Discuss: What If Gary Burghoff Never Left M*A*S*H?


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: What if Gary Burghoff never left M*A*S*H?

No Good-Bye, Radar

Last November, we discussed how M*A*S*H may have unfolded had Wayne Rogers not left the show after Season 3. We pondered the impact of Trapper staying at the 4077th and, consequently, no need for the writers to create the character of B.J. as his replacement. Now it’s time to think about how M*A*S*H may have changed if Gary Burghoff remained with the show.

Unlike with the other actors who departed M*A*S*H, the writers opted not to replace Burghoff. When Radar left the 4077th, rather than introduce a new company clerk, Klinger took over as clerk. Therefore, the biggest change to M*A*S*H had Burghoff stuck around would be Klinger not having the opportunity to give up wearing dresses and scheming for a Section 8. Or perhaps he still would have, just for a different reason.

To be honest, except for the evolution of Maxwell Klinger, not much would’ve changed for M*A*S*H had Burghoff had stayed with the show for its entire run. Many of the storylines involving Klinger as company clerk could’ve worked just as easily with Radar as company clerk. Klinger would’ve still had his own storylines. Obviously, there would be no need for “Period of Adjustment,” and the Radar storyline in “The Foresight Saga” wouldn’t exist.

Let’s Discuss

Can you picture the last four seasons of M*A*S*H with Gary Burghoff and Radar? Are there any specific episodes from those episodes you feel would’ve worked better with Radar involved?

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

7 Replies to “Discuss: What If Gary Burghoff Never Left M*A*S*H?”

  1. Seasons 8-11 definitely would have been a lot more tolerable, but if they still decided to go into the more dramatic direction that they did in those seasons, Radar probably would have been out-of-place, unless they decided to have him grow up a little more like he did almost instantaneously in “Good-bye, Radar.”

    Still, Radar was a key ingredient to the show: his innocence and naivete was a good contrast to the rest of the characters who had their hobbies of chasing nurses, or binge drinking, or engaging in pranks, or what have you; not to mention just about everyone agrees he was such an endearing, lovable character. His departure left behind a void that really couldn’t be filled the same way Trapper, Henry, or Frank could.

    As for Klinger, we have to keep in mind, Jamie Farr’s kids were being bullied by their peers because their father wore dresses on TV: they’d say mean things like their dad is a transvestite, or their dad is gay, blah-blah-blah, so that’s pretty much the actual reason Klinger stopped wearing dresses, because Jamie was trying to spare his kids anymore torment. So even if Radar stayed, Klinger probably still would have stopped running around in dresses and become a normal guy. He probably still might have grown and evolved into a more serious, responsible medic/corpsman, however he probably still would have also been the schemer and dreamer that he was . . . maybe not in the sense of trying to get out of the army, but perhaps some kind of bizarre get-rich-quick kind of scheme, like the whole Chez Klinger thing.

    So again, if Radar stayed, I definitely could see Seasons 8-11 being tolerable, but if they still went in the dramatic direction that they did, they still probably wouldn’t have been enjoyable.

  2. Just like several of the previous ‘what-if’ topics, this one is difficult to narrow down because history is not malleable. The biggest factor, in my opinion, would have to be Gary Burghoff’s attitude toward the character and the show. As time passed, his dissatisfaction with his role was becoming evident to the point that some of his final appearances make it look as if he was performing the character almost out of anger or spite. As a result, I think the resulting departure was probably the best way to deal with the real-life exasperation of the actor.

    Had Burghoff *not* become fed-up with the role, I would have to agree with BDOR’s brilliant analysis: He would need to mature to remain relevant to the show. This would have taken Klinger in a completely new (and now unknowable) direction.

    Radar would need to develop more grown-up relationships with those around him. This does not mean that he would need to become a womanizing alcoholic with a gambling addiction, but he would need to, perhaps, find a more intimate relationship (similar to the rushed job they did with Klinger & Soon Lee) and, perhaps, pick up different responsibilities around the camp. There could have been a plot thread where he decides to sincerely pursue a certification in veterinary science or something similar (perhaps becoming more active in the OR in order to gain experience in anatomy and physiology.) Who knows, maybe he would have become a legitimate junior officer (NOT as part of a silly prank), and what a set of possibilities THAT would have presented!

  3. Radar certainly was an essential character and despite Gary Bughoff’s bad reputation offscreen, he certainly did a good job with O Reilley. If you look at the tv tropes site, you see that Radar fits into the “scrounger” role.

    He was always the one who came up with the passes to Seoul or Toyko at the right time, in order to help a scheme get off the ground. So he was also the enabler in many ways functioning as a key plot device. Radar always used his reach when something had to get done or communicated to the outside world.

    If he had stuck around they would have probably still emphasized these core character traits and possibly tried to mature him even more. Would Radar have functioned as a sounding board for the other characters because they respected him more vs in the past when they were patronizing towards him? Maybe.

    Would he have spent more time with the wounded soldiers who came through OR and helped them with their truama? It’s kinda a what-if.

    They certainly referred back to Radar after Burghoff left. There was Period of Adjustment S8E6 (BJ gets upset because Erin calls Radar, daddy at the airport in SFO). And then there’s the atrocious, The Foresight Saga S9E19 (where we see a Korean Radar with glasses and all who gets sent over to help the struggling Iowa Radar on the farm).

    You would definitely have seen a more grown up Radar, because Burghoff would not have tolerated playing the early version of the character for the remaining seasons.

    1. I almost forgot about that! If Radar ha not left, we would have never gotten The Foresight Sickness! That in itself would have made his retention worth it!

      1. Haha. Yes they had a bit of a vacuum after Radar’s departure. They used him in his absence to contrive Period of Adjustment much like they did with Foresight.

        It wallowed in way too much melodrama, with BJ crying his eyes out in the Colonel’s office. Looked like a therapy session.

  4. If Burghoff had stayed and they didn’t evolve the Radar character to match the changing sensibilities of the show as a whole, I can imagine us getting some more treacly, precious material not unlike “The Foresight Saga.” Sure, it would have been with a character viewers already knew, but it still would have stuck out like a sore thumb (and probably been just as painful).

    On the other hand, had he stayed and the character DID evolve, maybe with the same scrounger tendencies but an increasingly disenchanted outlook on the whole thing, that might have made for some interesting moments. Of course, that begs the question, would viewers want to see what was essentially the “innocent” character of the cast go down that road?

    I also think a lot of this depends on how committed to the role Burghoff would have been. He had been getting progressively less screen time over his last few seasons and we know the reasons why, but had he stayed, that would imply he genuinely WANTED to stay, so…? More, less or the same amount of screen time? No idea.

    I said it last week and I’ll say it again: 007 nailed it when they said during that discussion that they think of Radar as a “through season 5” character. Hit fits that first half of the series so well, but for me personally, increasingly less so afterwards. So, to be quite honest, I’m okay with how things worked out.

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