McLean Stevenson and The Carol Burnett Show

March 18th, 2016 Update: Video of McLean Stevenson in a raft shouting “I’m okay!” has been found. It wasn’t an episode of The Carol Burnett Show. It was a May 1975 episode of Cher.

Original Post: Last week, on the Thursday, June 23rd installment of Jeopardy! one of the clues during the first round was about M*A*S*H. The category was TV Toe Tags, about deceased television characters. None of the contestants were able to ring in with the correct answer. Here’s the $1000 clue:

After his sitcom alter ego died in 1975, this actor surfaced on “The Carol Burnett Show” in a raft, screaming, “I’m OK”

The answer? McLean Stevenson, according to host Alex Trebek. But is this clue true?

The story about Stevenson appearing on The Carol Burnett Show shortly after “Abyssinia, Henry” was originally broadcast, floating in a raft and waving his arms, has been around for as long as I can remember. But the only sources that I’ve ever seen, aside from M*A*S*H websites and random message board postings, are Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database and TV.com. I admit that I have had it listed here at my site in the past, having seen it mentioned so many other times that I assumed it was true.

I have never been able to confirm that the cameo appearance by Stevenson actually took place. As far as I know, no one has ever come forward to say they actually remember watching it. “Abyssinia, Henry” was broadcast on Tuesday, March 18th, 1975. The Carol Burnett Show, which like M*A*S*H aired on CBS, broadcast its next episode on Saturday, March 22nd, 1975. Guests for the episode were Steve Lawrence and Sally Struthers. I’ve looked at some contemporary television listings and found no mention of McLean Stevenson; I also was unable to find any reviews or news stories mentioning the cameo.

Rob Kelly discussed this at his blog in January 2010 and someone in the comments suggested it might actually have been an episode of Tony Orlando & Dawn that aired on CBS the day after “Abyssinia, Henry” (on Wednesday, March 19th, 1975). I’ve also seen the story attributed to an installment of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson at least once.

The only way to know for sure if the raft gag was real would be for someone to view the episode. As far as I know, it has never been released commercially on VHS or DVD. However, the UCLA Film & Television Archive has a copy of the episode in question. So, does anyone at UCLA want to take a look?

24 Comments

  • I’ve been wanting to see that clip for the LONGEST time… I heard that it was posted on YouTube at least once, years ago, but was removed as a copyright infringement.

    But at the same time, I’ve also held some reservations as to how legitimate this appearance really is, sometimes I wonder if it’s an urban legend like that “lost” episode that was supposed to be a condensed retelling of the first eight seasons or so, featuring reprising roles of Trapper, Henry, Frank, Radar, Spearchucker, Ugly John, etc.

  • Dalton says:

    So I’m not the only one who’s been wanting to see that clip for years!

    And Big Daddy, could you tell me more about this “lost” episode? I’ve never heard anything about it until you mentioned it.

    • I’d have to look it up again, as I don’t remember… it’s definitely a creative urban legend, I believe the story said the episode was titled “A Sound, A Song, and Surprise”, or something like that, and again, the description was like a half-hour retelling of the first eight seasons or so…

      • I also forgot to mention that part of the legend was that the lyrics of “Suicide is Painless” were actually sung during the opening credits.

      • Dalton says:

        Wow, really? I’ve never heard of that story. That definitely would have been an interesting episode! And yes, I have to agree, that IS one very creative tale! Plus, I wonder how they could have fit the “Suicide is Painless” lyrics into the normal 52 second version of the theme the episodes used, unless the entire song was played over an extended intro.

      • DuMont says:

        The reason that ‘M*A*S*H’: “A Sound, A Song, and Surprise” doesn’t show up in broadcast histories of the show is that it may have been distributed as an affiliate special (and not necessarily aired in every market).

        There have been a number of series over the years that have done these preview-/recap-type specials, usually to help promote a change in storyline, a cast changeover or even a new timeslot. These specials often also carry a special national sponsorship, with a generous time split given to affiliates. I don’t know the ‘M*A*S*H’ series well enough to know why they might have done this for the eighth season (Radar’s impending departure?), but if I can find anything in my 1979-80 season notes to enlighten, I’ll post a follow-up.

        As an example of this type of affiliate special, a few seasons back, ABC did a half-hour ‘Lost’ affiliate special that very few people saw because most affiliates aired it during daytime or on weekend afternoons. It never showed up on the season sets either, and people talk about it and the cast interviews and revelations about the series within it.

      • So what you’re saying is that “A Sound, A Song, and A Surprise” may in fact actually exist?

      • Benjamin says:

        Holy crap, if there was a recap episode of the first eight seasons of MASH I have to see it, please please please, lol. If it does exist and since it was only distributed to certain markets, does that mean it would have different actors portraying the characters?

  • pinkpagoda says:

    I want to say I have seen that show – or at least that clip, but what if it is just an “acquired” memory – you know, one you have heard for so long you actually think you saw it?

