MASH attempted to give Radar his very own spinoff, but Hawkeye was the better choice. The ratings for MASH were so dire during its first season it was nearly canceled, but luckily it proved a success in re-runs and became one of the most popular shows in America. What’s particularly fascinating about MASH is how it evolved from a comedy to a dramedy in its early years. It was one of the first major shows where characters of note actually died, and the traumas of war were explored.
MASH’s finale is the most-watched episode in scripted television history, with the show running for 11 seasons in total. MASH proved so popular that it lasted eight years longer than the actual Korean War, but it couldn’t run forever. Of course, CBS tried to keep it going a little longer with two spinoffs. The first was AfterMASH, in which Colonel Potter, Father Mulcahy and Klinger worked at a Veteran’s Hospital. The spinoff performed well coming off the back of MASH’s finale but only ran for two seasons after it made the unwise call to air in the same time slot as The A-Team.
WALTER Was A Disastrous Spinoff Choice
At least AfterMASH ran for two seasons; the second attempt WALTER didn’t even make it past the pilot stage. WALTER followed Gary Burghoff’s Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, one of MASH’s most beloved side characters. Radar left MASH during season 8, with Burghoff later reprising the role for an AfterMASH guest appearance. WALTER revealed the titular character lost his family farm and his wife left him. He then joins the police force to rebuild his life, but while Radar was a strong supporting player, placing an entire show on his shoulders was doomed to fail.
Burghoff tries his best with WALTER, but even if the pilot didn’t suffer from a lame concept and terrible gags, Radar wasn’t the right choice to center a show around. Radar worked on MASH because he was part of an ensemble, and brought a loveably naive quality to the show’s grim setting. However, just like the Friends spinoff Joey, WALTER underlined that taken out of the core ensemble, Radar wasn’t a lead character in his own right. From conception to execution, MASH spinoff WALTER was just a bad idea.
How A Hawkeye Spinoff Could Have Worked
It may have been a different story had Alan Aldas’ Hawkeye been given his own spinoff. Alda inherited “Hawkeye” Pierce from Donald Sutherland, who starred in Robert Altman’s MASH movie. Alda made the character his own, with the actor’s creative input being key to how the series evolved too. Hawkeye may have had an endless parade of one-liners and sardonic gags, but the sitcom made it clear this was to mask the horror and stress he felt as a surgeon during the war. The finale suggested he would return to his hometown to become a doctor – which could have been a great MASH spinoff in its own right.
A Hawkeye show could have – like the MASH novels – followed the character as he moved on from the war. Either as a doctor in his Maine hometown of Crabapple Cove or becoming a surgeon in New York with help from Wayne Rogers’ “Trapper” John. Given Alda’s stardom during this time and the chance to present Hawkeye in a new light, the show would have stood a much better chance than WALTER. That said, after 11 seasons, Alda probably wouldn’t have wanted to commit to a new show playing the same role anyway and he was probably ready to move on to other projects.