W*A*L*T*E*R


Gary Burghoff returned to the role of Walter O’Reilly for this 1984 CBS pilot that wasn’t picked up. The year was 1954 and Walter had lost his farm and his wife and was a rookie cop working in St. Louis with his cousin, dealing with a pickpocket and strippers. CBS burned the pilot off in July 1984 but it was only broadcast in the Eastern and Central time zones.

Burghoff Returns To “Radar” Role

M*A*S*H is one of television’s most beloved sitcoms and one of its longest-running. On the air from September 1972 to February 1983, the series ran for eleven seasons and 251 episodes. Like the 1970 film MASH, the series was based on a 1968 novel written by Richard Hooker. Perhaps the most popular character to appear on the series was Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, played by Gary Burghoff.

Burghoff originated the role of Radar in the film MASH and was the only main cast member to return for the television series. After seven seasons on the show, from 1972 to 1979, Burghoff decide to leave the series. He made cameo appearances in two early episodes of the eighth season when it premiered in September 1979 followed by a two-part farewell episode broadcast the following month. But Burghoff’s association with M*A*S*H had not ended.

When M*A*S*H came to an end in February 1983, a spin-off called AfterMASH was developed for the 1983-1984 season. It premiered in September 1983. In December of that year TV Guide reported that Burghoff would be appearing as Radar in an upcoming episode of AfterMASH, suggesting that it would “serve as the vehicle for yet another M*A*S*H spin-off, this one to star Burghoff” [1].

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Burghoff made a cameo appearance at the tail end of the January 16th, 1984 episode of AfterMASH, seen rehearsing for his wedding. That was followed with a full-fledged guest appearance in the January 23rd episode in which he shows up at the doorstep of his former commanding officer, Sherman Potter, having run out on his bride-to-be shortly before the wedding. They later reconciled and were married.

In a January 20th interview with Vernon Scott for United Press International, Burghoff explained why he left M*A*S*H: “I couldn’t function anymore. I’d given all I had to give to the part and to the show. I cared too much to give less than my best. I’d lost my vitality” [2]. Only days after departing M*A*S*H, Warner Bros. approached him about starring in a new series, offering him a $4 million contract. But it would require him to play a character very similar to Radar so he turned them down [3].

20th Century Fox, the production company behind M*A*S*H, would later ask Burghoff to star in a series in which he would portray Radar as a civilian. Again he turned down the offer [4]. So why did he agree to return for AfterMASH? By the time producers Larry Gelbart and Bert Metcalfe called him in February 1983 and asked if he was interested in a guest appearance, Burghoff had spent a number of years out of the public eye, appearing on stage in a number of plays, and was able to return to the role of Radar without letting it consume him [5].

In early March 1983, Broadcasting reported that one of its 19 pilots for the 1984-1985 season was a half-hour sitcom titled “Radar” that would star Gary Burghoff as Radar O’Reilly, working as a police officer in Kansas City [6]. It would be produced by 20th Century-Fox Television; Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf would write the pilot episode [7]. The setting for the pilot was soon moved to St. Louis. Filming began on March 26th [8].

On April 9th, John Carmody reported in his “TV Column” for The Washington Post that “Radar” was under consideration for the 1984-1985 season [9]. However, when CBS announced its schedule for the upcoming season at the beginning of May, “Radar” was not on it [10]. The network ultimately decided to broadcast the pilot, now called “W*A*L*T*E*R,” as a CBS Special Presentation on Tuesday, July 17th, 1984 from 8-8:30PM.

Where Did The Pilot Air

The 1984 Democratic National Convention convened in San Francisco on Monday, July 16th. “W*A*L*T*E*R” was scheduled to air the following day. That night, the networks all planned live coverage of the convention from 9-11PM (Eastern Time). On CBS, “W*A*L*T*E*R” would air from 8-8:30PM, followed by another unsold pilot starring Hal Linden called “Second Edition” from 8:30-9PM. Then live convention coverage would begin.

In the Eastern and Pacific time zones, prime time runs from 8-11PM local time. In the Central and Mountain time zones, prime-time runs from 7-10PM. So, when CBS affiliates in the Eastern time zone were showing “W*A*L*T*E*R” at 8PM, affiliates in the Central time zone were showing it at 7PM (and affiliates in the Mountain and Pacific time zones were showing local programming). At 9PM in the Eastern time zone, live coverage of the convention began — at 8PM Central, 7PM Mountain and 6PM Pacific.

