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The Classic Sitcoms Guide to...
Season Five: 1976-77

SEASON ONE: 1972-73
SEASON TWO: 1973-74
SEASON FOUR: 1975-76
SEASON FIVE: 1976-77
SEASON SIX: 1977-78
SEASON NINE: 1980-81
SEASON TEN: 1981-82

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"M*A*S*H" on Video or DVD


Year-End Rating: 25.9 (4th place)

In the fifth season, the show continues to explore the comic depths of military absurdity, but with a new seriousness of purpose. Margaret's marriage caps a season of major growth for most of the show's characters, with the notable exception of Frank Burns.

By now, the production values on the show exceed those of any sitcom in prime time history; the lighting, editing, and cinematography are all first-rate, and the show looks more like a feature film than a weekly series. Still, die-hard fans would miss the grittiness of the early years and wonder if the high-gloss finish was really an improvement over the messy, often disjointed style that matched so perfectly the show's often messy and disjointed subject matter.

Burt Metcalfe signs on as producer, joined by Allan Katz and Don Reo. Gene Reynolds becomes executive producer, and writer Jay Folb handles story duties as the new executive story editor.

97 Bug Out (one hour)    First Aired: September 21, 1976
Writers: Jim Fritzell, Everett Greenbaum
Director: Gene Reynolds
Guest Stars: Richard Lee Sung, Frances Fong, Don Eitner, Barry Cahill, Peter Zapp, James Lough, Eileen Saki, Ko-Ko Tani

Hawkeye, Radar, and Margaret are left behind to care for critical patients when the 4077th moves out to avoid a threatened invasion.

98 Margaret's Engagement    First Aired: September 28, 1976
Writer: Gary Markowitz
Director: Alan Alda

Margaret returns from Tokyo engaged, and the entire camp eagerly awaits Frank's response.

Margaret's engagement came as a direct result of Loretta Swit's desire to develop her character's identity separate from Frank Burns. The producers acknowledged that she'd outgrown her childish relationship with Burns by introducing her offscreen romance with Donald Penobscott--leaving poor Frank to fend for himself.

99 Out of Sight, Out of Mind    First Aired: October 5, 1976
Writers: Ken Levine, David Isaacs
Director: Gene Reynolds
Guest Stars: Tom Sullivan, Judy Farrell, Enid Kent, Dudley Knight, Michael Cedar

Hawkeye sees the world with a clearer focus when he is temporarily blinded in an accident.

Writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs were newcomers who had already contributed numerous scripts to The Jeffersons, The Tony Randall Show, and Joe and Sons. After two seasons as M*A*S*H story editors and three seasons on Cheers, they would create Mary Tyler Moore's short-lived 1986 comeback series, Mary.

100 Lieutenant Radar O'Reilly    First Aired: October 12, 1976
Writers: Everett Greenbaum, Jim Fritzell
Director: Alan Rafkin
Guest Stars: Sandy Kenyon, Johnny Haymer, Raymond Chao

Radar wins a promotion in a poker game, but finds that life as a lieutenant doesn't agree with him.

101 The Nurses    First Aired: October 19, 1976
Writer: Linda Bloodworth
Director: Joan Darling
Guest Stars: Linda Kelsey, Gregory Harrison, Mary Jo Catlett, Carol Lawson Locatell, Patricia Sturges

Margaret discovers a gap between herself and the nursing staff when one of them defies her to spend the night with her newlywed husband.

This tale of Hot Lips' relationship with her nurses is a departure that draws attention to how few stories were told from the nurses' point of view. The situation improved somewhat as avowed feminist Alan Alda gained more creative control, but the circumstance of these women stranded in a forgotten corner of the war suggests a wealth of story possibilities that were largely overlooked.

102 The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan    First Aired: October 26, 1976
Writers: Allan Katz, Don Reo
Story: Gene Reynolds
Director: Gene Reynolds
Guest Stars: Edward Winter, June Kim, Le Quynh, Susan Bredhoff

When Major Houlihan ventures into the village to help deliver a baby, Frank causes a panic by announcing that she's been kidnapped.

