Blake after M*A*S*H: The McLean Stevenson Show
Stevenson's follow-up wasn't a M*A*S*H-sized smash.
All good things come to an end, and that was truer for some more than others in the cast of M*A*S*H. Trapper John was the first to go when Wayne Rogers exited the show shortly before production began on the fourth season. Then (spoiler alert), Col. Henry Blake's helicopter is shot down, leaving no survivors, when McLean Stevenson decided he was out as well. His departure seemed a bit more abrupt, as cast members were unaware of the character's death before they began filming the scene.
It's hard to be the star in an ensemble cast that had eight heavy hitters sharing the opening credits. So, Stevenson opted for (potentially) greener pastures, opting out of his contract and heading towards late-night TV. It was not a smooth transition, by any stretch, as several Tonight Show stints left viewers yearning for the days of Henry Blake.
Stevenson was first set to host a variety program, where he'd anchor at the center of a rotating list of guests and musicians. Plans were put on hold when the concept was tested out as a one-off special. The special was received less than favorably, though, as it was clear that the format was devoid of everything that made Stevenson likable on M*A*S*H. The special's failure, paired with Stevenson's lukewarm attempts at filling in for Johnny Carson, caused executives to drop the variety show idea.
Instead, Stevenson's star power was put toward a brand new situational comedy, titled, simply enough, The McLean Stevenson Show, which debuted in December of 1976.
"This is not a good show," Stevenson told Florida Today. "It is not a fine show. It's a great show. It's great because it's honest; because it could really happen. It doesn't go for jokes. The comedy grows out of the situations that develop, situations that could happen to people you know. Situations that could happen to you."
Despite its star's enthusiasm, The McLean Stevenson Show was canceled during its first season, broadcasting twelve episodes while leaving two unaired. Executives were really banking on viewership from fans of McLean's work on M*A*S*H. However, the show failed to draw an audience, and the show only aired for three months. But, the story ends well with Stevenson making regular appearances as a panelist on The Match Game, keeping his face fresh in audiences' minds for years to come.