This is the first in a new series of posts that will look at an item that is related to M*A*S*H but does not directly come from the series. Since they are kind of M*A*S*H related, the series of posts is called “M*A*S*H-ish.” There are not a lot of these items in the collection, so this will not be a monthly series. Instead, these posts will publish in the months that have five Mondays, which is approximately four times a year.
In the last episode of its third season, M*A*S*H said goodbye to one of its central characters. Lt. Col. Henry Blake was discharged from the Army and was looking forward to returning home to his family. Fans were shocked when, in the final scene, Radar walks into the O.R. to announce that Col. Blake died when his plane was shot down.
Reportedly, no one was more surprised than McLean Stevenson, who played Col. Blake. Stevenson was leaving the series to pursue another opportunity with NBC. Like Wayne Rogers, who also left the show at the end of the series’ third season, Stevenson wasn’t happy playing a supporting character, and when he was was offered a deal to star in his own show, hot took it. This was fairly common in the 1970s. Actors were locked in to a network and didn’t show up in multiple shows. Today, it isn’t uncommon for an actor to be in a show on HBO, ABC, and Netflix. But the 1970s television landscape was far different, and more competitive. There were only three networks (CBS, ABC, and NBC), and they fought for top talent because ratings meant advertising dollars.
Stevenson left M*A*S*H for NBC and the promise of his own television series. In fact, Stevenson was locked in with NBC for a year. There were times when nothing came out of that kind of a deal, but the The McLean Stevenson Show was the result of this contract. The series had a rough start after seven episodes were scrapped when studio executives wanted an actor change. The series debuted on NBC on December 1, 1976, and starred Stevenson as “Mac” and veteran actress Barbara Stuart as Stevenson’s wife, “Peggy.” The pilot episode has been posted on YouTube and is below.
What I have in the collection is a script for the fourth episode of The McLean Stevenson Show titled “Mac’s Fatal Charm.” The episode’s primary storyline is one in which Peggy’s friend Linda visits. Recently divorced, Linda is attracted to Mac, and he begins to wonder if he is capable of infidelity. I cannot find the episode itself, but reading the script, Mac is disturbed because he was flattered by the attention of a younger woman, and might have been tempted. Overall the episode has a few good jokes, but it feels cliché for the era.
Comparing this script to M*A*S*H scripts, it is hard to say. I am not 100% confident that this script is complete. It appears to be missing the front and back cover. There also isn’t a title page, set list, or character list as there are in every M*A*S*H script. It is possible, however, that since The McLean Stevenson Show was produced by NBC that their operating standards were different from 20th Century Fox. That being said, the script does include the Rehearsal & Taping Schedule (the episode was shot in four days, which is fairly standard), a Short Rundown, and 42 script pages. The pages are yellow and blue, and there aren’t any revised pages. This script provides some insight into how this show was made and the slight differences between it and M*A*S*H.
The series had a decent cast, but the storylines just didn’t seem to catch on with the audience. The fact that the series also had to compete with The Bionic Woman, Good Times, and All in the Family on the same night didn’t help matters either. Ultimately, only 12 episodes of the series were produced and it was cancelled in early 1977. Like AfterMASH, there is some debate over how many of the episodes actually aired before the series was pulled completely.
This wasn’t the last leading role for Stevenson, however. He would go on to star in other shows including: In the Beginning (1978), Hello, Larry (1979–80), and Condo (1983). The only series to run for more than 12 episodes was Hello, Larry, which ran for 36. In the Beginning was created by the legendary Norman Lear, but it was doomed to fail after only nine episodes. Stevenson would go on to guest star in a number of other series including Diff’rent Strokes, The Love Boat, The Golden Girls, and Dirty Dancing (which apparently was also a television series in the late 1980s). Stevenson died of a heart attack in 1996 at the age of 68.
I bought this script for my collection because it is and interesting part of M*A*S*H history. The promise of The McLean Stevenson Show lured Stevenson away from M*A*S*H, which would continue for another eight seasons. This story serves as an interesting lesson that I think we all learn at some point or another: the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. NBC promised Stevenson a series, but they couldn’t promise him success. In some ways, you could argue the series was set up for failure simply by the choice of which evening it would air. This script will always have a place in my collection because it is the reason we lost Col. Blake at the end of season three. It was a controversial but important storyline. Good, main characters die in war, and without The McLean Stevenson Show, we might not have gotten that lesson.
IMDB.com, “The McLean Stevenson Show.”
The Millville Daily, “McLean Stevenson Plays the Schnock.” December 22, 1976.