30th Anniversary of W*A*L*T*E*R

Thirty years ago today the unsold pilot “W*A*L*T*E*R” aired on CBS. Or at least it aired in the Eastern and Central time zones. To this day it remains unclear if the pilot was ever broadcast in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Set in October 1954, the pilot starred Gary Burghoff as Walter O’Reilly, a rookie cop in St. Louis living with his cousin Wendell, also a cop. The plot of the pilot involved a missing wallet, a missing bird, and a fight between two strippers.

Is there anyone reading this who remembers watching the pilot when it originally aired three decades ago? What were your reactions back in 1984?

If you’ve seen “W*A*L*T*E*R” hit the comments with your thoughts. Did it have potential? Would it have been a worthy addition to the M*A*S*H television universe or was it best left unsold? For those of you who haven’t seen it — and a May 2012 poll suggests that’s most of you — you can read all about it at Television Obscurities. I’m sure pilot has also been uploaded to YouTube if you’re interested in watching it.


  • Dan says:

    I watched it 30 years ago. It was not a worthy successor to M*A*S*H despite, as I recall, Everett Greenbaum contributing to it. It was a single-camera sitcom in the era when the “sitcom was dead,” prior to “The Cosby Show” reviving the format. Gary Burghoff at that point was playing a beloved teenaged/early 20s character despite being in his 40s.

    Other than the final handful of AfterMASH episodes, this was one of the last original pieces of TV connected to M*A*S*H to air.

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    Although I was always a huge Radar fan, I don’t recall watching the pilot. I was a new high school graduate at the time and rarely spent my time watching TV in 1984.

    However, in recent years I have seen the pilot on youtube. I think the show was worth a shot but I don’t see it lasting more than 13 episodes or perhaps one full season. Part of the reason is the lack of a surrounding cast of interest (same thing that made AfterMASH so weak). The other reason, as you observed, is merely the winds of change in TV at the time. W*A*L*T*E*R arrived at the dying gasp of the 60-70’s sitcom style.

  • Dapriz says:

    I didn’t get to see it when it aired, but I did watch it on YouTube recently. I did enjoy the pilot and thought it had potential, but of course, it was no M*A*S*H. Like already said, the show needed some more interesting surrounding characters which weren’t in the pilot, but that could have been done if they’d had more episodes. It would have also been interesting to see how the friendship between Radar and the boy who took his wallet developed. I was disappointed in AfterMASH and wouldn’t mind seeing this show get a chance.

  • David G. says:

    I remember watching CBS that night in the Pacific Time Zone, painfully watching the clock each minute in dear hopes that the live coverage of the Democratic National Convention would be over and that Jessie Jackson would — by some miracle — finally get to concluding his very long speech so the live news coverage would end and I could get to see this “Walter” show that was supposed to start at 8:00. I was still thinking this at around 8:30 or so, still hoping that CBS wouldn’t do a “join our regularly scheduled program in progress” thing. Then I was severely disappointed with the live coverage f-i-n-a-l-l-y came to a conclusion, with continued hopes that CBS would air “Walter” and whatever else was supposed to follow at 8:30 that night in their entirety. But …. too late. Jessie Jackson and the convention had gone waaaaayyy over on time. CBS just cut to local affiliate programming, which mean stations in the Pacific Time Zone aired local news, a local movie, or a local rerun of, heck, probably even “M*A*S*H” in some cities!

  • David G. says:

    One more thing: Victoria Jackson, who is in “Walter”, told me when I met her around 2009 or 2010 at one of the Hollywood Collector Shows that she had still never seen the program. I informed her that it was on YouTube, which she didn’t know. She seemed genuinely interested to hear that news, and I’m guessing she soon got a chance to finally get to see the thing because of me. Victoria also told me that she would have been a recurring character in the series as Radar’s budding love interest.

  • Carrie says:

    In the first season episode of MASH, Sometimes You Hear the Bullet, Ron Howard played a 20yr old named Wendell. It was later discovered that he was really a 15yr old kid named Walter, Wendell’s younger brother. I think it is interesting that in WALTER they used the same names, Walter O’Reilly and his cousin Wendell. It all seems to come back around. Just something that I noticed.

  • Simon says:

    I didnt think WALTER was that good which was a shame. I did like After Mash butI guess thats another topic. Both I have on dvd

  • Jeff says:

    I think there could have been great scope for an interesting and successful spin off with this show. For example, the pilot already showed some flash backs to Iowa and what happened with losing the farm, and Radar was very sentimental about his MASH photo. An ongoing theme for this show could have been combining flash backs with what was happening for Walter in the present. It could have transpired that the father of the boy in the pilot turned out to be someone Radar had worked with in MASH. There could have been comedy combined with drama (as in MASH), and the show could have been a vehicle for occasional original MASH stars to reprise their characters in cameo spots on WALTER. Alas, it will never be, but it is obvious that we needed more than just a pilot to ‘judge’ the merits of what WALTER could have been.

  • sharon dutton says:

    I like the plot of seeing the result of what happens with characters in a different sinerio. What is going on with their lives after they leave a show and continue with something else!

  • sharon dutton says:

    I didn’t know about this show until I looked up Gary burgoff on the internet and actually watched it. I honestly liked the show. To bad no networks picked it up; bummer!

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