Gary Burghoff as Walter O'Reilly
Gary Burghoff as Walter O’Reilly

According to national Nielsen ratings, CBS’s coverage of the convention ran from 9-11:28PM (Eastern Time) [11]. In the Mountain time zone, coverage of the convention pre-empted the bulk of prime-time (from 7-9:28PM, local time) and “W*A*L*T*E*R” was never aired. In the Pacific time zone, the convention pre-empted the 8-8:28PM half-hour, local time, when “W*A*L*T*E*R” would have been shown.

Thus, it appears that “W*A*LT*E*R” was only shown in the Eastern and Central time zones. It is possible that CBS affiliates in the Mountain and Pacific time zones were allowed to air the pilot at a later time or even reschedule it for a later date. Unconfirmed reports suggest that it may have aired in some parts of those time zones.

Plot And Characters

When viewers last saw Walter O’Reilly at the end of the the January 23rd, 1984 episode AfterMASH, it was early 1954 and he had just married his sweetheart Sandy after forgiving her for fooling around with Claude Greevy. At the start of “W*A*L*T*E*R” it was October 1954 and Walter was a rookie cop living with his cousin Wendell Micklejohn (played by Ray Buktenica) in St. Louis. The two were late for work but wanted to see the start of Walter’s interview with reporter Clete Roberts on television.

Roberts (who had guest starred in two episodes of M*A*S*H as himself) explained that he was catching up with members of M*A*S*H 4077th to see how they were dealing with civilian life. As the interview unfolded over the course of the pilot, Walter revealed that he had refused government subsidies and shortly thereafter lost his family farm. He sent his mother to live with his aunt and moved to St. Louis to become a police officer. Walter also explains that while on their honeymoon, Sandy had left him for Claude Greevy. Contemplating suicide, he wandered into a drugstore where he met the clerk, Victoria (played by Victoria Jackson), who took pity on him and cheered him up. The two became good friends.

While out on patrol, Walter and Wendell were victimized by a pickpocket, leaving Walter distraught because he kept his M*A*S*H picture in his wallet. Before they could investigate, they were sent to deal with a disturbance at a local theater involving a pair of strippers. The two were fighting about a missing bird, which Walter soon located.

Ray Buktenica as Wendell Micklejohn
Ray Buktenica as Wendell Micklejohn

Back on patrol, Walter spotted the pickpocket and gave chase with Wendell right behind him. They caught up with the boy but after learning he didn’t have a record, Wendell took off, leaving Walter to take the boy to get a root beer float at the drugstore where Victoria worked. They guilted him into returning Walter’s wallet and Walter made him promise to stay out of trouble and to show up at the drugstore every Saturday afternoon to talk.

The main cast of the pilot consisted of Burghoff, Buktenica and Jackson along with Noble Willingham as Sergeant Sowell, Walter and Wendell’s boss. Guest stars included Sam Scarber, Lyman Ward, Sarah Abrell and Larry Cedar as other police officers; Victoria Carroll and June Berry as Bubbles Sincere and Dixie Devoe, the strippers; and Meeno Peluce as Elston Krannick, the pickpocket.

Had the pilot been picked up, the resulting series would no doubt have followed Walter as his police career unfolded, his budding romance with Victoria and perhaps his friendship with Elston.

Why W*A*L*T*E*R Failed

“W*A*L*T*E*R” ranked 33rd for the week in the Nielsen ratings, ahead of “Second Edition” which ranked 44th [12]. Tied for 28th were the Tuesday Democratic National Convention coverage on CBS and the Wednesday coverage on ABC [13]. As late as mid-August, Gary Burghoff was still waiting to hear if CBS planned on picking up “W*A*L*T*E*R”. Speaking of the pilot, he said “I feel like I’ve proved that I’m still able to play Walter, even after playing other roles” [14].

However, by burning the pilot off during the summer months CBS had made it very clear it not interested in turning “W*A*L*T*E*R” as a full-fledged series. AfterMASH ended its regular run in December 1984, although one last episode was burned off in May 1985. Although M*A*S*H continues to be shown on television and has been released on DVD, neither AfterMASH nor “W*A*L*T*E*R” have ever been repeated or made available commercially.

