Harry Morgan once told Alan Alda why the M*A*S*H set was more fun than Dragnet

Alda: "I don’t know how Harry survived in that situation."

Some fans of M*A*S*H swear by the first three seasons, citing them as the funniest. That's when we first met Hawkeye, Margaret, Radar, Mulcahy and Klinger, and the cast drew laughs and tension from early characters like Trapper John and Frank Burns. And heading up this merry crew was their commanding officer Lt. Col. Henry Blake, the capable doctor who proved to be the most laidback CO the camp ever encountered.

One of M*A*S*H's most often-cited dramatic moments is the death of Henry Blake in "Abyssinia Henry." Capturing the emotional impact of this tragic loss was so vital to M*A*S*H showrunners that they famously didn't tell the cast it was happening, so the cameras could catch an organic reaction, trusting the show's tremendously talented cast to be buried so deep in their characters that the news would stun them.

It did. And that meant it hit the audience just as hard at home, who watched the season finale in March and wondered what would come next when M*A*S*H returned in September.

The answer? Col. Sherman T. Potter, the new CO who arrived in the fourth season with his many Potterisms, bringing a new style of leadership for the camp.

In many ways, the appearance of Potter ushered in a new era of M*A*S*H, with stories that got a little more progressive and characters like Margaret Houlihan who transcended beyond her cartoonish role in earlier episodes. This more mature M*A*S*H would eventually become the favorite episodes for a different group of M*A*S*H fans, who got their laughs and drew in sharp breaths at new characters like Winchester and B.J.

But according to Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye Pierce in addition to writing and directing episodes of the show, the addition of Potter didn't just feed the show another new character to plug into its seesawing rhythm between comedy and drama. Harry Morgan, who portrayed Potter, turned out to be one of the most enjoyable people Alda said he'd ever worked with when he spoke to the Archive of American Television:

"Harry was one of the most — and continues to be, for me — one of the most enjoyable people I’ve ever worked with. He could make you laugh, and you wouldn’t be able to write down what he said that made you laugh. There was just something about the way he said ordinary things. He had a little twinkle in his eye and there was a little attitude he had behind everything he said. We were laying on the floor laughing all the time at him. It was amazing."

Alda said the pair became close behind the scenes (the whole cast did, and the surviving cast recently reunited to renew their close bond) and that Morgan even once revealed why he was better suited for the atmosphere on the set of M*A*S*H than the other show fans love him for, Dragnet.

On Dragnet, Morgan played Bill Gannon, partner to Jack Webb's Joe Friday, and Alda recounted with fondness for his M*A*S*H costar:

"He’s very reserved and courteous and hilariously funny. He told a funny story about the police show Dragnet. … So Harry who just loves to be impish would hold it down because Jack Webb was all business. He would get a show shot in half a day or something. He just shot them very fast. … So Harry made a joke at 9 o’clock in the morning one day, he said, and then at around 5 o’clock the same day, he made another joke and Jack Webb said, ‘Well if you’re going to keep fooling around like this!’ I mean, when you shoot those shows really fast. … I don’t know how Harry survived in that situation, because he was just bursting to be funny."

But just because Alda became good friends with Morgan doesn't mean he ever forgot about his first CO, who skewed the camp dynamic so differently than his successor. Alda said of McLean Stevenson, who famously played Henry Blake, that he also had them on the floor laughing all the time, saying it was just drastically different:

"McLean was like that, only McLean was different. McLean did comic routines that he would improvise that were hilarious and disjunctive, sort of insane. There was something, he like opened up a part of his head and strange stuff would come out, but you couldn’t help laughing. It was just really funny."

Ultimately, whether you loved Potter or Blake best, the first three seasons or the more seasoned writing, it seems clear from Alda's interview that both actors brought endless laughs behind the scenes as much as onscreen.

Alda said, "We laughed all the time. And those two guys made us all laugh. You know, one replaced the other, and it was interesting. They were completely different characters and different kinds of people as actors. They worked in a different way as actors.”

