According to Mitchell Zuckoff’s “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography,” Altman flat-out despised the television iteration of “M*A*S*H” on general principle. Per Altman:
“I wouldn’t even mess around with that television series. I mean, I’ve never seen one of those episodes all the way through—never seen one. I don’t like it, and I don’t like any of those people.”
It’s one thing to hate the show, but to abhor the people involved in it seems a tad harsh. Larry Gelbart, who developed the series, was a terrifically talented writer who earned a well-deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for “Tootsie.” As for the cast, I could see where he’d be turned off by the broad, punchline-hammering style of folks like Jamie Farr and Loretta Swit, but Alan Alda is a wonderfully versatile actor capable of dazzling in just about every type of genre. He would’ve been right at home in a loosey-goosey comedy like “Cookie’s Fortune.”
But Altman’s distaste for the series wasn’t just a matter of aesthetics. It was about intent and theme.