M*A*S*H and Trapper John, M.D.

M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
Trapper John, M.D. (1979-1986)
Type: Spin Off... or is it?
Group: 2

    Trapper John, M.D. was a straightforward classic spin off with three minor exceptions. First of all, it is a drama spun off of a comedy. Aside from Lou Grant spinning off Mary Tyler Moore I can't think of another case of this. Secondly, it's a spin off where the character spun off was not played by the actor who played the part on the original show. Oh yeah, and thirdly,it's kinda not even a spin off at all. I'll get to that in a minute. Heh heh.

    Wayne Rogers was approached to reprise his role of Trapper John from M*A*S*H but turned it down saying he did not want to play a doctor on TV again. Oddly enough he then went on to play another doctor in the sitcom House Calls. Go figure.

    Pernell Roberts took up the role of Trapper John instead. Past the fact he was supposedly the same character, the only other mention of the original show came in the first episode. When we first see Trapper, he is asleep and clearly dreaming about his time in Korea. Talking in his sleep he calls out the names of a number of characters from M*A*S*H. "Radar! Hawkeye! Henry!" One of the nurse's on the show was also supposedly a friend from Korea but not one I think we were ever actually introduced to on M*A*S*H.

   Now for all intents and purposes, this show was in fact a full fledge spin off. CBS put it on at a time when M*A*S*H was still a huge hit. The network used that fact to draw viewers to Trapper John and even promoted it as a spin off. Given that the network promoted it as a spin off and the general population views it as one it clearly is one... but it also strangely enough isn't.

   This would be where you all go, "Huh?" It has been brought to my attention that in a bizarre nit-picky way, this show was actually a spin off of the movie M*A*S*H and not of the TV series. "How can that be? What's the difference? Same characters, same situation in both. What the heck?"

   Here's the deal. Some of the folks over at M*A*S*H the series were looking to get cut in on getting screen credit and maybe some cash for Trapper John, M.D. based on it being a spin off of their show. They went to court over it. Not wanting to hand over credits or cash if they didn't have to (and who in Hollywood wants to give any amount of either away unless they have to) the folks behind Trapper John, M.D. stood on the ground that their show wasn't based on the sitcom Trapper John but rather on the feature film Trapper John. The judge bought the idea. So while in the minds of the public Trapper John, M.D. is a spin off of M*A*S*H the series, legally speaking it is a spin off of M*A*S*H the movie and more of a sister-program to M*A*S*H the series. Madness. You gotta think that if Wayne Rogers had decided to star in the show this defense would have been impossibly more difficult to sell.

Trapper John people: Sure we have Wayne Rogers playing Trapper John but he's playing Trapper John from the movie ya see... yeah that's it.

Judge: Answer one of these two questions for me. One, how stupid do I look or, two, what the hell are you smoking? Its a %*^*&% spin off of the show. Case closed!

   In point of fact there are differences between the movie Trapper and the sitcom Trapper. For example, the movie Trap was a single man without kids. The sitcom Trap was married with two kids. The Trapper John, M.D. Trap? He was divorced with two kids. However the timeline of when he was married was such that he married and had his kids after coming back from Korea. So the Trapper John, M.D. managed to have it both ways. On casual observation he sure seemed to be the sitcom Trapper. To realize he wasn't you had to sit down and do some math regarding marriage and birthday dates which, of course, nobody does. And even if someone did, they'd likely just think the inconsistencies were a mistake in the writing. I mean over the course of the series The Fugitive, lead character Richard Kimble was credited with so many past jobs and positions that if you add up all the time necessary for him to do them all he would have to be 87 years old.

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