M*A*S*H spawned two spin-off series after the show ended in 1983. AfterMASH starred Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, and William Christopher and began the following fall. A series starring Gary Burghoff as Radar was also attempted. That series, W*A*L*T*E*R, never made it past the pilot episode. AfterMASH ran for two seasons before being cancelled. Neither spin-off was successful because they both tried to capture the magic of M*A*S*H in a similar, 30-minute style series. However, one M*A*S*H spin-off was successful, and it began while M*A*S*H was still on the air! The difference? It took a M*A*S*H character, moved the timeline forward 20+ years, extended episodes to a full hour, and recast the primary character. That series ran for seven season (1979-1986). It’s name? Trapper John, M.D.
Of course, in M*A*S*H, we know who Trapper John is. He was the Swampmate of Hawkeye and Frank Burns for the first three seasons. Played by Wayne Rogers in M*A*S*H, in Trapper John, M.D., we see a more mature Trapper John played by Pernell Roberts. The series was about as far away from M*A*S*H as possible. It took place in a stateside hospital and showed the more compassionate side of Trapper. A more mature doctor and chief of surgery, Trapper is nothing like the character we were introduced to in M*A*S*H, and I think that is why it worked. But more on that later.
So what was the show about? The series followed Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre at San Francisco Memorial Hospital. It has been 28 years since his discharge from the Army, and he has worked his way up to chief of surgery. Instead of the meatball surgery we see in M*A*S*H, Trapper is able to work with his patients and get to know them. His compassion often leads to battles between him and the hospital administration. In the series we a doctor who is trying to change the system from the inside. The series did well in its first six seasons, but several cast changes in the seventh season including the departure of co-star Gregory Harrison. The series was not renewed for an eighth season.
I think there are three major factors that made Trapper John, M.D. work. First, they moved the timeline forward 28 years. This allowed time for the character of Trapper to mellow and become an authority figure in the hospital. He is more compassionate and not the same Trapper we knew in M*A*S*H. Second, they did not cast Wayne Rogers (though they did offer him the part). Moving the timeline forward allowed them to select an older actor to play the part. This separated the series even more from the events of M*A*S*H, so it is possible that some viewers at the time that did not know the show was related to M*A*S*H (although the characters of Hawkeye and Radar were mentioned in at least one episode each). Third, they extended the episodes to a full hour. In the 1990s, the hospital drama was defined by shows like ER and Chicago Hope, but Trapper John, M.D. was a medical drama more than a decade earlier. I think the longer episodes worked well for a drama and allowed the writers to tell more compelling stories.
- Pernell Roberts…Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre, M.D. (S1-S7)
- Gregory Harrison…Dr. George Alonzo “Gonzo” Gates, M.D. (S1-S7)
- Charles Siebert…Dr. Stanley Riverside II, M.D. (S1-S7)
- Brian Stokes Mitchell…Dr. Justin “Jackpot” Jackson, M.D. (S1-S7)
- Mary McCarty…Nurse Clara “Starch” Willoughby (S1)
- Christopher Norris…Nurse Gloria “Ripples” Brancusi (S1-S6)
- Simon Scott…Arnold Slocum, Hosp. Administrator (S1-S6)
- Jessica Walter…Melanie McIntyre (S1-S2, S4-S7)
- Madge Sinclair…Nurse Ernestine Shoop (S2-S7)
- Richard Schaal…Dr. David Sandler (S2-S4, S6-S7)
- Timothy Busfield…Dr. John “J.T.” McIntyre, Jr., M.D. (S6-S7)
- Kip Gelman…Dr. Jacob Christmas (S7)
- Beau Gravitte…Dr. Andy Pagano (S7)
- Lorna Luft…Nurse Libby Kegler (S7)
- Janis Paige…Catherine Hackett (S7)
The script in my collection is for the episode “The Fred Connection” (05×18) which aired March 11, 1984. In this episode, medication is going missing at the hospital. While the police are investigating, a patient, who thinks he is also a detective, is determined to solve the mystery. I have not watched the series, and I couldn’t find a place to watch it. Reading the script isn’t the same as watching the episode, but I did read through it. This is a solid episode! It has some great moments, and I can understand why the series lasted as long as it did. The writing is very solid.
As for the script, it looks very familiar. The 20th Century Fox Television logo is on the cover, just like it was for M*A*S*H. This script doesn’t have any production documents such as call sheets, shooting schedules, or wardrobe pages. It does have the standard cover page, cast list, set list, and script pages. There are about twice as many script pages as there were for M*A*S*H, but that is to be expected since the episodes were twice as long.
I would like to watch some of Trapper John, M.D. I have never seen an episode, but I felt like it was important to have at least one script from the series in my collection since it is the only long running spin-off of M*A*S*H. While AfterMASH and W*A*L*T*E*R never seemed to find a winning recipe, Trapper John, M.D. took one character out of M*A*S*H and developed a different and compelling story that captured the attention of television audiences for seven seasons.