Producer Burt Metcalfe wanted to put a little sensitivity into M*A*S*H
For a show that was about war, M*A*S*H always managed to promote peace.
For a show that dealt with war, death and degradation, M*A*S*H always managed to promote life. Executive producer, Burt Metcalfe, put a little sensitivity into M*A*S*H and made sure that peace was in front of potency.
Metcalfe had been putting his personal touch on the series since he took charge in 1977, after former M*A*S*H producers Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds left for other projects.
"I'm an unabashed sentimentalist, so my shows tend to be more poignant, with a special kind of compassion and humanity," Metcalfe said in a 1983 interview with The Charlotte News.
At the time, M*A*S*H had been described as an anti-war series by both critics and TV viewers alike. According to Metcalfe, the truth was much deeper than that.
"We're not really an anti-military show," Jamie Farr, who played the role of Cpl. Klinger, said. "We're anti-stupidity, anti-authority, particularly when it's senseless. The doctors are placed in a situation where they're in opposition to everything going on around them. They're there to save lives."
You might remember Maxwell Q. Klinger for wearing a variety of beautiful hats, dresses and other interesting outfits to try and earn a psychiatric discharge.
According to the interview, there was no one at CBS who wanted this war to end. As they approached their final season in 1983, M*A*S*H was still the third highest-rated series in the country. It also had developed a dedicated fan base who would do just about anything for Alda.
Even the network couldn't stop Alan Alda from moving on to other projects, or convince Metcalfe there were enough significant stories left to maintain the show's high quality.
According to Metcalfe, there were many great stories the series had to pass up because it didn't fit the tone of the show. He said he nixed other story ideas because they were pitched in the wrong era. Could you imagine M*A*S*H in the decade of Archie Bunker and Golden Girls instead?
"We were pitched shows about abortion, drugs and breast cancer 100 times," Metcalfe said. "But those are 1980s causes of the week."
Metcalfe said his mission was to inject as much sentimentalism in M*A*S*H as possible. His love for the cast and crew could be seen by the way in which the characters grew within the show.
During his time as the lead producer, Maj. Margaret Houlihan loosened up and became more human, the "pompous" Frank Burns left the show and Klinger got out of drag and became a company clerk. Metcalfe's influence was everywhere.
"I'm an admirer of Frank Capra, who did stories that had warmth and poignancy," Metcalfe said. "I hope to do sentimental stories that express a certain optimism about America, where we can say 'Gee, we aren't so bad afterall.'"