Discuss: Should M*A*S*H Have Ended Before Season 11?


Monday M*A*S*H Discussions offers fans the opportunity to offer their opinions on a wide variety of topics relating to M*A*S*H. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. My hope is these discussion posts will continue to elicit comments in the weeks and months after they’re initially published. Have a suggestion about something you think might be worth discussing? Let me know and maybe it will become my next Monday M*A*S*H Discussion topic.

Today’s topic is one of the three potential topics I shared in my post announcing Monday M*A*S*H Discussions last month: Should M*A*S*H Have Ended Before Season 11?

Too Much Drama

Few things divide M*A*S*H fans more than the question of when the series began to veer too far toward drama and away from comedy. Some will argue things began to fall apart when McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers departed after Season 3. Others think Larry Gelbart leaving at the end of Season 5 marked the beginning of the end. Then there are those who feel the series took a truly dramatic turn once Radar went home.

Regardless of when they think M*A*S*H became too dramatic (or too preachy), there are some fans who believe the series shouldn’t have remained on the air as long as it did. They think it should’ve ended before the laughter ended.

The question for those who feel this way is when should M*A*S*H have ended? After Season 3? After Season 5? After Season 8?

Let’s Discuss

Personally, I’m one of those fans who enjoys all 11 seasons of M*A*S*H (to varying degrees). Yes, the first three seasons are in my opinion arguably the must amusing and the most sitcom-y. Yes, the last few years are nowhere near as funny. But I like the entire series. I don’t think it should’ve ended before Season 11.

But I’m very curious to see hear how other fans feel. Those who consider Radar the heart and soul of M*A*S*H probably aren’t particularly fond of the last four seasons without him.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

18 Replies to “Discuss: Should M*A*S*H Have Ended Before Season 11?”

  1. This has always been an interesting question to me, for more shows than just M*A*S*H. I think the answer can be different depending on if we’re thinking of the show during it’s initial run in the 70’s and 80’s, or if we’re thinking back about the show now.

    Thinking back on the show now, should it have ended before season 11? No way. It should have gone on forever! But that’s just because I love the show so much and have seen every episode so many times, that I’d love to have even more episodes to watch.

    But thinking of the show back then when it was in it’s initial run, is a little bit more difficult to answer, especially for me since I wasn’t alive for ANY of it! I wish there was an easy way to get viewership numbers of all the episodes for the entire run of the series, as that would make answering a bit easier.

    Really a TV show should end when one or more of the following conditions are met:

    1. Quality has gone down to the point the show is no longer entertaining.
    2. Viewership has dropped to the point that networks would consider dropping the series.
    3. The show is no longer financially feasible.
    4. A major change occurs in the production of the show that has the potential to effect #’s 1-3.

    For #1, I agree with RJ that while the show definitely dropped in quality, I think it was still good enough to warrant continuing. There were still some very solid episodes in the last 3 years.

    Now I don’t believe #’s 2 and 3 were a concern in Season 11 of M*A*S*H, nor would it have been for at least another season or two, maybe more. I don’t have the numbers to back this up, however, other than the viewership numbers/record of GFA.

    #4 is a difficult one, because multiple things happened throughout the run of the show that could have qualified for this. McClean and Wayne leaving, both Larry’s leaving, Gene leaving, and then eventually Gary. The show survived all of these though, and I don’t know that anything like it would have occurred had they decided to continue. I have heard before that a vote was taken on whether or not to continue the series, and the only ones who voted to continue it were the 3 that ended up on on Aftermah, Harry, Jamie, and William. I don’t know if that is true or not, and we’ll never really know who would have tried to leave if they continued past season 11.

    So long story short I think the show should have continued, unless one or more of the important cast members were going to leave if it did so, especially Alda. I think the show could have survived, albeit pretty difficultly, with just about any character leaving other than Alda, although Potter, BJ, Margaret, or Charles leaving would be pretty devastating and would likely spell demise for the show soon. I think it was just too late in the series to introduce new characters successfully.

    Hawkeye leaving would have killed the show immediately.

