UPDATE (April 11, 2022): The original version of the article indicated that Alan Alda and David Ogden Stiers didn’t participate in the IBM campaign, when in fact they later did.
In the late 1980s, the M*A*S*H cast reunited in an unlikely place. They didn’t appear on a talk show or even on a reunion special. The only place you could see seven cast members together in was in a commercial campaign for IBM. The campaign was announced in 1987 and included a series of television commercials, print ads, and radio spots. The linked article from the Los Angeles Times notes that two cast members had declined to participate: David Ogden Stiers and Alan Alda (although they would appear in ads in 1988). MacLean Stevenson was also not included in the ads. However, there was someone else missing from the ads, and that led to an interesting casting. Take a look at one of the early print ads below:
Who is out of place in this ad? We see William Christopher, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, Gary Burghoff, Loretta Swit, and Larry Linville, all of which were part of the later cast of the series. But Wayne Rogers, who left the series before Morgan’s Col. Potter joined the cast, is part of the campaign. Where is Mike Farrell? He isn’t even mentioned in the Los Angeles Times article. As it turns out, we might have the answer in a press release by 20th Century Fox Television from October 1980.
Farrell makes it very clear in the release that he had no interest in participating in any kind of advertising. He said, “I’ve had some very, very lucrative offers to do commercials, but I prefer not to sell people’s products. People read that ad agency biggies want to trade on the identity of B.J. I prefer not to.” I respect his position on not using the identity of his character on M*A*S*H to sell other’s people properties. The IBM commercials don’t directly use the character names, but they hint at them. And even though this campaign came several years after the series had ended, Farrell stuck to his principles and did not participate. He also reasoned that he didn’t need the work, and he let others have the opportunity take part in advertisements to help pay the bills.
When I first saw the IBM ads several years ago, the inclusion of Rogers instead of Farrell seemed odd to me. When I discovered this press release in my collection, it seemed like the missing piece of the puzzle. The IBM ads are funny and clever. I do enjoy seeing the M*A*S*H cast in a different setting. You can watch the series of IBM ads in the embedded video above. You can also read the full press release about Farrell’s choice to not appear in advertising campaigns below.