Victoria Jackson as Victoria
Victoria Jackson as Victoria

“W*A*L*T*E*R” remains a curiosity for M*A*S*H fans as well as something of a cautionary tale. It was an attempt to sell a series solely on the popularity of a character. Not Gary Burghoff the actor who played Radar O’Reilly but on the character of Radar O’Reilly. A character that hadn’t been seen regularly on television for five years.

And yet, the pilot took Radar out of the picture entirely, focusing instead on Walter O’Reilly. And without Radar, there was nothing to distinguish Walter O’Reilly from any other police officer new to the job. The handful of nods to Radar’s precognition in the pilot seemed out of place and his relationships were undeveloped at best.

As for Burghoff, in October 1984 he told the Hartford Courant‘s Cynthia Wolfson that CBS had passed on “W*A*L*T*E*R” because “they’ve taken all the situation comedies off — replacing them with those nighttime soap opera dramas, continuing sagas. I personally feel that that kind of fare has its place. What bothers me is when it takes over” [15].

Works Cited:

1 “Grapevine.” TV Guide. 24 Dec. 1983: A-2.
2 Scott, Vernon. “Scott’s World: Gary Burghoff Visit’s ‘AfterMASH’.” United Press International. 20 Jan. 1984: BC Cycle.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 “Networks sign up fall pilots looking for the right stuff.” Broadcasting. 5 Mar. 1984: 62.
7 Ibid.
8 Smith, Liz. “Choreogrpaher Has Scandalous Plans.” Palm Beach Post [West Palm Beach, FL]. 20 Mar. 1984: C2.
9 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 9 Apr. 1984: B8.
10 “ABC and CBS get set for fall.” Broadcasting. 7 May 1984: 45-46.
11 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 20 Jul. 1984: D6.
12 “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 25 Jul. 1984: D12.
13 Ibid.
14 “People in the News.” Associated Press. 16 Aug. 1984: AM Cycle.
15 Wolfson, Cynthia. “A Brief Encounter with Gary Burghoff.” Hartford Courant. 14 Oct. 1984: K30.

Originally Published February 15th, 2005
Last Updated July 16th, 2014

29 Comments

  • martin wilkins says:

    is it possbile to by this?

  • carlleigh says:

    I’d buy a DVD with W*A*L*T*E*R and the AfterMash episodes including the un-aired episodes. Throw in the script for known but never produced AfterMash episodes and you’d have quite an interesting DVD.

  • Thomas says:

    WEre can i get the full episode?

  • Thomas says:

    Plus Aftermash

  • Christina Archer says:

    It’s rather sad. Gary Burghoff had owngrown Radar.

  • DuMont says:

    For an east/central-only broadcast, ‘W*A*L*T*E*R’ got a damned fine Nielsen, garnering an 8.6HH in the finals.

    ‘W*A*L*T*E*R’ beat out the 8:30 pm CBS Special Presentation of the passed-over pilot ‘Second Edition’ 7.4HH, and it also beat out the ABC 8:00 pm show ‘Foul-ups, Bleeps & Blunders’ at 7.2HH and the ABC 8:30 pm show ‘Three’s Company’ encore at 8.5HH. It did lose to ‘The A-Team’ (8-9pm) which got 15.8HH, but the NBC show may have benefited from higher clearances as affiliates in the mountain/pacific zones delayed the show until the ‘Democratic National Convention’ overrun ended.

  • I remember watching this pilot in Collinsville, Illinois at age 14. Something screwy happened with the broadcast, though, and the sound wasn’t working for about half the show. Consequently I had no idea what the show was about. I remember being pretty disappointed about it.

  • jules says:

    I think if you buy the box set of MASH you get after mash and walter…i downloaded aftermash and walter, i am halfway through season 9 of MASH now, and then will follow with after mash and walter which i have never seen before :) I love MASH, Hockeye is the best

  • Anthony says:

    what Jules says is not correct , in no region in any form of the box set , for which there are 4 releases do you get After mash or walter

  • John Elson says:

    It’s odd that they say it was pre-empted on the the west coast because I live in Sacramento and I remember seeing it. Perhaps the individual affiliates had some choice in this.

  • BrainWells says:

    I heard there was a spin-off with Rizzo and Igor as aluminium siding salesmen. Has anyone seen a script for this? Did it ever air in the states?

    • karzan says:

      Sometime during 84-85, while stationed in New Zealand, I vaguely remember seeing a show with Rizzo and Igor.
      I think that this is the show that you are referencing. I think that it was called, A*L*U*M*I*N*U*M*.

