In this M*A*S*H spin-off, Gary Burghoff stars as rookie cop Walter O’Reilly, working in St. Louis alongside is cousin, dealing with pickpockets and strippers. CBS aired the pilot in July 1984 but only in the Eastern and Central time zones.

Burghoff Returns To “Radar” Role

M*A*S*H is one of TV’s most beloved sitcoms and one of its longest-running. On the air from September 1972 to February 1983, the series ran for 11 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 TV series. After seven seasons on the show, from 1972 to 1979, Burghoff decide to leave the show. 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 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 by 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 1984, Broadcasting reported that one of the 19 CBS 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]. 20th Century-Fox Television would produce with Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf writing the script [7]. The setting for the pilot was soon moved to St. Louis. Filming began on March 26th [8].

On April 9th, The Washington Post reported that “Radar” was under consideration for the 1984-1985 season [9]. However, when CBS announced its schedule 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.

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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 were able to guilt him into returning the wallet. Walter also 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 but Radar O’Reilly, the character he played. A character that hadn’t been seen regularly on TV 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. “Choreographer 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 April 25th, 2018

61 Replies to “W*A*L*T*E*R”

    1. No, it’s not; you have to get it off of YouTube ( if somebody recorded it and then posted it onto YouTube) with a downloader program (or just get YouTube Premium, which gives you the ability to download videos off of YouTube) and then you can make into a DVD or just watch it.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

    1. 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*.

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

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.”

    1. “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.

      1. At least the British progenitor of Mike Stivic, Mike Rawlins, never did that to his wife on Till Death Us Do Part (the show that All In The Family was based on.) That was a sad thing to happen to American Mike, and I wonder if that was because of personal matters and because Reagan got elected POTUS, along with the neocon change his election brought to American society.

  10. 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!

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Hey There. I found your blog the usage of msn. That iss an extremely neatly written article.
    I will make sure to bookmark it and return to learn extra of your useful info.
    Thanks for thhe post. I’ll certainly comeback.

  13. 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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  15. The MASH series, writers, directors and cast are nothing.short of Iconic. I wanna express my sincere thanks for all the great years of work and.classic entertainment. I had to mature to appreciate it since I was 9 at the start. Its a staple once again due to Netflix. Thanks guys n gals for timeless television.

    1. Jake, thank you for providing the link. I just watched the pilot, directed by Bill Bixby, and found it improbable. Two rookie cops sent out together on their first day — wouldn’t it make more sense to team them up with experienced beat cops?

      It was silly, and I doubt it would have lasted long as a series, but I’m glad I watched it. A few years earlier innocent Walter — who gained the nickname Radar — had been sent to a war zone. Now an older man, who wants people to forget his nickname, is put into another “foreign” setting, He bumbles along, but makes some friends, and I’m sure he’ll make out fine. Best of luck to you, Walter O’Reilly.

  16. It’s a shame Radar left just when hot-lips had started to grow-up and would have treated him with some dignity. That would have been nice to see after all the abuse she heaped on him throughout the years.

    1. She did admit that she liked him in “Goodbye, Radar, Part 2”. She then gave him a big kiss in front of Winchester (after which Radar remarked “Va-va-voom, Hot Lips!”, maybe saying that name for the last time in the series. Then the last thing she said to him was “You’re ok!”, so they ended well anyway.

  17. No one has ever commented on how inaprpopiate the title was. First of all, although Walter was the characters given name, most viewers knew him as Radar, so that should have been the title. However, what really gets my goat is the astericks. I suspect CBS thought that since it was a MASH spinoff, they should be there. The fact is MASH was shorthand for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, where the letters in Walter mean absolutely nothing. By that logic, the other spinoff should have been spelled A*F*T*E*R*M*A*S*H, but thank goodness it wasn’t. And could you even imagine a show called T*R*A*P*P*E*R J*O*H*N M*D*?

  18. you said Gary Burghoff was the only one from the movie to reprise his rope in the series. He wasn’t; Gene Woods played Gen. Hammond in the movie and the first season of the show.

  19. MASH is one of my all-time favourite sitcoms. I continue to watch re-runs on television, and have the DVD set as well. I can never figure out why the writers can’t remember what they wrote in prior episodes though. The show has discrepancies. For instance, in the pilot, Hawkeye has parents that Ho-Jon can stay with, and in all other episodes he only has a father. In another episode Blake refers to his wife as Mildred, and in others it’s Lorraine. Mildred ends up being Potter’s wife’s name. But the biggy for me is why the writer’s made Radar such a wimp. In the early episodes he smokes, drinks, and even talks to women. He even had a girlfriend back home who jilted him…. sent him a Dear John letter on a record. Afterwards, he drinks grape kneehigh, chokes at a sip of booze, and he’s a virgin. Still a great character and all, but what gives… ya know.

    1. I don’t know how many writers were involved in creating scripts, but it wouldn’t have been the writers fault for not knowing what another person wrote in a script the writer may not have seen as a completed episode. However, there should have been someone in charge of continuity to correct a wrong name or other detail before filming began.

      As for the changes in Radar — if he had been smoking and drinking in early episodes it would have odd for him to stop doing so later on. However I see nothing wrong with him being jilted by a girlfriend, and yet still being a virgin. Dating someone does not always mean “going all the way” with the person.

  20. A few years ago, a guy on-line was selling some DVDs with the AfterMash episodes (they were poor quality, as if they had been kinescoped) and W*A*L*T*E*R thrown in as a “bonus.” I’m not sure these can be had by any other means, and even if they look like early 1950s TV in quality (appropriate, I guess, for the time portrayed), they were worth the relatively low cost to any MASH fan if for nothing else than their value as historic curiosities. I watched AfterMash, which had some definite potential out of the gate, but it soon clearly was thrashing around for focus and direction despite the presence of Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr, and William Christopher in it. Good acting just did not make up for increasingly poor plots and scripts, not to mention the revolving door of supporting cast. W*A*L*T*E*R was even worse. I would not have watched more than the first few minutes had I not determined to see what it was clear through. It wasn’t much.

  21. Own the complete collection box set on DVD and I am sad to report that neither this pilot nor After M*A*S*H are present in the box set. The 30th Anniversary Reunion, Memories of M*A*S*H and M*A*S*H: Television’s Serious Sitcom (as seen on Biography) are available on the Bonus Features of the standalone release of Goodbye, Farewell & Amen

    (Available at https://www.amazon.com/Goodbye-Farewell-Amen-Alan-Alda/dp/B000OT6V1E/ref=tmm_dvd_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1581979582&sr=8-1)

  22. I can’t believe Gary Burghoff would want his character to end this way. Does anyone know if he has ever commented on this. What a disservice to Radar imho.

    1. This was not a disservice to the character, this was reality, and it was most likely done because they thought that Walter needed to have a shakeup. If I were writing the show, Walter would go back into the armed forces and work in the same hospital that After M*A*S*H* is set in, or I’d have him experience what the writer of the novel M*A*S*H* experienced in the sequel novels ( if Walter had been featured in any more of the novel [something tells me that Walter stayed in the armed forces in the novels, which he could’ve done in this TV pilot if he knew what was going to happen to him.])

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