Everybody knew that Maclean Stevenson would not return to M*A*S*H when the series inaugurated its fourth season in the fall of 1975; after all, Stevenson's character, Col. Henry Blake, had been abruptly killed off at the end of season three, so any sort of return was out of the question. It did, however, come as something of a surprise to the ...
Everybody knew that Maclean Stevenson would not return to M*A*S*H when the series inaugurated its fourth season in the fall of 1975; after all, Stevenson's character, Col. Henry Blake, had been abruptly killed off at the end of season three, so any sort of return was out of the question. It did, however, come as something of a surprise to the series' loyal viewers that another of the leading characters, irreverent surgeon Trapper John, was also missing from the fourth season roster. The reason? Actor Wayne Rogers, who'd played Trapper since the series' debut in 1972, had ankled the project in the middle of a contract dispute; he was tired of playing second fiddle to costar Alan Alda (aka Hawkeye Pierce), and wanted to spread his wings with a series of his own. Thus, season four opened with the first of M*A*S*H's one-hour "special" episodes, the better to establish the character of Trapper John's assistant, Capt. B.J. Hunnicut (Mike Farrell. More clean-cut and level-headed that the Rabelaisian Trapper, B.J. nonetheless proved to be every bit as capricious and irreverent as his predecessor, especially when cooking up schemes to embarrass the gimlet-eyed, humorless Frank Burns (Larry Linville and the chronically thin-skinned Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit) As for Col. Blake's replacement, the series' producers decided not to emulate the youngish, laid-back Maclean Stevenson, and instead went with an older, more "Regular Army" character. Harry Morgan, who'd appeared as a guest star during M*A*S*H's third season, was added to the cast as crusty but lovable Colonel Henry Potter, an old Cavalry man who managed to maintain the dignity of the Service and the decorum of the O.R. without ever sacrificing his humanity or sense of humor. Potter also proved to be a "good fit" insofar as company clerk Radar O'Reilly was concerned. Without ever consciously or blatantly doing so, Potter and Radar fell into a warm father-son relationship, which would make Radar's inevitable exit from the series five seasons later all the more poignant. Another development within the M*A*S*H family was the ascention of actor Jamie Farr to full "series regular" status. Introduced as an intended one-shot during season one, Farr's character, cross-dressing Corporal Max Klinger (who of course donned women's clothing in hopes of being discharged from the Army on a Section 8) proved popular enough to warrant additional "guest" appearances, and by the time the 1974-75 season had rolled around, Farr was being billed at the beginning of each episode, rather than merely among the "featured" cast in the closing credits. The "look" of M*A*S*H continued to deepen and mellow during season four, with the "zany" and "serious" aspects achieving a more even balance, thereby lessening the need for that intrusive recorded laughtrack that CBS insisted upon (though the track would not disappear altogether for several seasons to come). This was also the year that the series briefly digressed from its standard format to offer a half-hour "documentary" episode, in which the staff of the 4077th were interviewed by a TV war correspondent (Clete Roberts). Shot in black-and-white, this episode closed out the series' fourth season in the spring of 1976. By that time, M*A*S*H had won the fifth of its Emmy awards, the prize going to Stanford Tischler and Fred W. Berger, who had written the 60-minute opener "Welcome to Korea". Unfortunately, though the series was still popular, it has slipped from fifth to 14th place in the overall ratings, thanks to CBS' misguided decision to move the series from Tuesday to Friday evenings opposite the NBC ratings-grabber Chico and the Man. At least CBS acknowledged its error early on; in December of 1975, M*A*S*H was shifted back to Tuesdays, where it would remain a fixture for the next two years. Hal Erickson, Rovi
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