February 28 is the 39th anniversary of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” bringing M*A*S*H to a close. The finale broke viewership records and is often listed among the best series finales in the history of television. To celebrate, we are exploring the production documents and script for the finale. Since the two and half hour finale is a large script and has over 200 production documents, this week we will be looking at the script. To see the production documents, please see last week’s MishM*A*S*H post.
The M*A*S*H finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” aired on CBS 39 years ago today. The two and half hour finale was watched by millions and exceeded expectations in terms of viewership. Last week, we looked at the supporting documents and discovered that the epic finale took 30 days to film over the course of three months. The expectations of delivering episodes for the series’ eleventh season, the length of the finale, and the wildfire that destroyed the set in Malibu Creek State Park all contributed to that long, drawn out filming schedule. This week, we look at the script itself and what makes it special. One of my copies of the script has the revised pages and the other does not, so we can see what changed, and, most interestingly, how they worked the fire into an already packed script.
Let’s begin with the cover. I really like the cover of this script. It doesn’t say M*A*S*H, but the addition of the cast photo really negates the need for it. I like the simplicity of it. “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is boldly written across the top and only the 20th Century Fox Television logo appears at the bottom. Otherwise, the cast photo with the iconic sign post takes center stage. The light blue color is significant because it is similar to light the blue of the covers used for the pilot episode and many episodes during the first several season. So in many ways, the cover alone is a fitting tribute to the series.
Opening to the title page, we see that the script was finalized in September 1982. Filming began shortly after that on Stage 11 as the scenes of Hawkeye at the hospital were filmed on a different sound stage. What is most impressive is the list of writers. Alan Alda, Burt Metclafe, John Rappaport, Thad Mumford, Dan Wilcox, David Pollock, Elias Davis, and Karen Hall all had a hand in this incredible episode. Actually, the finale can be thought of as several episodes in one, and they assembled an impressive group of M*A*S*H writers. Alda has said in interviews that the writing of this episode was a team effort.
It was not uncommon for a script to have a set or two of revised pages. They would be delivered to the actors and crew with a cover letter (see photo at left), and the pages would be a different color from the pages in the script. Between my two copies, I have five sets of revisions to the script: 9/28/1982 (blue pages), 9/30/1982 (pink pages), 10/5/1982 (green pages), 10/15/1982 (yellow pages), and 12/17/1982 (orange pages). Revisions could add or remove lines. Often, they were fixing typos and minor changes to wording. But for the finale, something major changed due to real world events.
In early October 1982, a wildfire in Malibu Creek State Park destroyed the outdoor sets. When I rewatched the finale, it dawned of me how much of this episode used the outdoor sets, so that delayed filming. But for the writers, it presented an opportunity. They wrote the fire into the episode itself! In the revisions from October 15, 1982, we see on page 85 (see the slideshow below) that the a scene is added where Klinger and Col. Potter discuss the mysterious (sunset) on the horizon. They then show the camp bug out, and the script calls for the usage of stock footage. I hadn’t really paid attention, but many of the scenes they show of the camp being deconstructed are from the season 5 episode “Bug Out.” This was a creative way to add some additional drama to the finale.
Logistically, this must have been a nightmare for filming. The real sets were burned and had to be rebuilt for filming. The temporary location of the 4077th we see in the episode is where BJ returns to camp after being sent home, and it’s where Dr. Sidney Freedman comes to visit Hawkeye to see how he is doing since he returned to the unit. It is also where they find out the war is going to end. Later in the script, on page 97 (see the slideshow below), we again see a revision from October 15 where they return to the burned compound. It is after they return to the “original” 4077th that we hear the shooting stop as the ceasefire goes to effect…and they go back to work operating on wounded soldiers who are still arriving despite the war being “over.”
Overall, this is a very large script. There are 128 numbered pages (the revisions added a few pages) and 136 scenes. A typical M*A*S*H script has 35 pages and maybe 35 scenes. It varies of course, but the finale was roughly four times longer than the typical episode. In the end, these are two of the most important scripts in my collection for two reasons: 1. having the original and revised pages together lets us see what changed, and 2. it is the most successful television finale of all time. Even if it weren’t the most successful finale, it would be still be important to me personally because of the final scene where Hawkeye lifts off in the helicopter and we see the message left for him by BJ. While that message was left for Hawkeye by his friend, we all know deep down that “Goodbye” written in rocks was left there for us by the cast and crew members who gave us eleven seasons of M*A*S*H.
The Final Episode
It has been awhile since I watched “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” and I really enjoyed rewatching it. Without commercials, it is two hours long, and with the commercials the original broadcast was two and half hours, so that means that only half an hour of commercials were shown over the six commercial breaks. That is five minutes each! M*A*S*H episodes were normally 24 minutes, so the number of commercials shown were reasonable. Compare that to today, and in its final season, an episode of The Big Bang Theory was only 18 minutes.
Overall, the final show is exactly what was written in the (revised) script. As usual, the actors did a great job of following what the writers intended. And for such a well written episode, it is easy to see why. No changes were needed. The M*A*S*H finale flows very well. There’s conflict, humor, and tears…something that M*A*S*H had become known for over its eleven year run. The last half hour is so well written and acted, that I cannot possibly think of another way for the series to end. Each character gets an appropriate goodbye, and that is satisfying for the audience. In the end though, it still comes down to that final scene of “Goodbye” written in rocks…it still gets me every time.