bonus feature on the MASH: Martinis and Medicine Collection DVD boxset.
In an interview with the Archive of American Television, MASH co-creator Larry Gelbart recalled that “Hawkeye on the Double” was the “… one and only script that CBS said under no circumstances will you be able to do this script.” That’s because the idea of having Hawkeye seeing two women at once was considered too spicy for television in the early ’70s, and according to executive producer Gene Reynolds in The Complete Book of MASH (via MASH4077TV), CBS refused it because it “implied dalliance and we couldn’t do that.”
CBS Had Other Issues With MASH
In the book Watching MASH, Watching America, Gelbart details his intent with the show, and its depiction of war as utterly futile. While he claims the network never challenged the anti-war message, they had issues with the fact it didn’t feel like a standard sitcom. The book details another storyline that was dropped, where members of the MASH unit stand outside in the cold, hoping they get sick enough to be sent home. While this practice occurred in reality, CBS insisted the plot was dropped from one script for being “too unpatriotic.”
CBS often had issues with the serious tone of some MASH episodes and even down to the usage of certain words. It had to be mild enough for family audiences, and a line where a scared soldier said he was a “virgin” – referring to his experience in war – had to be cut because the network felt it implied something else. In a later episode, Gelbert had another character mention they were from the Virgin Islands just to test if CBS’s Program Practices would pick up on it; they didn’t. Gelbert describes the CBS disagreements as “gameplaying,” and that the network largely let them make the show they wanted.