Discuss: What If Larry Linville 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 Larry Linville never left M*A*S*H?

Ferret Face Forever

We’ve already discussed how M*A*S*H may have evolved if Wayne Rogers never left the show, if Gary Burghoff never left the show, and if McLean Stevenson never left the show. Today, we’re taking a final look at what might have been by pondering what M*A*S*H would’ve been like had Larry Linville not called it quits after Season 5.

First and foremost, with Frank remaining at the 4077th there would be no need to call in another surgeon, which unfortunately means the brilliant David Ogden Stiers would never have joined the cast as the obnoxious Charles Emerson Winchester III.

Of course, Larry Linville wanted to leave M*A*S*H because he felt he had done everything he could with the character of Frank Burns. Season 5 was a rough one for poor Frank. After Margaret ended their relationship, Frank was aimless and lost. He literally had nothing else in his life at the 4077th without Margaret, aside from butting heads with Hawkeye and B.J. While Margaret was happily engaged to Donald Penobscott, Frank was unable to move on. But what if he had?

What if Frank had started a relationship with another nurse (or multiple nurses)? What if he had found happiness in his surgical work, mediocre as it was? What if he hadn’t lost it after Margaret and Donald were married? What if he remained at the 4077th?

What, if anything, could’ve made Linville stick around? Somehow putting Frank and Margaret back together during Season 6? Possibly, but without other changes it would’ve meant a return to the status quo, something that probably wouldn’t have been enough for Linville. The problem with Frank is his limited depth, with or without Margaret. There wasn’t much, if any, room for Frank to grow after five seasons as a whiny, incompetent surgeon.

He couldn’t suddenly become a better surgeon. He couldn’t suddenly become best buddies with Hawkeye and B.J. Perhaps the only possible avenue for change would be for Frank to divorce his wife in an attempt to win Margaret back.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

11 Replies to “Discuss: What If Larry Linville Never Left M*A*S*H?”

  1. Maybe not, but clearly Frank would have had to have gone through some drastic changes as a character, though it obviously wouldn’t have been natural, or even believable, given how much the character had de-evolved in Season 5 – much like how Radar gradually became the more naive and innocent little farm boy overtime, then suddenly became all growed-up and jaded in his two-part farewell episode.

    Not only that, but Frank was always the foil of the show, and filled an antagonistic role; if they suddenly changed him to be nicer, friendlier, etc., that would have basically defeated the purpose of the whole character – even Larry Linville had brought this up before, adding, “Who do you want him to be, Alan Alda?”

    There’s really no way Linville could have stayed without the Frank Burns character being damaged in any way.

    1. His arrogant racist overly patriotic ways could have evolved perhaps a meaningful relationship with a Korean woman Emersion in Korean society somehow disillusion with the war any number of his blatant flaws could have been addressed

  2. Agree that there was likely nothing really that could have made it work, especially after what they did in season 5. Honestly as great as a season as 5 was, I count it much lower in my head because of Frank. Unlike most, I really enjoyed Frank in seasons 1-4, because I could always sympathize with him, and felt sorry for him. In season 5 though he’s just an incredibly pathetic and sad character. I don’t blame Linville at all of course, but the writers. It was absolutely not necessary to do that to him, and it almost comes off like they were trying to push Linville to depart the show. Then to have him go out the way he did at the start of season 6, even though he seemed to take Margaret’s departure okay and like a normal person would at the end of season 5, really makes me feel that someone on the writing staff had it out for Linville or the character.

    Either way, after season 5 it just wouldn’t work. I do like RJ’s idea of Frank leaving his wife (or his wife leaving him) and then him actually getting serious about Margaret, and honestly that’s what I always kind of wish would have happened, because we could then see Margaret’s strong character rub off on Frank, and maybe see him slowly but surely become a better person over the course of the remainder of the series. That only could have happened if things had continued the way they were after season 4. With season 5, there was just no recovering the character. He had to go, and it’s really too bad.

    At least Frank got the last laugh as he was promoted to Lt. Col and assigned stateside (assuming that really happened, not some fantasy of his), and we got Winchester so it all worked out.

  3. Full acknowledgement: Frank Burns is my 2nd or 3rd favorite character on the series, and I’ve long believed that Larry Linville was deserving of an Emmy nomination for the acting he did in portraying that character. (John Larroquette actually -got- Emmy Awards for essentially doing the same type of gig on “Night Court.”)

