Mike Farrell's journey to M*A*S*H

B.J. Hunnicutt was Farrell's perfect role, but it didn't come easy.

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Mike Farrell's B.J. Hunnicutt was M*A*S*H's voice of reason, at least compared to Hawkeye (Alan Alda). He brought maturity and reason to the Swamp, often contrasting directly with Hawkeye's more emotional, reactionary antics. The character was meant as a replacement for the departed Trapper John, but despite those limitations, Farrell quickly outpaced expectations, making the B.J. Hunnicutt character a vital part of M*A*S*H's success. 

The road to Korea, though, was paved with lesser TV projects for Farrell. The 6-foot, 3-inch actor was already a veteran of television; beginning in 1968, Farrell starred as Scott Banning in NBC's hit soap opera Days of Our Lives. Farrell stayed with the part for two years, citing his tenure on the daytime drama as a tremendous learning experience. 

As the sixties drew to an end, the producers at CBS sought to mark the times with dramatic changes to their schedule. Gone were the rural-themed shows that brought the network success in the previous decade. Shows like Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies were each deemed undesirable for the new era, and were canceled by the end of the 1970-71 season. Farrell was a beneficiary of the new decree, as he fit the bill of what CBS wanted on their network. He was subsequently cast on the shortlived prime-time series The Interns alongside Academy Award-winner Broderick Crawford. When the schedule was again reset at the beginning of the following season, Farrell found himself working next to Anthony Quinn on ABC's The Man and the City. He then entered into a contract with Universal Studios, leading to guest appearances on shows such as Banacek, Mannix, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Six Million Dollar Man, and The New Land.

Creatively, this period under the Universal Studios contract was unfulfilling for Farrell, who longed for a role he could feel proud of. Luckily, though, the string of guest appearances proved fruitful, as the actor was recognized for his efforts by the producers of hit army-medical comedy/drama M*A*S*H. The show was a rarity among that season's (or any) television lineup; the cast could see major shakeups without the show dipping in quality.

"The characters stay consistent because we have a nurturing atmosphere," Farrell told The Washington Post in '79. "It started when Gene Reynolds was producing the series. The cast came in, sat around the table, and read the script. When the reading was finished, Gene asked everyone to think about his part and to offer suggestions."

"This is unheard of in television," said Farrell. "On most shows they not only don't care what the actors think, they would prefer actors who don't think."

In M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell found not only a role he was proud to play but also a creative team that valued his input and creativity.

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12 Comments

Wiseguy70005 12 months ago
Petticoat Junction was not a victim of the rural purge. After Bea Benaderet's death in 1968 the ratings started to fall. A series finale was filmed in 1969 (Betty Jo was pregnant again) and that was that. Until CBS realized they needed more color episodes for syndication, so they actually BROUGHT IT BACK for one final year. The baby storyline was dropped and the series was scheduled to end in 1970, which it did. Had absolutely nothing to do with the rural purge.
Wiseguy70005 12 months ago
"The characters stay consistent because we have a nurturing atmosphere..."
Seriously? Has he seen the last few years of the series? Consistent?
He said it in 1979
JHP 12 months ago
I remember so vividly the 1st ep of BJ on MASH

Was that a stuntman that crashed belly side down (in the mudhole) during the aid scene? Whoever that was,, had to really really hurt - it was no chicken crap pro soccer ouch-ie
LoveMETV22 13 months ago
"It started when Gene Reynolds was producing the series. The cast came in, sat around the table, and read the script. When the reading was finished, Gene asked everyone to think about his part and to offer suggestions."
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Most likely the allowance of creative input from the actors had something to do with the success the series achieved,JMO.
CaptainDunsel 13 months ago
One other stop along the road was the Gene Roddenberry helmed pilot "The Questor Tapes". Farrell's "Jerry Robinson" would have been counterpoint to Robert Foxworth's "Questor". But the network wanted Roddenberry to drop that character (and make other dumb format changes) so Roddenberry ultimately walked away from the deal.
Andybandit 13 months ago
B.J. was my favorite character on MASH. I am probably the only one who liked him better than Trapper.
MrsPhilHarris Andybandit 13 months ago
I’m at the opposite end. He was my least favourite. 🤭
RobMastroianni Andybandit 12 months ago
I liked all of the characters and seen every episode several times.

I prefer to watch Season 4 onward, when Potter and B.J. joined.
Zip 13 months ago
Once again, Mike is another actor who I only remember seeing on one show. In his case, MASH. Harry Morgan I remember of course from Dragnet; Alan Alda from The Carol Burnett Show and some boring, depressing movies; William Christopher from The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC; Jamie Farr from The Night Stalker and Gomer Pyle; etc.
Not that he didn't do a great job in his role a"Beej," becasue he did. It is just that I never saw him in anything else.
JHP Zip 12 months ago
actually he played a nasty perp on - I think on Cannon or Barnaby Jones
Runeshaper 13 months ago
"In M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell found not only a role he was proud to play but also a creative team that valued his input and creativity." - This says it all (-:
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