Before they signed on as M*A*S*H writer/producers, Don Reo and Allan Katz had written or produced shows as disparate as Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, Cher, Laugh-In, a Lily Tomlin special, and Rhoda.

103 Dear Sigmund    First Aired: November 9, 1976
Writer: Alan Alda
Director: Alan Alda
Guest Stars: Allan Arbus, Charles Frank, Bart Braverman, Sal Viscuso, J. Andrew Kenny, Jennifer Davis

Psychiatrist Sidney Freedman tries to escape his deep depression by spending a few days observing the therapeutic antics of the 4077th at close range.

104 Mulcahy's War    First Aired: November 16, 1976
Writer: Richard Cogan
Director: George Tyne
Guest Stars: Brian Byers, Ric Mancini, Richard Foronjy, Ray Poss

Father Mulcahy goes AWOL to experience battlefield conditions firsthand.

105 The Korean Surgeon    First Aired: November 23, 1976
Writer: Bill Idelson
Director: Gene Reynolds
Guest Stars: Soon Teck Oh, Robert Ito, Larry Hama, Richard Russell Ramos, Dennis Troy

B.J. and Hawkeye cover up the identity of a skilled North Korean surgeon who's anxious to save lives on either side of the battle.

106 Hawkeye Get Your Gun    First Aired: November 30, 1976
Writer: Jay Folb
Story: Gene Reynolds, Jay Folb
Director: William Jurgensen
Guest Stars: Mako, Richard Doyle, Jae Woo Lee, Thomas Botosan, Phyllis Katz, Carmine Scelza

Colonel Potter and Hawkeye wage their own war of ideals when Pierce refuses to fire at enemy soldiers during an ambush.

In this story, Reynolds and Folb touch on the two seemingly irreconcilable sides of Colonel Potter--the surgeon and the career soldier. As a physician, he shares with his draftee doctors the common goal of alleviating human suffering. Yet his rank and career status imply his underlying acceptance of the military machinery that's ultimately responsible for the suffering in the first place.

107 The Colonel's Horse    First Aired: December 7, 1976
Writers: Jim Fritzell, Everett Greenbaum
Director: Burt Metcalfe

The doctors treat Margaret and the colonel's horse when they each fall prey to very different maladies.

108 Exorcism    First Aired: December 14, 1976
Writer: Joy Folb
Story: Gene Reynolds, Jay Folb
Director: Alan Alda
Guest Stars: Virginia Ann Lee, James Canning, Phillip Ahn

Everything that can go wrong does after Colonel Potter removes a Buddhist good-luck talisman from the compound.

109 Hawk's Nightmare    First Aired: December 21, 1976
Writer: Burt Prelutsky
Director: Burt Metcalfe
Guest Stars: Allan Arbus, Patricia Stevens, Sean Roche

After a series of unsettling dreams, Hawkeye wonders if he hasn't finally cracked up.

110 The Most Unforgettable Characters    First Aired: January 4, 1977
Writers: Ken Levine, David Isaacs
Director: Burt Metcalfe
Guest Star: Jeff Maxwell

Radar records his impressions for a correspondence course in creative writing; and B.J. and Hawkeye stage a feud for Frank's benefit on his birthday.

111 Thirty-Eight Across    First Aired: January 11, 1977
Writers: Jim Fritzell, Everett Greenbaum
Director: Burt Metcalfe
Guest Stars: Dick O'Neill, Oliver Clark

Radar's signals get crossed when his shortwave call for help on a crossword puzzle summons a Navy admiral expecting a dire emergency.

112 Ping-Pong    First Aired: January 18, 1977
Writers: Sid Dorfman
Director: William Jurgensen
Guest Stars: Richard Narita, Frank Maxwell, Sachiko Penny Lee

Colonel Potter confronts an old Army buddy whose military incompetence has already cost too many lives on the battlefield.

