Alan Alda as Hawkeye sitting on a hospital bed with a toothpick in his mouth in M*A*S*H
Movies - TV
The Early M*A*S*H Episode That Infuriated Network Execs
Every so often, “M*A*S*H” reminded audiences of the human cost of war, which made it a beloved show, and one episode that explored this theme raised the ire of network execs.
The Season 1 episode “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” depicted the first instance of the loveable “M*A*S*H” characters failing to save a wounded soldier.
Until this episode, “M*A*S*H” entertained viewers by letting its cast goof off and flout authority. Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye, said a key scene likely made the series shift.
In a 2022 interview with The New York Times, Alda recalled, “[I]n that show, a friend of Hawkeye’s shows up among the wounded, and he dies on the operating table.”
Alda continued, “McLean Stevenson [as Lt. Col. Henry Blake] says: ‘There’s two rules in war: Young men die, and then Rule 2 is there’s nothing you can do about it.’”
The execs didn’t like this tonal change. “The network was furious about this,” said Alda. “Some guy in charge of programming said, ‘What is this, a situation tragedy?’”
Showrunner Larry Gelbart could’ve reverted back to the tone of the prior episodes, but he gambled that critical adulation would buy him a second season — and it did.
Alda said, “The more popular you get, the less they complain.” This episode was likely a watershed moment that turned “M*A*S*H” into the show that hooked audiences for 11 seasons.