Did M*A*S*H ruin the opening credits by removing Radar?
Season eight removed Radar from the first shot — but not entirely, oddly.
Every little moment in the opening sequence of M*A*S*H matters to fans. It's so much more than seeing the drama of the choppers descending, delivering wounded as doctors scurry to respond. We also see the cast — Hawkeye hunched over a fallen soldier, B.J. giving a curt nod. The better you know these characters, the more meaningful watching the opening credits becomes.
However, it's not Hawkeye nor B.J. who is intended to resonate most with viewers. It's Radar O'Reilly, the childlike company clerk who's perhaps the most relatable character on the show.
In the original opening sequence, therefore, it's an incredibly meaningful choice to begin with a view of the back of Radar O'Reilly's head as the helicopters sail over the mountains. It's arguably the entire set-up of the show, instructing the audience to step into Radar's shoes and see what it's like to be in this foreign scene, where doctors confront the realities of the frontlines and experience the personal wear and tear of operating in the sometimes relentless tent.
Now, even the most casual fans know that the M*A*S*H credits changed over time as the cast changed. When Wayne Rogers left the cast, his opening credits scenes got cut, and after B.J. Hunnicutt was introduced, the credits even got updated once the decision was made to give him his iconic mustache.
But before viewers even knew that Gary Burghoff — the actor who played Radar O-Reilly on TV and in the movie — was leaving the show, producers made the decision to cut him from the opening credits early. The first episode of season eight, "Too Many Cooks," opened without the familiar sight of Radar's head. Compare the first shots from both intros up top.
This was arguably a spoiler to attentive viewers because everyone at that point was very used to seeing the show start with that frame showing the back of Burghoff's head, obvious in his signature cap.
We wouldn't blame you if you wondered, where did Radar go?
Four episodes later, Burghoff officially departs in the two-part episode "Goodbye, Radar," and then the move to cut Radar from the opening moment of the opening credits begins to make more sense.
However, it is arguably the worst decision producers made when it came to updating the opening credits, and here's why.
When Trapper John left, his character got entirely cut from the opening credits. On the other hand, careful viewers can still pick out Radar in the title sequence — after Burghoff left the show. About 30 seconds in, you can see Radar running up steps to respond to the landing chopper. And then, there he is again a few seconds later, crouching behind Hawkeye. (To further ruin continuity, note that the Father Mulcahy squatting behind Radar is George Morgan, who only played the character once, in the pilot episode!)
In fact, these two shots of Radar remain in the credits right up to the series finale.
So, why? Why did they have to cut that opening frame of Radar that so poignantly set up the entire series?
If you want to see an opening sequence that focuses on helicopters, check out Airwolf, that far less emotionally touching 1980s military drama where they go on "exotic missions."
M*A*S*H was a different, special show, and everybody knew it. It deserved to open up with a moment charged with the stuff that made the show great: character. And even though Hawkeye serves the show's central figure, Radar was and remained the show's biggest heart.
If he was going to stay in the credits anyway, why ruin the opening moment by focusing on two helicopters that could've been introducing us to any old action show?
When it comes to great TV, M*A*S*H was the genuine article, and in the words of Alan Alda, what set the character of Radar O'Reilly apart was that he was the only completely genuine character on the show.
In a perfect world, M*A*S*H would’ve always opened up by having us symbolically step into Radar's shoes, even after he left the 4077th.