  • Dan says:

    The only live show mentioned was Tonight Show. None of the other shows would have found out in advance that M*A*S*H was killing off Henry Blake, so it would have either been a last minute addition or done perhaps a week or 2 later (as opposed to same week as M*A*S*H).

    • pinkpagoda says:

      IMDB says that in this episode of Carol Burnett – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0536667/combined

      Season 8, that McLean Stevenson was on the show as himself.

      I also saw a clip of a Carol Burnett reunion show on Password Plus, and McLean was one of the contestants.

      The episode supposedly aired the following night, and as Carol Burnett was done live, it is possible they put that clip at the beginning, as they would have had 24 hours to film it.

      I’m going to keep looking

      • pinkpagoda says:

        I also checked on Snopes.com, and there is nothing about it – which makes me think it really happened, as Snopes is pretty accurate as to rumors and hoaxes, and one thing they talk a lot about is the final episode. It is really good if you want to read it. http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/mash.asp But nothing about him not really appearing on Carol Burnett the next evening.

    • RJ says:

      You have to take IMDb with a grain of salt — anyone can submit contributions.

      • voodoogal says:

        I remember that Carol Burnett episode. My folks and I never watched Tony Orlando & Dawn….if we did, it was only one or two episodes! We always watched Carol Burnett. I babysat a lot on Saturday nights at that time. The kids’ parents would tell me their bedtime was 9pm. After their parents left, the kids would beg and plead with me to let them stay up until 10pm so they could see Carol Burnett! It was a great bargaining card for me because I told them I’d let them watch ONLY if they would go to bed immediately after the show and not make up excuses at to why they couldn’t go to sleep. It worked every time and made my job a lot easier! Also, it was such a great show and really wholesome family entertainment, so I didn’t feel bad about letting them watch. I don’t know if the parents ever found out about it. I think I told the kids to not tell their folks! LOL! Anyway, I remember my mom exploding with laughter at the segment in Carol’s opening monologue/Q & A session of the show. Maybe I’m wrong and dementia has taken it’s toll, but I doubt it because we never watched Tony Orlando & Dawn much because it was a sucky show. (We did watch Sonny & Cher every week, too!) Just sayin’ -voodoogal

  • michael says:

    The clip does exist. Maybe two or three years ago I came across two websites that had the video of Henry Blake in a raft. One of the websites video didnt work anymore, but fortunately for me one site did work. The description floating around online is basically the clip. I cant remember if it was on the carol burnett show or not.

    I tried searching for the two websites recently, but they are no longer online.

    I regret not taping it or trying to record it. I didnt think it was a big thing because I was searching for why the main cast members left the show and came across it.

  • Nick Dorazio says:

    I can confirm the skit, if you can call it that. I recall it was all of ten seconds long and was obviously shot from overhead a small indoor water tank on a sound stage. I seem to recall a riotous laugh-track response. Even to my 15 yr old eyes it seemed like the most crass, inappropriate, pathetic things I thought possible for adults to create. My opinion of Stevenson went negative immediately and never moved.

  • Joe says:

    this comment is a few years late, but I have a good memory of these sort of things (excellent, in fact-A LOT of people have told me that) and the scene DEFINETALY DID TAKE PLACE. And it wasn’t on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW or TONY ORLANDO & DAWN, it was on an episode of a short-lived variety show that Cher had on CBS; I think it was simply titled CHER. I remember it was on a Sunday night and McLean Stevenson was one of the guests on the episode. It was shown at the beginning as she was announcing who the guests were. I can still remember it, it was a “birds-eye view” and he was in his Col. Blake “outfit” (fishing hat, etc.) and the episode aired the Sunday after MASH.

  • Sue says:

    The show that had McLean Stevenson in a raft was NOT Carol Burnett but his first variety special in Nov of 1975. It was in the opener of the show. He is sitting in a raft wearing his fishing hat and yells out “I’m OK”. I was at the taping of the show. Good luck finding that special it only aired once.

  • Heath says:

    Mclean was not the one with the variety show, Cher had one and Mclean appeared on it April 5 1975, a couple of weeks after Abyssinia Henry first aired according to TV.com. I therefore concur with Joe but wonder if Cher’s show used the skit footage from Carol Burnett.

  • RJ says:

    It was an episode of Cher. I’ve just posted video from the May 1975 episode of McLean Stevenson in a raft shouting “I’m okay!”

  • Heath says:

    I was the one that located the tv.com entry on Maclean’s appearance on Cher and added it to the string to support Joe’s memory. I made the dopey claim that he appeared on the ‘April 5’ show having obviously misread the date. In Australia we have day followed by month in date sequences. I feared the skit would be quite tasteless but it is rather poignant and haunting given his lack of success at roles that followed. Kudos to all involved in its recovery.

  • Rachael Rabbit says:

    Carol Burnett…. Didn’t she used to sing to her toe?

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