  • MICHAEL MICKELSON says:

    you would also have to add “Trapper John MD” to the list of Mash spinoffs to buy as well.

    • Jerry says:

      I believe “Trapper John, MD” is considered more a spinoff from the movie, not the series (in the sense of AfterMASH or WALTER).

  • MICHAEL MICKELSON says:

    and then you really need “the Memories of MASH” reunion show to go with the set

  • MICHAEL MICKELSON says:

    the 30th Anniversary Mash reunion show as well

  • Steve says:

    The episodes of after mash and Walter are. ” hidden” on the mash dvds

    • MulcahysGirl says:

      Which M*A*S*H DVDs are AfterMASH and Walter “hidden” on? I have Season 8 and the series finale of M*A*S*H on DVD and neither one of those shows are on there.

  • Cynthia says:

    Gary Burghoff should have stayed with MASH until the end of its run. The two-part “Goodbye, Radar” was heart-breaking, not only because Radar was leaving, but because the Radar everyone knew and loved was gone. In that episode Radar suddenly loses his innocence and naivete and becomes sardonic, sarcastic, bitter and humorless. He’s not “Radar” anymore. But once he leaves the 4077, he reverts back to his old self, judging from the letter he sents Potter after he gets back home.

    What was done to sweet little Radar in the tv series “Walter” is ghastly. His loses the beloved farm, his wife jilts him, his mother is packed off to an aunt, and he attempts suicide! Wow! What a basis for a comedy series!

    Radar, as everyone knew him and loved him, was gone. In his place was a very boring, not very interesting person named Walter. No wonder nobody wanted to watch this series. It’s a shame, because Radar O’Reilly was such a great character, probably the most appealing character on MASH. It’s sad to see him morph into a such a bland loser.

  • MrD says:

    I hate it when spin-offs formulate improbable outcomes for old characters simply out of expediency. This reminds me of the All in the Family spin-off CBS did with Sally Struthers. We had grown to love Mike and Gloria in the original series, but in the spin-off we were told that Mike had deserted Gloria and their child to join a commune. Thanks CBS for maligning a well loved character for what was essentially a throwaway joke line on a lame spin-off.

    If we’re going for an improbable outcome for Radar, here’s a better one: Radar falls in love with Park Sung, the Korean guy that the MASH gang sent Radar to help with the farm in “The Foresight Saga.” Then the couple, along with Radar’s mom, open the world’s first bed and breakfast in Ottumwa, Iowa. If it were a spin-off it would be called “The Life of O’Reilly.”

    • Wiseguy70005 says:

      “This reminds me of the All in the Family spin-off CBS did with Sally Struthers. We had grown to love Mike and Gloria in the original series, but in the spin-off we were told that Mike had deserted Gloria and their child to join a commune.”

      The problems with Mike and Gloria started in the All in the Family series itself when, after moving to California in mid-1978, Mike and Gloria separated and Gloria had an affair with a married man (“California, Here We Are,” 12/17/78). Although they did reunite (and appeared the following season on Archie Bunker’s Place) their marriage obviously had problems and they eventually divorced.

  • pemory says:

    I was able to see the W*A*L*T*E*R* pilot via YouTube.

  • Cynthia Levin says:

    Burghoff’s appearances on AftrerMASH were NOT “cameos.” Cameos are brief, un-billed appearances, not guest shots, which these were. You may want to consider using words correctly!

    • Wiseguy70005 says:

      A cameo is defined as “A brief but dramatic appearance of a prominent actor in a single scene in a television show or in a motion picture.” This indeed fits Burghoff’s appearance in the two M*A*S*H episodes of the eighth season mentioned as well as the first appearance on AfterMASH. The second AfterMASH appearance was described as a “full-fledged” appearance, not a cameo.

  • V.E.G. says:

    W*A*L*T*E*R was aired exactly one day before the McDonald’s Massacre in San Ysidro, California. Possibly, Laurence Herman “Gus” Versluis saw it before he died very unexpectedly.

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  • Wiseguy70005 says:

    There were 255 episodes of M*A*S*H plus the finale. Any other count is wrong (251 is the number of broadcasts, including hour-long broadcasts which are composed of two episodes). Each half hour of M*A*S*H has its own production code (look at the end credits).

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