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.

Read to Me

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.

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Formarps 17 days ago
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JLTitus72 22 days ago
He also appeared on an episode of The Monkees as a CIS (CIA) agent
dangler1907 24 days ago
Personally, I found Wayne Rogers as Trapper "one dimensional" most of the time. I didn't dislike the character or the actor, but I didn't see any depth there. Farrell (actually the writers) presented more sides to the BJ character. He was less of a sidekick to Alda and more of a foil - someone of a different "type" to play against.
JHP 25 days ago
Mike Farrell

Thee best acting job of throwing up in the world:)
MichaelSkaggs 26 days ago
He also was a tragic doctor on one of the last season episodes of Bonanza.
Rik 26 days ago
loved BJ can't stand Mike Farrell
DanielZabo Rik 25 days ago
How true! But it’s still a toss up for me between Alda & Farrell.
HerbF 27 days ago
On PROVIDENCE, He played a Veterinarian, not a Doctor - MeTV Interns, please do your research better...
ndebrabant HerbF 25 days ago
Technically, a Veterinarian IS a Doctor. They go through medical school just like their counterparts that treat humans.
Andybandit 27 days ago
Mike Farrell playing BJ was my favorite Mash character.
HulkFan02 27 days ago
I didn't know that plus I'm not much with the series than my mom. Overall, he's a sweet guy.
Michael 27 days ago
His first credit is 1963, and the bulk of that before MASH in 1975 was TV. Playing a bellhop in The Graduate was an exception.

He had ongoing roles in two series.

That hardly seems like a dislike of tv, but an actor starting out.

I always thought The Questor Tapes was a pilot, but I suspect other reasons it didn't get to series, not Mike Farrell's disinterest.
HulkFan02 Michael 27 days ago
My mom had never told me about that
CaptainDunsel Michael 27 days ago
"The Questor Tapes" most definitely was a pilot. There was a published "bible" for the series (a guide for writers as to characters, backgrounds, acceptable story lines, etc.) NBC wanted too many changes from Roddenberry's concept, including dumping "Jerry Robinson" (the Mike Farrell character), so Roddenberry turned it down.
I assume Farrell is referring to QUESTOR TAPES, but I hope not. I haven't seen it in years but thought it was terrific at the time. Roddenberry really had no luck with post-STAR TREK pilots, but I wish he had. I would have watched a Q.T. series with Farrell and Robert Foxworth. I would have watched a series based on GENESIS II/PLANET EARTH (especially one with the P.E. cast) and I would have LOVED a series based on SPECTRE with Bob Culp and Gig Young.

I have that Q.T. "bible"--purchased from a fan magazine waaay back in the day!
Roddenberry seems to have had a great talent for being his own worst enemy, at least when dealing with the "suits". When there were "creative differences", he usually dug his heels in rather than be persuasive about why his vision was better. He often took a "my way or the highway" approach, while the studios and networks had LOTS of asphalt.

The thing is, changing the concept isn't necessarily bad. "Assignment: Earth" became "The Questor Tapes" and Questor later became Data. (And did Roberta Lincoln become Jerry Robinson who became... Geordi?) All variations on a theme, but Roddenberry didn't seem to grasp that those changes could come from others.
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