    The series did open up Frank for some potentially interesting growth/change with the end of the “Margaret’s Engagement” episode, where we saw what could have been the beginning of some newly emerged camaraderie between Frank and Hawkeye/BJ in their opposition to Margaret. But, Frank’s line there of “a little youth might be good for a change” — plus the reaction Hawkeye and BJ had of being legitimately impressed by Frank for saying that comment — was never followed up on during any of the following episodes. Instead, it became “everybody against Frank” for the rest of that 5th season.

    Only way Frank could have possibly continued as a character during further seasons as “M*A*S*H” transitioned into a different series during its later years would have been if he had been promoted as some sort of regional overseer of the MASH units — sort of like what Gen. Hammond or Gen. Barker were in the initial episodes. And, even then, Frank could have only been a recurring character in that situation.

    However, I firmly-firmly-firmly believe Frank would have been an EXCELLENT addition to the 2nd season of “AfterMASH” as the new hospital administrator that year (and … Potter’s boss this time around). He would’ve have a lot more new stuff to do, and Frank would’ve been far better than either of the 2 characters (the first one being too cartoony, and the 2nd one just never being funny) who were the hospital administrator on that show. Plus it would’ve been totally cool to see Linville grouped with Morgan, Farr, and Christopher to spice up things on that program! (If some very daring television makers ever decided to do an all-characters anthology-type reboot of “AfterMASH” with new actors portraying the classic characters as we check in on each of them stateside during the 1950s, man, that’s the opening episode that I’d love to see! Hey, who’d have thought they’d not only ever do a reboot of “Battlestar Galactica” but also make it actually work!)

    1. The idea of Frank being a regional overseer, and recurring character instead of main cast, could work. It would still allow Winchester to be in there as he was. Then there could be interaction between Frank and Charles. That would’ve worked – see how well Charles interacted with Col. Flagg, an even more extreme character than Frank.

      The overall problem with Frank, even by season 4, was that, like Flagg, Frank was a more satirical character. Flagg did work for one episode apiece in seasons 4, 5, and 7 – quite well, actually – but even as a recurring character, Frank would need to appear in more shows, and still be out of step with the show by season 6 plus. M*A*S*H was a relatively more satirical show in the first 3 years, where Frank fit in well (and that are my most favorite era).

  4. There is a chance he would focus more on army carrer and – be promoted, then he could even get his orders and be transfered to different unit.

  5. well Larry Linville is not like in this situation of Wayne Rogers for example! or Mclean Stevenson! who stayed three seasons together! Larry Linville makes the audience through these five seasons! on mash! of course the replacements Mike Farrell Harry Morgan and David Ogden Stiers are not great like these guys! but it’s not like the film! in tv series he changes the distribution because that was the deal! the part of the deal! he considered not have enough audience! i think! i don’t know! really! of course it is not eternal! most in the tv series! that’s for sure! the movie is the movie! and that’s it!

  6. I think subtle changes would have worked. Frank didn’t need to be a brilliant surgeon but maybe every once in a while he could get it right or the laugh he shared with Hawkeye and BJ at Margaret’s expense towards the end about “A little youth might be good for a change”. I think Margaret’s divorce and Frank leaving his wife could have been workable. The problem is that the writers didn’t make it work, the producers didn’t make it work, and after awhile Larry Linville didn’t want to make it work. It was just destined to end. If they had wanted it to work it would have and we wouldn’t be asking why Frank left but who the hell is David Ogden Stiers?

  7. Never the same without Lt Cor Blake then Radar getting burnt out & never cared for Charles or Cor Potter BJ taking Trapper wasn’t bad not as funny with Klinger in uniform & almost all characters from Midwest ColPotterNebraska,Frank Indiana,Father Mulcahy from Chicago Radar Iowa Blake Illinois Maine Atlantic&
    SanFransisco Pacific coast’s

  8. Larry Linville had so type cast himself as an unlikable twit that he had no chance to further his career (On “Grandpa Goes to Washington,” he played essentially another Frank Burns), so he may as well have stayed. But I liked David Odgen Stiers as Winchester so much that I don’t think the show would have meant as much without “Challllls”. Still, perhaps Margaret’s awful marriage to Donald Dreamboat ends immediately and Frank gets so much satisfaction from seeing Margaret get her comeuppance that he snidely ribs her for the rest of the show, staying serious only about his hollow flag waving. That could work, but the way “Challlls” punches back was so much more entertaining than Foot in Mouth Frank.

  9. Since we are on the topic of Frank and Larry Linville’s departure from the show, I have a question that maybe some of you can answer.
    In watching the original cut versions of each episode on Hulu, I was shocked to see both Larry Linville’s and David Ogden Stiers’ names in the opening title sequence of Season six episode one. Can any one explain this?

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