  2. Oh yeah. I mean, the cast and crew have expressed how they were running out of ideas for stories in terms of anecdotes and recollections they were receiving from actual Korean War veterans from both the front lines and the operating rooms – not to mention it was becoming clear that CBS was beating a dead horse at this point, because they weren’t wanting to let their biggest hit on the air ceremoniously end (and even discouraged a proper finale with the war ending, fearing it would kill the show’s chances in syndication, a la THE FUGITIVE).

    1. Do you have any articles or anything discussing how CBS didn’t want a proper finale for the show? I don’t recall hearing or seeing anything of the sort.

      1. I don’t have anything I can specifically link, it’s just common knowledge among the fandom. CBS was afraid if they did a proper finale with the war ending, that would kill M*A*S*H’s chances of living on in syndication, because apparently bringing proper closure to THE FUGITIVE did just that.

      2. I’m chiming in late here, I know. Mike Farrell mentioned CBS not wanting a series finale with the war ending during one of the 2015 MeTV interviews. See this post for more information.

      3. In retrospect, it seems very silly that CBS and/or 20th Century Fox didn’t want a finale; but that was the thought process back then. Very few long-running shows received proper send-offs.

        I’ve always wondered what would have happened if GFA had never been made. Would MASH have ended after season 10? Supposedly, the majority of the cast agreed to do a truncated 11th season only if they could do GFA.

        Would there have been AfterMASH?

        Speaking of beating a dead horse, could MASH have continued with Morgan, Farr, and Christopher as the “big 3”? Maybe Kellye, Rizzo, and Igor could have been elevated to full cast members. Certainly, they would have had to bring in a new crew of doctors as well. I’m glad this didn’t happen, since basically that would equal AfterMASH-but-still-at-the-front. Plus it probably would have tanked in the ratings and tarnished the MASH legacy.

  3. I find it a difficult question because it could be presented in two ways:

    1 – The series AS-IS:

    The series, as presented, was running out of steam by the middle of the 10th season and the final episodes seemed to be struggling along for original storylines (some of the stories seemed blatantly recycled ideas from earlier seasons) and was mainly concerned with closing up loose ends. As a result, I would have been satisfied with the show ending with season 10 as there are only a few episodes from season 11 that I actively enjoy (I get some nominal satisfaction out of them by virtue of it being M*A*S*H, but not much else)

    2 – The series as I would have liked it:

    I am of the opinion (and it is just that: MY OPINION) that the best writing and mix of comedy and drama came in seasons 4 and 5. If the creative team from that era was in control, I feel that the show would have remained strong. I realize that this is a fantasy, but if I were given the ability to quantum-leap back to the mid 70s and fix a few things, I would have tried to convince Alan Alda to stick to his acting and directing and move away (FAR AWAY) from his writing and consulting. I would have also tried what I could to keep Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds on as the creative team and brought on more outside/freelance writers to contribute.

    Of course, since this is just a wish and fantasy, I will have to be satisfied with what was given, not what might have been.

  4. Absolutely not. It seems that the common sentiment is that M*A*S*H dropped in quality towards the later years, and I simply would have to disagree. I think the character development strengthened significantly and it made the characters more interesting. I do think the comedy/drama balance tipped a little too far in the drama direction, and at times I think Alan Alda had too much influence over the show, but I think the quality was there. In fact, some of my favorite episodes are in the later seasons.

    1. I do agree that the character development increased there towards the end, especially for Margaret, Klinger, Father Mulcahy, and to a bit of a lesser extent, Charles.

      Margaret grew into a character that I could tolerate (mostly). Klinger, despite having a few characteristics that I wasn’t fond of, such as the always trying to make a quick buck thing (especially the newspaper stuff from Depressing News), grew into a character of his own, and not just Lebanese Radar. Mulcahy just got more screen time which allowed us to get more of his character, and Charles started to grow into more than just the snobby classical music lover.

      Definitely would have liked to have seen that continue, but with Alan Alda in charge, we probably would have never gotten much of it.

      1. I kinda liked Klinger’s schemes. I always thought they were funny. I have watched it what seems like a thousand times but I always crack up when he “decorates” the office.

        I think “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”, particularly the dinner scene where they share their plan for the future was the crescendo for character development in the show. I think each of the characters time was boiled down into that one scene where they showed a great deal of vulnerability and yet optimism.

