Killing Henry Blake

Without a doubt, M.A.S.H. set the bar pretty high for all the shows that followed, with multiple subplots during half-an-hour episodes, with comedy and drama mixed to great effect. But, during its 11 seasons, the series changed its cast many times, with some of the changes remaining in the history of all television shows – whether it is a good thing or a bad one, it is up to the fans to decide.

Of course, everybody remembers that John Francis Xavier ‘Trapper’ McIntyre was discharged after the third season. However, the most brutal recasting was the one of Henry Blake (played by McLean Stevenson) in the same episode, Abyssinia, Henry.

This was the most important change made in the cast, with the viewers left in a state of shock. It was a realistic scenario, in which Henry Blake was discharged and was on his way home. However, over the Sea of Japan, his plane was shot down and he was killed.

But it wasn’t a surprise just for the fans at home, but also for the rest of the actors. While everybody knew that it was McLean Stevenson’s last day on the set, the script was changed in the last minute and only the producers and Alan Alda knew what was going to happen.

Naturally, the scene was supposed to be one in which Radar comes and announces that the lieutenant-colonel arrived home safely. So you can guess that the reactions seen in the episode are as genuine as possible.

But then again the reactions of the fans prompted the producers to promise to never dismiss a character in such a way ever again. Furthermore, the next evening after Abyssinia, Henry was aired, during The Carol Burnett Show, a picture of McLean Stevenson was showed: he was on a raft, waving his hands, basically saying that everything was OK and that he escaped.

As a little trivia information, I can say that this departure was so influential that McLeaning became a term used especially by television producers every time a character was killed off because the actor playing him decided to leave a show.

(later on, McLean Stevenson regretted his decision, saying that he thought the viewers loved him, when they actually loved Henry Blake instead).

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