It’s no secret that the first season of M*A*S*H was not a success in terms of ratings. The series just didn’t seem to catch on during its initial run. That was largely due to a poor time slot on CBS, but something changed during reruns. The series was noticed, and for season two, M*A*S*H was moved to a different night. That season was solidly in the top 10 in ratings. It proves that in television, as in real estate, success is directly linked to location, location, location.
It’s hard to believe today, but M*A*S*H was likely on the chopping block at CBS, but as the story goes, the show was saved by an unlikely source. In a 2018 interview, Jamie Farr explains, “Babe Paley [the then-wife of CBS founder William S. Paley] supposedly saved us by telling her husband that M*A*S*H could be the crown jewel for the network.” She is often credited for saving the show, and it continued for another 10 seasons and ended with the most watch television events ever.
Eagle eyed viewers have noticed that the next to last episode of season one is called “Ceasefire” (01×23). I have always wondered if this episode was written as a way to end the war if M*A*S*H had been cancelled at the end of the season, in case Mrs. Paley didn’t get her way. I recently acquired a copy of the script, and I was hoping there would be an alternate ending where the war did end. But no such luck. It is possible that a different scene was written and filmed, but it just isn’t included in this script. (It is also possible that the series may have been cancelled after this episode aired.) Either way, the ceasefire being called off is the only ending offered in the script. Despite that minor disappointment, let’s take a look at this season one script and see how it differed from the episode that aired in 1973.
This copy of “Ceasefire” doesn’t have too many frills. There’s no shooting schedule or set pages. As with every script, the episode’s title page credits the writers. For this script, something is a little different. The story is by Robert Klane while the teleplay is by Laurence Marks and Larry Gelbart. So what does that mean? Simply put, Klane had the idea for the storyline, but it was Marks and Gelbart who wrote the script. In a recent episode of the M*A*S*H Matters podcast, Allan Katz talks about the differences in writing credits and script writing process in more detail.
The rest of the script is pretty ordinary. A few revised pages from January 24, 1973, but nothing else. I have a feeling there were other revisions made as there were some big differences between what is in this script and the final episode. But more on that later. I was to discuss the cover for a moment. Most of the episodes I have reviewed so far are from later seasons, and the covers look very different. The font for M*A*S*H is different and larger in the later seasons, and the actual Twentieth Century Fox Television logo is on later covers as well. This is a good way to help authenticate scripts. Early scripts have this style script while the later seasons have the updated covers.
Overall, this is a good reading copy of a M*A*S*H script. It isn’t “complete,” but it still has lessons to teach us about how the show was made. If you’re like me, I am sure you are disappointed to learn that “Ceasefire” didn’t have alternate ending if the series had been cancelled. But perhaps they didn’t want to think about that possibility at that point. That seems to be the case as in the 2018 interview, Barbara Christopher (the widow of William Christopher) recalled, “Alan walked us to the door and said to Bill, ‘It’s been such a wonderful year. What if I never see you again?'” Thankfully, that didn’t happen (and Barbara Christopher would made a guest appearance in the show herself)!
The Final Episode
Season one’s episodes can be hit or miss, and I really enjoy this one. The camp learns from General Clayton that there will be a ceasefire, and everyone starts to celebrate. Hawkeye gives his stuff away, tells three nurses he’s married, and puts together a slideshow for the general that will get him into hot water. Meanwhile, Trapper is skeptical and bets Hawkeye $50 that the war will not end. While everyone is in the mess tent celebrating with General Clayton, a message comes through that there is NO ceasefire, and they are called into surgery. In the final scene, we see Hawkeye and Trapper in what is left of The Swamp with only Trapper’s possessions remaining!
For the most part, the script follows the episode fairly well. There are a few differences, however. There are several scenes that are longer in the script than they are in the final episode such as the opening O.R. scene and the scenes between Frank and Margaret as they slowly get more and more drunk. Oddly, there are a few nurses whose names are different. Nurse Cutler, who we met in “Requiem for a Lightweight” (01×03) is simply known as “Nurse Two.” And Sheila (one of a few actresses to be Nurse Sheila), who was in several season one episodes, is named “Nurse One.” Not very personal. (MASH4077TV.com has a really good article on the name changes and nurse changes in the series.)
I have always been puzzled by the last scene in which The Swamp is missing everything but Trapper’s stuff. What happened to Frank’s things? Surly he didn’t give them away. Well, there is an extended scene in The Swamp where Hawkeye tells Ho Jon to take whatever he wants including anything that belongs to Frank. There are some other little changes such as Henry’s speech in the mess tent. The announcement of there being no ceasefire was written as being delivered by Radar, but it is delivered by General Clayton in the episode. As I mentioned before, I believe there might have been additional revised pages that are not included in this copy of the script. These fairly drastic changes lead me to believe that even more.
By the end of the first season, it seems the writers and producers had started putting together compelling storylines, and this is one of them. That then moves into season two, which is probably my favorite season. The proposition of a ceasefire would have excited everyone. Who wouldn’t be exited about getting to go home? But Trapper’s skepticism is a reminder that until something is in writing, we shouldn’t get too excited about it.
The Hollywood Reporter. “‘M*A*S*H’ Finale, 35 Years Later: Untold Stories of One of TV’s Most Important Shows.” February 22, 2018.
MASH4077TV.com. “M*A*S*H Ratings and Rankings.” June 9, 2016.