Discuss: What If McLean Stevenson Never Left M*A*S*H?

6 Comments

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 McLean Stevenson never left M*A*S*H?

No Abyssinia, Henry

Back in November 2017 we discussed what M*A*S*H may have been like if Wayne Rogers never left the show. Then in May 2018 we discussed what may have changed if Gary Burghoff hadn’t left the show. Now it’s time to wonder what could have been if McLean Stevenson had stuck around.

Right off the bat, we know that Season 3 would’ve ended differently and Season 4 would’ve started differently. It’s likely Season 3 would’ve ended with just another weekly episode, nothing special and certainly nothing like “Abyssinia, Henry.” Season 4 would’ve started with Henry still in charge of the 4077th, not Frank. “Welcome to Korea” wouldn’t need to change much to include Henry. It would still involve B.J. arriving in Korea.

There would be no need for “Change of Command,” of course, and no need to bring in Harry Morgan as Colonel Potter. The question then becomes how easily Henry fits into Season 4 in place of Colonel Potter. The two characters are so different, I think quite a few Potter storylines wouldn’t work at all with Henry.

Frank and Margaret spent so much time during the first three seasons going over Henry’s head because they didn’t respect him or his authority. When Potter arrived, that dynamic changed. Potter commanded respect in a way Henry never could. Henry had his serious moments, of course, and it’s possible the writers would’ve decided to focus more on that aspect of his character. It’s hard to imagine Henry not evolving to some degree over the years. Maybe he’d stop drinking. Maybe he’d stop cheating on his wife.

If you’re curious about Henry and “The Interview,” in February 2006 Larry Gelbart wrote an interview for Henry.

How do you think Henry would’ve reacted to Radar leaving? How would he have departed the 4077th at the end of the series finale?

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

6 Replies to “Discuss: What If McLean Stevenson Never Left M*A*S*H?”

  1. I think had McLean Stevenson not left, then Wayne Rogers wouldn’t have left, either. My guess is that the series would have gone another season or two and ended. It would not have veered so deeply into the dramatic, and the characters of Potter, BJ, and Charles would not have been created. The character of Frank would not have been Flanderized, and Margaret would have remained Hot Lips. Klinger and Father Mulcahy would have been minor characters.

    It also means the show would not have the reputation that it has today. It would be seen as being just another sitcom, albeit with some dramatic moments.

  2. Hard to say because you also have to ask if Wayne Rogers, Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Larry Linville would have still left after seasons 3, 4, & 5, or would they have made different decisions had McLean chosen to stay.

    Based on what I know of the departures of the 4 mentioned above, I think that they all would have still left. Wayne left because of a contract dispute. I don’t believe that would have been any different if McLean had chosen to stay. I’ve heard nothing to indicate that Larry Gelbart left after season 4 because he wasn’t interested in the show anymore without Wayne and McClean. I suspect Gene left the show after 5 because he wasn’t into it as much anymore after the departure of Larry, so assuming Larry still left, Gene still would have too.

    So really I think Seasons 4 and 5 would have been not all that different than how they actually were, with the obvious Potter-centric stuff not being there. There would have been plenty of Henry/Hawkeye/BJ interactions, probably no different really than the Henry/Hawkeye/Trapper interactions in the first 3 seasons. I don’t think Margaret and Frank would have been much different than how they turned out, because it’s the writers that wrote that…not McLean.

    So really I think the show would have been pretty much the same as it was, just with all the serious Potter stuff being more comedic Henry stuff.

    I don’t agree with Doug that the show would have ended so much sooner and it’s harder to speculate what the show would be like post season 5. With the writers changing the tone of the show, I think McLean would have been destined to leave. He was a comedic actor and just wouldn’t fit with the post season 7 show. If I had to guess, I’d say had he stayed past 3, he’d definitely have left by the end of 7.

  3. Mclean Stevenson is left because Harry Morgan! is a fan of Mash Series! that’s why he replaced him! first he played a psycho looney major general called Bartford Hamilton Steele! and then the colonel Sherman Tecumseh Potter! i don’t know really why Mclean Stevenson are leave Mash Series! but i think is about strategy or something! about Wayne Rogers yeah he wanted to participated in season 4! but he spending some money for his disease! that’s why the producers replaced him! with Mike Farrell! at that season! anyway Larry Linville he never regret leaving Mash Series! because he do his job much as he could! after that he was replaced with David Ogden Stiers! after the leaved the Mash Series! about Gary Burghoff yeah i don’t know why he leaved! but it’s about his wife! mostly time! but a question who i couldn’t understand when William Christopher have a disease during the Mash Series! he could probably death at that time! but he never replaced! that’s interesting! but i think i understand why! because Alan Alda who became a producer in season 5! he didn’t want to replaced William Christopher! because is a great actor!

  4. I’ve mentioned this a number of times before, but I feel like had McLean Stevenson stayed, that Henry would have, surprisingly, continued to grow and develop as a character, to the point where he’d actually become a competent Commanding Officer – even Frank and Margaret may have slowly begin to develop a little more respect for him.

    Henry began showing small signs of this kind of growth during his final season (maybe because the writers wanted to see what they could do with the character before his departure). I always cite “Aid Station” as an example, because it’s one of the rare few times that Henry actually takes his position as a commander seriously – sending a surgeon, nurse, and corpsman to the aid station is no laughing matter. He also shows a serious side in “The General Flipped at Dawn,” despite even he begins to realize General Steele is nuts. “Bulletin Board” has him uncharacteristically grumpy and moody because a patient of his doesn’t appear to be doing well, and initially refusing to let the 4077th partake in the orphanage picnic, because he knows as soon as they let their guard down and have fun, the war will rear its ugly head at them again (which it does).

    His philandering also diminished as well: I think after receiving the news from Lorraine that she had been unfaithful and had a fling with an orthodontist, that gave him a taste of his own medicine, because he was genuinely hurt over the news, and we hardly ever saw him flirting with another nurse ever again.

    So, yeah, I feel like Henry may have continued to grow in this direction had McLean Stevenson not left . . . and who knows, this may have helped his acting career if we saw he could also effectively pull of serious roles as well as comedic.

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