Discuss: Did M*A*S*H Jump the Shark?

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: Did M*A*S*H jump the shark?

Are There Sharks in Korea?

If you’re not familiar with the phrase “jump the shark,” it comes from a 1977 episode of Happy Days when Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler) literally jumps a shark while water skiing. Some fans consider this the point when Happy Days lost touch with its original premise and started to go downhill. Yet it remained on the air for another six seasons

“Jumping the shark” refers to either the moment when a TV show begins relying too heavily on gimmicks or, more generally, when it simply starts getting bad. Read more about the history of the term at Wikipedia.

Which Episode?

Fans of M*A*S*H have debated when (or if) the series began to decline in quality for decades. A previous Monday M*A*S*H Discussion asked whether the series should’ve ended before Season 11, prompting readers to share their opinions about the last “good” season.

But did M*A*S*H “jump the shark”? The series occasionally presented unusual episodes: “The Bus” and “The Interview” during Season 4, “Point of View” during Season 7, and “Life Time” during Season 8. Some might consider these gimmicks, but I don’t.

Many will agree that Radar’s departure during Season 8 marked a turning point for the series. Does that mean M*A*S*H “jumped the shark” with the two “Good-Bye Radar” episodes?

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

21 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    I will preface by saving I was an original ‘jump the shark’ viewer — that is, I watched Happy Days in first run (before ‘jumping the shark’ became a cultural phenomenon). The show lost me as a viewer with the ‘Jump the Shark’ episode. I was never a huge fan of Happy Days to begin with, but when they stooped to the level of a shark jumping gimmick I was done and never watched the show again, except for occasional re-runs of the early seasons. I think at the time the show’s producers (or more likely network honchos) were trying to capitalize on the shark frenzy in the U.S. that had been created by the Jaws film series.

    When it comes to M*A*S*H I am a fan of ‘descending levels’. Seasons 1-3 will always be my favorites. Each set of changes after that — departures of Henry & Trapper, changes to Margaret’s character, departure of Radar, etc took the show down another rung in my enjoyment. I still watched most of the seasons in first run, and have seen them all in re-runs multiple times, but it was just never quite the same after Season 3. So I guess I would put Abyssinia, Henry as that point for me.

    • Till says:

      Hi there, nice page!
      I missed all mash series in the past, as this series was never really that popular in Germany and i was busy enough doing other things than watching Tv…
      (Except Magnum and Colt Seavers of course)
      Now with 46 I have just recovered M.A.S.H after i ordered season 1 (and season 2 some weeks later).
      We are loving it and we will order 3 too.
      But I can’t imagine to proceed knowing that Trapper and Henry would leave after that. The show without Radar and Frank some seasons later??? Those guys are superb and fit to each other. Hawkeye is fun to watch but it is hard to stand his disrespect of army and country. I got the impression that some guys were not too happy playing next to him?

      • dirwuf says:

        Tilll….Please keep reporting in as you proceed thru the series…it’s always interesting to hear the thoughts of someone watching for the first time.

  • BDOR says:

    Did M*A*S*H jump the shark? Yes. It’s called “Season 8.” Radar goes home, Klinger stops running around in dresses, Margaret radically changes her looks twice a season, Alan Alda and Burt Metcalfe overhauled the writing staff, the show became darker and preachier, the humor was toned way down, the drama was cranked way up, it wasn’t the same show anymore.

    • dirwuf says:

      I never had any problem with the ratio of drama to humor of the later era, my issue was that the humor just wasn’t funny….and the harder they tried (with practical joke eps, etc), the worse it got. The better eps of the last era are the serious ones (Life Time), and there are few which make me laugh….the only one I can think of that is top notch is “No Sweat”

  • 007 says:

    I agree with the above assessment that M*A*S*H did indeed “jump the shark” but for me it’s a very slow jump that starts after season 3, starts moving faster after season 5, and completes after season 7.

    I always look at M*A*S*H as having 4 “eras” throughout the shows run, with each era being worse than the previous one.

    The first era, I call the Trapper-Blake years. Season 1-3, and they’re basically perfection.

    The second era I call the Burns-Potter-BJ years, not because those three are most prominent, but because it’s the only years Potter and BJ are with Burns. IMO M*A*S*H was already irreparably damaged with the departure of Trapper and Blake, but it was still pretty strong in era 2. Era 2 also sees the departure of Larry at the end of season 4, and Gene at the end of season 5, along with Linville as well at the end of 5.

    The third era I call the Radar-Winchester years, for the same reasons as era 2’s name. I consider it to be seasons 6-7 only, as season 8 doesn’t really count for Radar. As much as I love Winchester as a character and DOS as an actor, he just couldn’t save the show with all the previous departures, but the show at least managed to pull out some decent episodes and kinda ride off of what Larry and Gene did for the first 5 seasons.

    The fourth era I call the Post-Radar years, and it’s all just crap. Seasons 8-11. Again I don’t count season 8 for Radar at all, because every scene he’s in is stock/pre-recorded footage, and his two parter is pretty terrible because of Gary’s attitude.

    So really as mentioned at the start, the show started the jump after season 3, was moving over the shark during 4 and 5, started the descent from the jump in season 6 and 7, and landed in season 8.

