What led to the departure of key characters in M*A*S*H over the seasons?

What were the reasons behind the exit of significant characters from M*A*S*H, and how were these exits handled in the show's plotline?

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"M*A*S*H," the iconic television series that aired from 1972 to 1983, saw the departure of several key characters throughout its long run. These departures were due to a variety of reasons, and the show handled each exit in its unique narrative style. 1. **McLean Stevenson (Lt. Colonel Henry Blake)**: Stevenson left the show after the third season, looking to pursue other opportunities and potentially star in his own show. The departure of Henry Blake was handled with a shocking twist — his character was discharged from the Army and sent home, only for the viewers and characters to learn at the end of the episode that his plane had been shot down, with no survivors. This was a dramatic and unprecedented move for a sitcom at the novelty of the departure had a lasting impact. 2. **Wayne Rogers (Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre)**: Rogers departed the series after the third season due to a contract dispute and dissatisfaction with his character’s development. In the narrative, Trapper was discharged from the military between seasons, and his absence was explained in the first episode of the fourth season. 3. **Larry Linville (Major Frank Burns)**: Linville left after the fifth season, feeling that he had fully explored the character of Frank Burns and that there was little room for growth or change. When Linville exited, the show wrote Burns out by sending him stateside after a nervous breakdown following Margaret Houlihan's marriage to Donald Penobscott. 4. **Gary Burghoff (Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly)**: Burghoff was one of the few actors to transition from the film version of "M*A*S*H" to the TV series. He left the show in its eighth season because of burnout and the desire to spend more time with his family. The character of Radar, who was essential to the daily operations of the MASH unit, was discharged to return home and help on his family’s farm after the death of his uncle. 5. **Mike Farrell (Captain B.J. Hunnicutt), Harry Morgan (Colonel Sherman T. Potter), and Loretta Swit (Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan)** all stayed on until the show ended. However, the series did see other additions and cast shifts such as the introduction of characters like Major Charles Winchester, Colonel Potter, and Captain B.J. Hunnicutt who replaced Frank Burns, Henry Blake, and Trapper John, respectively, providing fresh dynamics to the ensemble. The show's producers and writers artfully used these departures as opportunities to explore the themes of loss, change, and the realities of life during wartime. "M*A*S*H" is remembered for adeptly mixing humor and drama, and the heartfelt goodbyes to beloved characters only heightened the emotional impact of the series. As a result, the show was able to successfully integrate new characters and storylines while maintaining high quality and popularity throughout its impressive run.
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