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JamesTinder 34 months ago
And yet, when MeTV showed "Abyssinia, Henry" on 9/21/2021, they cut the scene of Henry hugging Radar, and the announcement of his death. Way to go MeTV.
ToddLeBaron JamesTinder 34 months ago
When the episode originally aired back in 1975 on CBC in Canada, they skipped the announcement from Radar and went straight to the ending scene, with the announcer saying "We at the MASH 4077th bid a fond and reluctant farewell to Col. Henry Blake". This was two nights before the same episode aired in the US on CBS. If you need to see the full, enedited episode, there's always the DVD set of season three. That seems unusual for MeTV to run an edited version of any of these shows, because in just about every other episode, they've aired scenes that don't appear on the TV Land airings of the show (one prime example being the ending of "Movie Tonight" where the camera pans across the OR as the doctors sing "My Darling Clementine" as they operate). Didn't happen to watch the episode this time as it's one my wife doesn't like to sit through.
sandman 50 months ago
Great in “Dragnet” and different style of leadership in MASH.
AlF 61 months ago
Harry Morgan will always be one of my all-time favorites. That voice, and his confidence and self-assuredness. Helped make "The Shootist" one of the best movies ever also...
Connor 62 months ago
Sorry but after the 1st three seasons...Hearing BJ whine about his kid and Hawkeye being holier than thou got to be too much.......He pushed me waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa waaaaaaaa
woyzeck Connor 44 months ago
bj whine about his kid, and hawkeye....... I suggest changing the channel, sound like a complainer for the sake of complaining
ToddLeBaron Connor 34 months ago
I've seen suggestions that Me TV should just air the first three seasons of M*A*S*H. Losing their CO in a plane crash would not be my idea of the rway to end the series at all. I enjoyed the newer episodes, as we got to see a more human side of Margaret and eventually Winchester, and Harry Morgan's absolute charm and wit. Yes, the first three seasons were funny, but there's more to war than just a bunch of laughs. I like how e got to know the characters a lot more in-depth. Sorry if that offends you. It's "M*A*S*H", not "McHale's Navy"!
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djw1120 62 months ago
I wish MeTV would kick you off their website since what you write has nothing to do with any of their shows.
All you do is post links to SPAM websites.
Deleted 62 months ago
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djw1120 62 months ago
I wish MeTV would kick you off their website since all you do is post links to SPAM websites.
Dave 62 months ago
The first three seasons aired while the Vietnam war was active. After that war ended in 1975, our country's attitude changed and I think the subsequent seasons of MASH reflect that. Henry Blake's death resonated deeply for many people my age who had worried about being the last causality of that war.
Oldfart1 62 months ago
I actually liked Potter more than Blake, even though I did like Henry. Potter was old school military, having actually started out as Infantry. But Potter could pull off practical jokes and have fun with guys like Hawkeye and Radar.
Sooner 62 months ago
MASH is really boring and worn out. Wish you would let it go to rest. It's on about another million channels, anyway.
woyzeck Sooner 44 months ago
mash is and always will be great. Hope it stays on forever. Maybe try other stations
ToddLeBaron Sooner 34 months ago
I'd like to see you come up with better writing and acting. Too many of today's series are constant screaming and fighting. The writing and ensemble acting on "M*A*S*H" made it timeless. Sorry if good TV bores you!
BrittReid 62 months ago
Jack Webb had to be a stiff to work with.............
harlow1313 BrittReid 62 months ago
If only he had swung his arms when walking...
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elf_wand 62 months ago
lying spammer
harlow1313 62 months ago
As the years of the show progressed, I found the writing to be more contrived and heavy handedly preachy. I consider the first three years to be best.

Another observation is that in the earlier years, many characters were funny in their behavior, but in later years, each main character was constantly zinging out one liners.
Wiseguy harlow1313 62 months ago
That's in the last five seasons. The best years were the middle three years, better characters, better writing and a little more serious. It's only when BJ grew a moustache that the writing (and series) went downhill.
Tim harlow1313 46 months ago
Personally, I break the show up into three separate ones, based mostly on the cast changes: Seasons 1-3 are a flat out comedy, which changes when Henry and Trapper leave. Seasons 4 & 5 are slightly more serious but still generally a comedy, which changes when Frank leaves. Seasons 6-11 are full on "Dramedy" becoming even more heavy once Radar leaves at the beginning of Season 8. As for how I feel about each "series," I own the first 3 seasons on DVD, I'll watch the next two when they're on TV but I tend to avoid the later seasons and I can't bear the series finale at all. Far too dark and depressing, even worse than Seinfeld.
woyzeck harlow1313 44 months ago
I found as the seasons went on it just got better and better, and quite honestly brilliant. Not sure what 'preachy' is...in regards to this show
laurarogers80 62 months ago
When Radar O' Reilly delivered that line, I bawled worse than a 2 year old. Even as an adult now knowing it's acting, I still bawl.
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