        I really like that Mulcahy got screen time and Margaret became a really good character. She never fundamentally changed, she in many ways was still the army brat she was in the early years and she still needed that discipline, but she matured and became a better rounded character.

        I’ll have to add more thoughts to this later. 🙂

      2. Klinger’s schemes like decorating the office or faking passes and discharge stuff was okay. It’s more of the Swindler type schemes that annoyed me, because it made him too much like a crooked thief in a way. I guess that was kind of in line with his character, but also not at the same time. I actually just watched Goodbye, Cruel World (decorating the office) yesterday!

        Mulcahy getting more screen time and the promotion he deserved was definitely great. It’s too bad it took Radar leaving for it to happen.

        It’s too bad Margaret couldn’t have evolved like this much earlier on (perhaps instead of the Donald/Marriage storyline, which was just stupid as hell) but was good to see it happen. Episodes like the Birthday Girls were great for her, although she did have some good early ones such as The Nurses.

  5. Having watched M*A*S*H as a ‘new show’ from somewhere in Season 2 or 3 until the end I know that my own personal interest in the series waned over the years. All these decades later Seasons 1-3 remain my favorite. Seasons 4 & 5 would be second — although I felt bad for Larry Linville as his character was given almost nothing interesting those last two seasons. The departure of Radar was certainly another major moment in the downward spiral.

    All that being said I did watch many episodes when they first aired in Seasons 6-11, but the show just never grabbed me the same way as those first years. I did go on to watch all of AfterMASH during it’s first run and my interest was actually rejuvenated a bit by seeing those characters in a different setting.

    Overall when it comes to TV series I have a preference for shows that run only 1-3 seasons, particularly if there is a clear story arc from beginning to end. But networks just can’t help themselves in milking a cash cow (just like movie studios who pop out cookie cutter sequels for as long as fans will buy tickets).

  6. As far as I’m concerned, the last top-notch season was 6…there are some fine eps in 7 but the seeds for the decline afterwards were there. “Peace on Us” is my Jump-The-Shark episode…a premise that should have resulted in a classic is only mildly amusing, with a sappy finale that makes me cringe. In my opinion, the problem after season 7 wasn’t the tone or ratio of comedy to drama, it was just a matter that they didn’t know how to be really funny anymore, and the harder they tried (such as ‘Snap Judgement’), the more obvious it was. In addition, Alda’s, Morgan’s and Swit’s performances in the final years lacked the fire and subtlety of what came before, and their characters were often just annoying. That being said, there are a handful of worthwhile shows the final four years…virtually all dramatic in tone, but as many have said, they all could have been boiled down to one season. I think the show should have ended with the season 7 finale, “The Party”.

    1. The Party to me has always represented a big turning point in the show. It’s the last time we see Radar other than grumpy old man Gary in his departure episode, and is just a really feel good way to end the last season that was really “good” IMO. I agree the seeds of decline were there, such as A Night at Rosies and Inga, but it’s still a really solid season. Season 8 and on wards get pretty rough to watch though.

      I don’t know how I feel about The Party being the series finale though. It would seem strange to end the series with an episode about all of the characters families meeting. That works better as a very strong season ender, but would leave me wanting big time as a series finale.

      Really they could have just shot and aired GFA any time after Goodbye Radar and just called it the finale, although it would have been truly great to see Radar in GFA as well.

  7. Oh, man. I would have loved for the show to go on forever. There was a hole in my evenings when it went off the air. After MASH was okay but there was just too much missing. That was looking at it as a 13 year old kid. Today I can definitely see the ups and downs. There are some episodes I don’t care for but I watch them all. I just cannot imagine the show ending before it did because I do like a lot of episodes from seasons 9,10 & 11. I just wish GFA was better or had more single half hour episodes leading up to the finale.

  8. Like you, I enjoyed the series the whole way through, though some seasons were certainly better than ever. And to be honest, the show did get a bit more uneven in later seasons, especially starting with season 8. I will say that season 9 is the biggest exception, since I’d actually rank it up with seasons 4, 6 and 7 as one of my favorites, but even that season had a few stinkers.

    All that being said, no I wouldn’t end it earlier than they did. Even my least favorite season (season 8) had a few really strong episodes that would rank up there with some of my favorites.

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