    If I had to pick ONE of those to be the “jump the shark” moment though, I’d probably have to go with the end of season 5, or maybe even the end of season 4 because of how terrible Margaret is in season 5.

    • BDOR says:

      I’m the exact opposite, I feel M*A*S*H improved during the same period you felt it descended. I can see why a lot of people have a stronger preference for Seasons 1-3, and I’ll agree they’re great seasons, but the show struggled during that era – particularly the first couple of seasons in terms of trying the find the right tone, and the right amount of characters (main and recurring) – all of that seemed to finally solidify by Season 3. As I’ve also said, Trapper suffered from the writers not doing much with him beyond making him Hawkeye’s second banana. The problem with Seasons 4-5 was obviously Frank’s downfall and de-evolution into the pathological maniac he became. Aside from that, Seasons 4-5, brought us character development, and the humor matured a little; B.J. had the luxury of being a more rounded, fleshed-out character, and Potter eventually fit into the cast very well as the grandfatherly figure. 6-7 continued in the same path, and Charles added an interesting new dynamic to the group, even though he could be just as unlikable as Frank at times.

      But 8-11 . . . yeesh.

    • Bing00Bob says:

      Yeah, what with with Burghoff’s tone in that final two-parter?

  • penguinphysics says:

    Anyone who’s read my posts will not be surprised that my ‘jump-the-shark’ moment is a tie between Depressing News and The Foresight Saga.

    In Depressing News, the combination of Hawkeye’s sanctimony and Klinger’s ridiculous and amoral business shenanigans ruined the show for me.

    The Foresight Saga is simply a hot mess and all of the cast members are so out of character that irritates me to no end. Add to that the horrifically bad performance from the kid who played Park Suck and you have a death pit that the show never emerged fully from.

    I will still watch the show for the diamonds in the rough here and there, but the show never came back to the level of quality from the earlier seasons

  • dirwuf says:

    The “Jump The Shark” episode for me is “Peace On Us”….a premise that should result in a classic (Hawkeye invades the peace talks), but instead delivers a middling result with the all-time most cringeworthy ending, the red dye party….the can kicking scene was also a strong indication where the series was headed.

    Many performances become very self-aware and affected starting in season seven…particularly Alda, Swit and Morgan.

    To me, seasons 1-6 feel like part of the same universe, then seems strangely changed in season seven, thought still delivers several strong eps. By season 8, it’s a different show entirely….

    • BDOR says:

      I’ve often said that Season 7 was the “transition season” of the show, it really does have a feel all its own, you can just sense there’s a change in the winds: not quite as humorous as 1-6 were, but certainly nowhere near as dark and depressing as 8-11 ended up being.

      But the red dye party, as ridiculous as it seems, was based on something that actually happened at the real-life 8055.

  • Scott says:

    Per BDOR’s comment, I agree with him/her. I liked the earlier years with Trapper and Burns, but after Radar left and when Potter, Winchester and BJ came on board, the show took a more matured and better turn. Also having been in Iraq myself with the Army, there is really no “jumping the shark” because in real-life, what happened in the show also happened on base. Each and every day that I spent in Iraq was a different episode of new people flying in and out, meet and greet, while the main characters (my direct co-workers) pretty much stayed the same throughout my 12 months. After returning home I got a more deeper, profound view and respect for the show because I could actually relate in ways that I had taken for granted. The show never ages and the only thing that has changed are the uniforms and the war.

    • BDOR says:

      Which is bemusing, because I remember Larry Gelbart once making the remark that the reason the show never ages is because, “The costumes never go out of style.” But they’ve had these pixelated camoflague uniforms for quite a while, haven’t they Scott?

  • Farret Face says:

    This was a tough question for me, because while I did feel that the show did jump the shark in a way, it’s hard for me to pinpoint specific moments where it did, and why. But I guess I’d agree with BDOR, that it was around season 8. I don’t quite agree that it became too serious overall, though season 8 specifically did rely a lot more heavily on dramatic episodes (they did ease it back in the last three seasons). But more often than in previous seasons, the comedy and drama seemed at odds with each other in certain episodes (see: “Morale Victory” and “The Life You Save”). And it doesn’t help that the comedy itself wasn’t as good as in the earlier seasons either. Though there were still very good comedy episodes in later seasons, and during my recent rewatch, I did enjoy some comedy episodes more than I had in the past (such as “Snap Judgement”/”Snappeir Judgement.”

    However, I will say that season 9 was the exception. I actually would put that season in my top 4 seasons of the show, along with 4, 6, and 7. And even with those other late-series seasons, I still liked them a lot, despite a growing number of issues.

  • Larry P. says:

    Unfortunately, M*A*S*H did jump the shark. I’d argue that the show as a whole was never unwatchable, but the latter seasons were far, far spottier than the earlier ones, sometimes painfully so.

    First off, I maintain that after the initial bumps in the road (in particular, the first half of the first season or so), M*A*S*H was and remains one of the best things to have ever crossed our television screens, with seasons 2 through 6 being overwhelmingly terrific, and the series at its zenith in seasons 3 and 4. Not EVERY episode was a 100% winner during that 2-6 peak, but the show was such a well-oiled machine at that point that even the ‘bad’ episodes were really only bad in a relative sense.

