Yes, this was an April Fools’ Day joke.
Sources have revealed to me exclusively that the 12th season of M*A*S*H will premiere early this May on FOX. The 24 new episodes — originally filmed in the spring of 1983 — will be broadcast in HD but will retain their original 4:3 aspect ratio. It will air Mondays at 9PM starting May 5th. I’m told the episodes will run with limited commercial interruptions courtesy of The Prudential Insurance Company of America, which also sponsored the series in the 1970s. For the record, the 31-year gap between Season 11 and Season 12 is believed to be the longest in television history.
From what I’ve heard, 20th Century Fox Television (the production company responsible for M*A*S*H) never intended Season 11 to be the last season of M*A*S*H. But a typo in a press release issued by CBS incorrectly labeled the season finale as the series finale. Things quickly snowballed from there and Fox was forced shoot additional scenes to turn the special two-hour season finale “Hawkeye Loses His Mind” into the two-and-a-half-hour series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”
(Apparently, as originally scripted, “Hawkeye Loses His Mind” would have ended with a cliffhanger: viewers wouldn’t be sure if Hawkeye was back at the 4077th or locked away in an asylum.)
Fox was understandably upset about having to prematurely end its most successful sitcom and decided to film another season’s worth of episodes after the series finale aired in February 1983 but without the involvement of CBS. The cast and crew were paid handsomely and in return agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements. In order to appease Harry Morgan, William Christopher and Jamie Farr, Fox had to agree to produce a spin-off starring the three.
Why were the episodes hidden away? Reportedly, back in 1983 executives at Fox were already planning to launch their own television network (the FOX network debuted in 1986) and wanted to have M*A*S*H ready in the wings in case they needed a big event to bolster ratings. Over the years, there were discussions about pulling the episodes out of storage and airing them but the timing never seemed right. Until now. The network’s flagship property, American Idol, is sagging in the ratings and its current crop of sitcoms aren’t doing well.
M*A*S*H isn’t the only show FOX is bringing back in May. The network is also reviving its action series 24 (aka the Jack Baeur Power Hour) for a limited event.
I haven’t been able to get my hands on a complete list of the 24 new episodes but I do have details about a few episodes:
“Walk, Don’t Run”
Bored during a lull in the fighting, B.J. and Hawkeye argue about who spends more time walking around the 4077th on any given day. Determined to figure out who walks the most, the two order a pair of pedometers and the entire camp begins placing bets.
Frank Burns is sued by a former soldier he operated on in Korea, who accuses him of botching the surgery. Everyone at the 4077th is deposed while back in the States Trapper John and Radar are asked to testify in support of their former comrade. Features guest appearances by Larry Linville, Wayne Rogers and Gary Burghoff.
“Memories of Henry”
Henry’s widow writes to Hawkeye, asking for him to send some memories of Henry that his daughter can use for a school project. Those who knew him begin to reminisce about their late commander. Features footage from earlier episodes as well as never-before-seen cut footage of McLean Stevenson as Henry Blake.
After learning that his father plans to remarry, Hawkeye struggles to write a letter to his father’s bride-to-be. He tries to avoid working on the letter by offering to help Father Mulcahy collect donations, Klinger sort the mail, etc.
“Silence is Golden”
Charles bets Hawkeye $500 he can’t go 24 hours without talking. B.J. wants to get in on the action and before long everyone at the 4077th is vying to go the longest without talking to win the $500, except when in the O.R. or otherwise involving in medical-related things.
“Hawkeye Sings The Blues”
Father Mulcahy and Margaret are inspired by watching Singin’ in the Rain to write their own musical and try to get everyone at the 4077th involved. Features six original songs performed by the cast.
Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about the true series finale other than that it doesn’t involve Alan Alda breaking the fourth wall to remind viewers that M*A*S*H was just a television show and nothing like real war.
FOX is in talks with members of the cast to return for a special retrospective celebrating the true series finale when it airs on September 29th, providing a big boost to the start of its 2014-2015 season.