Wayne Rogers, and why we needed ‘M*A*S*H’

Published 5:31 PM EST, Fri January 1, 2016
In this photo provided by CBS, Wayne Rogers poses for a photo in his character of Trapper John McIntyre from the television series "M*A*S*H," in an undated photo. Rogers has died. The actor was surrounded by family when he died Thursday, Dec. 31 in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia at age 82, his publicist and longtime friend Rona Menashe told The Associated Press.
CBS/AP
In this photo provided by CBS, Wayne Rogers poses for a photo in his character of Trapper John McIntyre from the television series "M*A*S*H," in an undated photo. Rogers has died. The actor was surrounded by family when he died Thursday, Dec. 31 in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia at age 82, his publicist and longtime friend Rona Menashe told The Associated Press.
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Story highlights

David Bianculli: Wayne Rogers' death hit a nerve because of importance of "M*A*S*H" in TV's evolution, especially its comment on war

He says Rogers' character Trapper John left show early on, but was foundational in setting groundbreaking show's funny/serious tone

Editor’s Note: David Bianculli is founder and editor of TVWorthWatching.com and teaches TV and film at Rowan University in New Jersey. He also is TV critic and guest host for NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The Platinum Age of Television: An Evolutionary History of Quality TV” (Doubleday), from which this commentary is adapted. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

(CNN) —  

The outpouring of sadness at the death of Wayne Rogers on Thursday at age 82 is inseparable from TV viewers’ feelings for the character he played and the show on which he played it: the beloved CBS sitcom “M*A*S*H.”

David Bianculli
David Bianculli

Rogers was an original cast member of the series, which ran from 1972 to 1983, when it said goodbye with what still ranks as the top-rated scripted TV show of all time. Rogers, though, had said goodbye to “M*A*S*H” after just three years, leaving to pursue other interests – but never again finding as identifiable or popular a role.

His character, Trapper John, was originally written as an unmarried playboy using the war as an excuse to misbehave, but as the early years went on he was seen more and more as a co-conspirator and even sidekick to Alan Alda’s character, Hawkeye Pierce. (That secondary position reportedly led to his decision to leave the show.)

But as a there-at-the-creation cast member, his easygoing, affable, and not-easily-thrown character is indelibly associated with a show that resonated deeply with viewers in the 1970s and 1980s.

“M*A*S*H” was developed for television by Larry Gelbart from Robert Altman’s groundbreaking 1970 black comedy about a mobile army surgical hospital working near the front lines during the Korean War. In reshaping “MASH” for TV, Gelbart and his partners did a lot more than just add asterisks.

On television, “M*A*S*H” lasted for 11 years — nearly four times as long as the Korean War itself, which stretched from 1950 to 1953. “M*A*S*H” was a Top 10 show for most of its run, and won 11 Emmys, including one for outstanding comedy series in 1974, and several for star Alan Alda and other cast members.