113 End Run    First Aired: January 25, 1977
Writer: John D. Hess
Director: Harry Morgan
Guest Stars: Henry Brown, Johnny Haymer

Hawkeye tries to raise a former all-American football player's morale after the GI loses a leg; and Klinger and Sergeant Zale settle a feud in the boxing ring.

114 Hanky-Panky    First Aired: February 1, 1977
Writer: Gene Reynolds
Director: Gene Reynolds
Guest Star: Ann Sweeny

B.J. is plagued by guilt when his tender consolation of a nurse ends in a one-night stand.

115 Hepatitis    First Aired: February 8, 1977
Writer: Alan Alda
Director: Alan Alda
Guest Star: Barbara James

Father Mulcahy is quarantined with infectious hepatitis; and Hawkeye suffers psychosomatic back pain.

Alda's script was inspired by real life. Actor William Christopher's own bout with hepatitis caused him to miss a good many days of work that season.

116 The General's Practitioner    First Aired: February 15, 1977
Writer: Burt Prelutsky
Director: Alan Rafkin
Guest Stars: Hawkeye chafes under his new appointment as personal physician to a general; and Radar copes with the unexpected arrival of a baby to a Korean war bride.

117 Movie Tonight    First Aired: February 22, 1977
Writers: Gene Reynolds, Don Reo, Allan Katz, Jay Folb
Director: Burt Metcalfe
Guest Stars: Enid Kent, Judy Farrell, Jeffrey Kramer

When technical problems beset the screening of Colonel Potter's favorite film, the camp improvises a talent show in defiance of the obstreperous projector.

118 Souvenirs    First Aired: March 1, 1977
Writer: Burt Prelutsky
Story: Burt Prelutsky, Reinhold Weege
Director: Joshua Shelley
Guest Stars: Michael Bell, Brian Dennehy, Scott Mulhern

Frank buys a priceless antique vase from a shady junk dealer as a war memento.

119 Post-Op    First Aired: March 8, 1977
Writer: Ken Levine, David Isaacs
Story: Gene Reynolds, Jay Folb
Director: Gene Reynolds
Guest Stars: Hilly Hicks, Sal Viscuso, Andy Romano

An acute shortage of blood complicates another marathon tour of duty for the doctors in O.R.

The chilling battle stories told by the recuperating soldiers were culled from firsthand accounts and interviews with veterans of both Vietnam and the Korean War. Producer Gene Reynolds acknowledged the series's debt to its sources: "At least sixty percent of the plots dealing with medical or military incidents were taken from real life. These guys gave us details we never would have thought of. They kept us honest."

120 Margaret's Marriage    First Aired: March 15, 1977
Writers: Everett Greenbaum, Jim Fritzell
Director: Gene Reynolds
Guest Stars: Beeson Carroll, Judy Farrell, Lynne Marie Stewart, Ray Poss, Kellye Nakahara

Donald Penobscott arrives at the 4077th to marry Margaret in an improvised ceremony that calls for something borrowed--a wedding dress from Klinger--and something blue: best-man Frank Burns.

As Margaret flies off on her honeymoon, blissfully unaware of the cruel tricks that fate--and the show's writers--have in store, it spells the end for Frank Burns. He could hardly continue on the series once Margaret's marriage altered permanently his one tenuous connection to reality.

Actor Larry Linville breathed a sigh of relief when he decided not to renew his contract. "I wasn't tired of playing Frank Burns," he explained, "I was tired of playing only Frank Burns."

"After Gelbart left," the actor told writer Suzy Kalter in The Complete Book of M*A*S*H, "it was easier to run Frank into a scene, dump on him, get a laugh, and run him out the door." It was quite a letdown for the actor who understood so well the character's dark function in the comedy of military absurdity. As Linville once described Frank Burns in the pages of TV Guide: "He personified the psychosis of war itself--mindless, random, hostile one moment, silly the next."


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