    That’s MY viewpoint though; your mileage may vary.

    To me, the series jumped the shark right from the start of season 7. That was the point where the more-balanced diet of comedy and drama began to tip more in the favor of the latter, and while that in and of itself wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, the fact that the series practically beat you over the head with whatever message they were trying to present each week was. Simply put, the writing became less smart, less clever and more in-your-face; overly-emotional. Even the characters became more like caricatures – Hawkeye was both a peace-crusader and a womanizer, Potter was cranky more often than he wasn’t, BJ was whinier, etc. etc. etc.

    The season opener of “Commander Pierce” is a good example, especially since it stands in stark contrast to when Hawkeye was placed in command earlier in the series, but a better example is “Peace on Us” right afterwards. (And yes, I know the production order was probably different from broadcast order; I’m going by how viewers originally saw these back in the day.) There were plenty of earlier occurrences that stretched credibility with their outlandishness, but they were (usually) written so well that it still somehow worked. Not here. Hawkeye throwing a tantrum, busting into the peace talks, and suffering no consequences whatsoever is the first instance in the series where I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “that’s stupid.” And yes, I’ve seen “Major Fred C. Dobbs.”

    Most of the rest of the season ping-pongs between mediocre and comfortably good, but as a whole it’s far more uneven than even the somewhat-rocky first year. And, season 7 boasts the only episode of M*A*S*H that I refuse to watch again, such is my intense dislike of it: “Inga.” I *hate* this episode. The idea of a female doctor in the male-dominated early-1950s is a good one, but WOW does it beat you over the head with the message. Winchester incredulously sputtering “That…that WOMAN” and Margaret telling off Hawkeye and receiving rousing applause are two of the most embarrassing moments in the whole series.

    And just like it started, the year ended on a low-note, with “The Party,” which is just a terrible idea all-around, made all the worse by BJ’s zeal for the endeavor.

    Season 7 is by far my least favorite of the whole series; after season 6, M*A*S*H was never as consistent as it was before, but I still, I find more to like in seasons 8 through 11 than I do in 7.

    All IMO, of course.

    • dirwuf says:

      It’s strange that despite no cast or major production/writer changes, there is such a noticeable difference between seasons 6 and 7.

      By the way, it is obvious that “Peace On Us” was meant to be the season premiere…this is where BJ is shown actually growing his mustache and everyone reacts to it as seeing it for the first time. Perhaps after they saw the finished episode, they decided “Commander Pierce” was stronger, and slotted it into the season premiere spot.

  • Lounge Lizard At War says:

    Season 7 for me. Everything kind of happened at once in that season; Hawkeye’s preaching, BJ’s mustache, Margaret’s screeching voice, Klinger’s lame business ventures. But, I will never not watch an episode when it airs. M*A*S*H and TAGS are my two favorite shows. Good or bad I watch them.

  • BeccaLeo1972 says:

    Yes, by Season 8 the show had made its mark on television and should’ve ended. I feel season 8 with 12 episodes, including the finale, is a great place to say goodbye while the series still had a spark. Otherwise my favorite years are Seasons 1-8 in terms of the quality though i am not a fan of Frank de-evolving in mid Season 4 and all through Season 5. A lot of the later episodes were heavy handed. talked at the audience and were not well constructed.

  • P.L. Gray says:

    First, let me say I’d rather watch nearly any episode of “M*A*S*H” than just about anything that is being made nowadays. However, I do believe the program jumped the shark when they added Charles Emerson Winchester III. I didn’t particularly like Frank Burns, because he was supposed to be unlikable, but he was adorable when compared to Ego Winchester. His attitude, plus his ability to back it up with his surgical ability, made him a less satisfying foil for Hawkeye and B.J. While Colonel Potter and B.J. managed to become part of the fabric of the 4077th, Charles did not, which was how he was written, but for me, that made him a consistently sour note in the course of the show.

  • Patrick says:

    As much as I enjoyed Colonel Potter, B.J. & Charles, MASH jumped the shark when Henry & Trapper departed. At least that’s when the jump started. The landing coincided with Frank’s departure, the ending of the Margaret-as-foil period.

  • TF says:

    Yes it Jumped the Shark….turning Potter into a bad imitation of Blake; rewriting BJ into Trapper John; Winchester into a clone of Burns [by the way as long as Burns was part of the cast the show was funny] Klinger into Radar….How I would have had MASH:
    Houlihan gets killed off going onto her honeymoon -but not so…She was more popular than Blake……
    Burns goes off the deep end
    The last episode for me is the Swain song The late Captain Pierce..Hawkeye really does desert..20 years after the war the US Army concludes Pierce is still alive-hes given a choice either go Jail for desertation or work it off gratis….in a va Hospital where he has to work with avietnam war version of himself..along with Colonel Blake who is Not dead..but been picked up on a desert Island from 20 years from an island of women and alcohol….and the head of the administration is Frank Burns…..who has never forgotten every insult and mean joke Hawkeye played on him….

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