MASH was one of the all-time classic TV shows. Its brilliant combination of the drama of wartime medicine with amazing comedy left viewers always wanting more. This was no better exhibited than in the success of the MASH finale, which still remains the most watched scripted TV episode in US history. Clearly the fans adored the show and wanted to see their favorite group of doctors and nurses continue on. But by then the powers that be had decided it was time to end things, so fans had to hope for a spin-off or two as a consolation. And that’s what they got. However, the two spin-offs of MASH ended up being pretty big failures, especially in comparison to the behemoth that the original show was. In this video, we’re taking a look at these two MASH spin-offs, and why they didn’t work. Join us, as Facts Verse presents: The M*A*S*H Spin-Offs Left Fans Wanting Something Way Different.
The primary spin-off that people talk about when it comes to MASH is AfterMASH. Some have argued that it was a continuation of the show, others have said it was a sequel, while still others maintain its status as a spin-off. Regardless, it was a 30-minute sitcom that aired on CBS after MASH ended. And while it at first looked like it was going to be incredibly successful, it ended up being a bit of a dud. AfterMASH aired 30 episodes in total, over two seasons. Technically they made a 31st, but it didn’t air.
As the original show was wrapping up, and as rumors about the powerhouse finale were churning, the powers that be decided to look into getting a spin-off going as soon as possible. They settled on the idea that the show would be set in the US at a veteran’s hospital. It would feature Harry Morgan as Sherman Potter, Jamie Farr as Maxwell Klinger, and William Christopher as Father Mulcahy. This was likely because those were the three cast members from the original show who were apparently most in favor to keep the original show going for its abbreviated 11th season. So the producers knew the three actors were interested in continuing in the world of MASH, at the very least.
The problem they faced was that other primary cast members had turned down any notion of joining a spin-off series. CBS and 20th Century Fox, the network and production company for the original, approached Larry Gelbart about rejoining the team to showrun the new series. Gelbart had created the original, but left after the 4th season. And considering he’d not been having success in the meantime, he was eager to try his hand at a new MASH spin-off. He was joined by several other creatives who had been involved with the original show, including Burt Metcalfe, David Isaacs, Dennis Koenig, and Ken Levine. Together they quickly crafted 10 of the first 13 scripts, and CBS began to cast the show. In addition to the three actors we mentioned, AfterMASH also brought back Rosalind Chao, who had played Klinger’s wife Soon-Lee in the original. And they also brought in a slew of new talent like Barbara Townsend, Brandis Kemp, John Chappell, and Jay O. Sanders. An article from 1983 also stated that the $500,000 price tag per episode made it the highest costing 30 minute sitcom to date.
It was a hit… at first
AfterMASH had a HUGE built-in fanbase when it started. Not only had millions of people watched and loved MASH over the years, but it all ramped up into the record breaking finale. So expectations were reasonably high for the beginning of AfterMASH. And that prediction came true. The first season of AfterMASH got an average 20.1 Neilson rating, which is huge. For all scripted network shows, it was the 11th highest rated of the year in 1983-84. And of the new shows that year, only the show Hotel bested it in ratings. So it seemed as if things were off and running, and CBS had another juggernaut on their hands.
The failure of season 2
Season 2 started off well for AfterMASH, using it’s slot before the Emmy Awards on Sept 23rd, 1984 to garner excellent ratings. This was despite several major changes that CBS has made to the show. To start with, they tried to use their show to counterprogram against the super successful show, The A-Team on NBC. So AfterMASH began to air at the same time (Tuesdays at 8pm) as The A-Team. This proved to be a bad move, as people clearly preferred The A Team.
CBS also decided to recast several parts. They swapped out Barbara Townsend with Anne Pitoniak to play Mildred Potter. And John Chappel was replaced with Peter Michael Goetz. These changes were an attempt to recreate the general kookiness of the original show, as they felt the current cast didn’t have that going for them. In this vein, they also had Jamie Farr’s character, Klinger, start cross dressing again. Plus, they reintroduced Edgar Winter as Colonel Flagg.
But after the season premiere, when the show started back at its new Tuesday slot, people just stopped tuning in. Ratings plummeted, and before long AfterMASH had slipped all the way down to 66th in the ratings. CBS quickly decided to pull the plug on the show, cancelling it on October 24th 1984. It was the first show they cancelled that season.
Farr and Morgan’s popularity
What’s interesting to note is that not even the immense popularity of Jamie Farr and Harry Morgan could save AfterMASH from its demise. And this was in spite of the fact that they were both on the list of the top 10 most popular actors on TV in that era. 1983’s “Q scores” which have for years been the go-to measure for how much certain celebs are liked or disliked, had Jamie Farr as the 10th most liked celeb, and Harry Morgan at number 2. So you’d think that would have kept AfterMASH going for at least a few seasons. Of course, it should be mentioned that number one on the list was their former MASH costar, Alan Alda. So perhaps the fact that the biggest star on TV was now missing from the new show made the fact that it had two other top-ten stars somewhat moot. Audiences couldn’t get on board, long term, with a MASH show that didn’t have Alda on it.
The Other Spin-off
If AfterMASH was an unsuccessful MASH spin-off, then WALTER was a downright disaster. But let’s back up for a moment. Fans of MASH will certainly remember the fantastic character of Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly, played wonderfully by Gary Burghoff. His incredible hearing and innate sense of when a commanding officer was approaching was what earned the character the nickname of radar. And Burghoff’s naturally boyish looks are part of what earned him the role. Despite being nearly 30 when he was cast, he played the 18-year-old Radar adeptly, and was a fan favorite. His uplifting and optimistic vibe played in nice contrast to some of the more pessimistic characters rounding out the show. But the taxing nature of the shooting schedule, as well as being away from his family for long periods eventually got to Burghoff. As such, he decided to leave the show during the 8th season. The show even incorporated his struggles into the plot, and had Radar return to his family farm on a hardship discharge.
Burghoff was also notable for being the only person to be in both the original movie of MASH, as well as the show. And CBS knew he was always going to be a favorite in the hearts of fans. So they brought him back for some episodes of AfterMASH, with the notion that he’d then use that return to pivot to his own show. So he returned briefly as a guest star on AfterMASH, and then production began on a show called WALTER. In it, Radar became a police officer. Before the show, however, the producers decided to film and test it out as a TV movie. They assumed ratings would be good for the TV movie, and then they could quickly move on to the show. Unfortunately, the TV movie bombed in the ratings. That made the possibility for WALTER’s success pretty slim. Still they pressed on, trying to get the show going. They filmed a pilot for the show, but by then the ship had sailed, and the show wasn’t picked up.
MASH was one of the all time best shows in TV history. It was watched and adored by millions, and the acting, writing, and production were all superb. It truly was ahead of its time. And the power of the characters made it so that many of them are etched in TV history. So it would have made a lot of sense if spin-offs of MASH had ended up being major hits for years. After all, even a show featuring a couple of the characters would still feature actors and roles that were beloved. Yet, the world of TV ratings is a fickle beast. It’s often hard to tell why people stop watching certain shows. It’s also easy to see that sometimes networks tinker with a good product too much, hoping for a little ratings boost, only to find out their meddling only made things worse. Such seems to be the case with AfterMASH. After seemingly having a good thing going with the first season, CBS got greedy. They assumed putting it against The A-Team would yield results, but to no avail. And their multiple casting changes only served to make the show feel less sturdy to audiences. The same can’t be said for WALTER, which seems to have been in a position where it was never going ot succeed. Perhaps the characters had just run their course by that point.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Did you watch AfterMASH? What did you think? Let us know in the comments section below!