Mike Farrell was not a big fan of TV until M*A*S*H came along
"Someone offered me a pilot role before this and I rejected it," he said in 1975.
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The July 25, 1975, television listings in Chicago's Daily Herald newspaper featured two quick news tidbits under its "Personality Potpourri" heading. Dennis Weaver was now an honorary marshal of Taos, New Mexico. Meanwhile, a replacement had been found for Trapper John. "MIKE FARRELL joins M*A*S*H as Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt to star opposite ALAN ALDA," the column announced.
They were big shoes — well, scrubs — to fill. Trapper John was a beloved member of the 4077th, a character popularized not just by Wayne Rogers on television, but portrayed by Elliott Gould on the big screen. B.J., on the other hand, was a fresh character created as a replacement.
"We named him 'BJ' because our cameraman, a great guy, was named Bill Jurgensen," M*A*S*H executive producer Gene Reynolds told The Hollywood Reporter. Wisely, the writers and creators were careful to not make B.J. a Trapper replica.
When promoting his new role to The Fresno Bee in September 1975, shortly after B.J.'s debut, Farrell made clear that "he would not have taken the role if the producers had just wanted another Wayne Rogers character."
In fact, he was reluctant to take any television role. He was not exactly a big fan of the medium. The Minnesota native even turned down starring roles.
"Someone offered me a pilot role before this and I rejected it," Farrell told the Bee. He said a prior series he had done with Anthony Quinn was "disastrous." That would have been The Man and the City, a political drama about local politics shot in New Mexico. Farrell played the obstructive deputy to Quinn's mayor.
Television might have left a bad taste in Farrell's mouth, but he had a good number of credits to his name — typically as a doctor.
"Actor Is Veteran of Medic Role," the Fresno Bee wrote two months later in a headline. The short piece noted that Farrell had his breakthrough as a regular, Dr. Sam Marsh, on The Interns from 1970–71. He had also played docs in small parts on Marcus Welby, Medical Center and The Bold Ones.
"Another few years on M*A*S*H and I'll be ready to hang out my shingle," Farrell joked.
So what made him jump aboard M*A*S*H? Quite simply, he was a fan. "M*A*S*H Star Is Antiwar Activist," the earlier Fresno Bee headline declared. Farrell called M*A*S*H an "effective, entertaining series," adding that he is "consistently amazed at the things the M*A*S*H producers get away with in a series designed for a mass audience."
The former Marine simply noted that M*A*S*H is "far and away" superior.
Farrell welcomed the "financial independence" afforded by his M*A*S*H gig, citing a desire to return to theatrical acting.
Of course, he would do more television acting. Television changed significantly in the 1970s, thanks largely to shows like M*A*S*H. Notably, Farrell returned to a regular TV job around the turn of the Millennium with Providence. He played a doctor.