On December 1st, 2003, Variety.com posted a news piece that included a short article with the title “Gelbart gives blessing for ‘MASH’ unit.” The same piece appeared in print the following day in the Los Angeles edition of Variety magazine. This news piece, not even a dozen lines in length, is the only source of information for “MASHback” and, unfortunately, offers very little in the way of details. Both Salon.com and TVGuide.com linked to the Variety.com piece, but offered nothing new.
“MASHback,” according to Variety.com, was a proposal for a television special that would tell the behind-the-scenes story of M*A*S*H from the day Larry Gelbart wrote the first episode to the shocking death of Henry Blake in the final episode of the third season. Contemporary actors would take on the roles of Hawkeye, Trapper, Hot Lips, Radar and the rest — and presumably their real-life counterparts as well. The Salon.com article explained that the special would “tell the story of the making of the series,” suggesting that it would be a “true” retelling of the behind-the-scenes happenings of the first three years of M*A*S*H.
Although the concept of new actors portraying the famous characters M*A*S*H may not seem like a great idea, if anyone could write such a special, it would be scribe Gary Markowitz (who, in fact, did write the script). The Variety.com piece states that Markowitz started calling M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbart “Dad” at the tender age of six. And that isn’t a friend-of-the-family sort of thing; Markowitz is Gelbart’s stepson.
Additionally, Markowitz penned several M*A*S*H episodes. Variety.com gives the number as five, the IMDb says six, including “Abyssinia, Henry.” However, according to on-screen credits, Markowitz co-wrote (with John Regier) only three episodes, “George,” “Payday” and “Some 38th Parallels,” while writing “Margaret’s Engagement” alone. Furthermore, Markowitz worked alongside Gelbart on several television projects, including the short-lived United States on NBC in 1980 and Fast Track on Showtime in 1997.
In any case, Markowitz was in a unique position of not only have first-hand experience with the series but also unparalleled access to Larry Gelbart, who he interviewed “at great lengths,” according to Variety.com. More importantly, Gelbart approved of the project and gave CBS permission to portray him. The special was “initiated by Myra Model, then at CBS,” who would have been a producer alongside Markowitz had the project gone into production.
“MASHback” would not have been the first “docudrama” to show the behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of famous network television shows, with new actors taking on classic roles. A slew of such fare have aired within the last decade: “Growing Up Brady,” in 2000; “Surviving Gilligan’s Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History,” in 2001; “Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt” in 2003; and a series of “Behind the Camera” made-for-TV movies focusing on Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy, Charlie’s Angels and Diff’rent Strokes that aired between 2003 and 2006.
Nothing was ever heard of “MASHback” after that initial Variety.com piece in December of 2003. Obviously, CBS decided not to put the special into production and it seems unlikely it will ever see the light of day in any form.