Workplace politics can create a very hostile environment. After all, there is a finite number of rungs on the corporate ladder. The company’s hierarchical structure means there are fewer opportunities the further up you go. Everybody wants those more sought-after positions. Everybody wants to move on up. Everybody wants a little more cheese on their Whopper.
Now imagine taking those intense conditions and broadcasting them to millions of viewers. This is an unenviable reality for many sitcom stars. Especially earlier on in the history of TV, there weren’t nearly as many shows competing for attention. So what limited jobs there were came with enormous pressure to deliver. With producers, network executives, and the court of public opinion, that strain comes from every direction. When you’re a TV actor, your bosses are many, and your opportunities to please them are few.
Memorable lines in a teleplay are like corner offices: there are only so many.
M*A*S*H is unique because it is both an ensemble production and a show with a main character. It relies on and succeeds by combining its actors and their chemistry. It is also inarguably the Alan Alda show. While the 4077th received praise as a whole, “Hawkeye” Pierce continued to get all the best lines. That’s, allegedly, why Trapper John is only in the first three seasons. While a game of musical chairs played out in the opening credits, Alan Alda grew with M*A*S*H as an actor, writer, and director. And as Alda’s outsized influence bubbled, Wayne Rogers, in particular, felt alienated. Other actors on the show followed Rogers in leaving M*A*S*H, but the show’s quality never dipped.
But not everybody felt swallowed up by Alan Alda’s talent. A rising tide raises all ships, and some sailors were happy to be along for the voyage. William Christopher, M*A*S*H‘s Father Mulcahy, was on record as really admiring his costar.
“He’s the most generous star,” Christopher told the Detroit Free Press. “And [Alda] really is a star.” For Christopher, being employed was more important than hogging the limelight. He’d grown up picturing a life on the stage and screen, and he didn’t need to be at the center of the center to attain it.
Because William Christopher didn’t feel the need to fight for airtime, it allowed him to observe Alda as a craftsperson, rather than as competition.
“He’s got a lot of clout on the show because he’s recognized as being exceptional, brilliant, and gifted as an actor, writer, and director,” said Christopher.
Christopher, who also appeared in Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C, was happy to note the genial conditions within his workplace. There was a shared confidence and respect onset, free from the insecurity of rivalries.
“Alan Alda’s a funny guy, he says funny things—but it’s not his interest to sit around the M*A*S*H set and get laughs […] Alan is relaxed in his stardom, secure in his stardom.”