The first episode of season five is called “Bug Out,” and in it, the 4077th has to pack everything up and move down the road. We see how much work and effort went in to moving a MASH unit, but what I am sure many fans don’t know is that M*A*S*H almost had to bug out in real life! This CBS Feature press release from September 3, 1976 details how 20th Century Fox Television almost lost one of its filming locations before the fifth season began.
Today, we know the exterior filming location of M*A*S*H as Malibu Creek State Park, but in the 1970s, the property belonged to Fox, the studio behind the series. Over the years of ownership, movies and television series were filmed at what became known as “The Ranch.” But in 1976, “The Ranch” became the state park we know today. Since the site would be open to the public, there was a concern that M*A*S*H would have to pack up and find a new location for exterior scenes. This press release details that story, and discusses how the show runners wrote the episode “Bug Out” (05×01) as a way to show the camp moving should they need to change set locations. Which is really interesting when you think about it. If they had to change the outdoor filming location, you would lose the iconic mountain backdrop and the sets would look physically different. So the episode “Bug Out” was written to explain why the camp looked different after they moved from The Ranch to a new location.
Ultimately, the production studio and Malibu Creek State Park worked out an agreement to allow filming to continue. The release states that “the irreverent comedy show was granted one more year’s stay on the premises.” We now know that M*A*S*H would continue to use the outdoor sets for the next seven years.” That brings to mind several questions. Did Fox have to pay to continue using the set? Did they have to renegotiate with the park ever year the series was renewed? I was surprised to learn of this issue when I purchased this press release. I didn’t know when Malibu Creek State Park was establish, and I assumed that the park wasn’t created until after M*A*S*H went off the air. Clearly I was wrong, and this press release offers interesting insights into the behind the scenes struggle to maintain the outdoor set and the origin story of the episode “Bug Out.”