Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Although M*A*S*H entered its fifth season with the cast from season four intact--including relative newcomers Mike Farrell as B.J. Hunnicut and Harry Morgan as Col. Sherman Potter--the production roster was short one significant name. Producer and co-creator Larry Gelbart had exited the series at the end of the 1974-75, declaring that he had contributed all he could to the project and was now prepared to move on. This left the lion's share of the creative decisions in the hands of series star Alan Alda, aka Hawkeye Pierce, who had already written and/or directed a number of episodes. Another M*A*S*H stalwart was indicating that he, too, was feeling creatively confined by the series. Larry Linville, who since the beginning of the program in 1972 had functioned as the 4077th's resident nemesis in the role of xenophobic, incompetent surgeon Maj. Frank Burns, had been issuing public complaints that his character had not been allowed to grow and mature as had the other M*A*S*H regulars. Also, since the decision had been made to marry off Burns' mistress Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit) to dashing officer Donald Penobscott, Frank was becoming gratuitous and redundant. By the end of season five, Larry Linville followed the lead of such former regulars as Maclean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers) by leaving the series to pursue more artistically satisfying projects. Linville's discomfiture did not, however, extend to the other M*A*S*H cast members. In particular, William Christopher had every reason to welcome the beginning of the fifth season with open arms. Having long been consigned to the "featured players" roster in the closing cast of each episode, Christopher had finally graduated to series-regular status--with commensurate billing at the beginning of the program--in his role as the 4077th's mild-mannered but strong-willed chaplain, Father John Mulcahy. Having been toppled from the "Top Ten" by CBS's reckless decision to schedule the series opposite NBC's Friday-night blockbuster Chico and the Man during season five, M*A*S*H had begun regaining lost ground in December of 1975, when the network shifted the program to Tuesday evenings. It remained a solid Tuesday hit throughout the 1976-77 season, climbing back to fourth place in the ratings. The series also picked up two more Emmy Awards, for Gary Burghoff (aka Cpl. Radar O'Reilly) as best supporting player in a continuing series and for Alan Alda as best director (for the episode "Dear Sigmund").