MASH was famously a show that was not afraid to go there, toeing the line between comedy and drama, so audiences didn’t know what to expect — except, of course, to be entertained. It’s not puzzling that the show’s award-winning ensemble cast drew in more viewers than either a mere sitcom or drama alone could. On top of the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards the writing on the show garnered, five separate episodes won Humanitas Prizes in acknowledgement of how powerful a TV show MASH really was to watch.
So, what does it take to get a script rejected on a show like MAS*H, where for viewers it often felt like anything goes when it came to its stories?
According to series co-creator Larry Gelbart, there was only ever one script that the network said no to, and it came “very early” in MAS*H’s run. Gelbart said in an interview with the Archive of American Television:
“I think in the first season, we had commissioned a script called ‘Double Trouble,’ I think it was called. And Stanley Ralph Ross, a very, very, very good writer, with credits longer than my arm. And Stanley wrote the script. It was about Hawkeye carrying on with two different nurses, and they decide to teach him a lesson and both tell him they’re pregnant, and both say that he’s the father. That is the one and only script that CBS said under no circumstances will you be able to do this script.”
To explain a little further, the way that MASH worked is like this: Cast members and outside writers would submit ideas for episodes, which producers and writers on the series would consider. If an idea was good enough, it would be moved on to the script stage. At that point, every idea that got a script turned into an episode on MASH, Gelbart remembered in TV’s MAS*H: The Ultimate Guidebook. Well, every idea except Ross’ “Double Trouble.”
So who’s this Stanley Ralph Ross, the only writer to submit an idea to MASH that was rejected by the network? He’s a prolific actor and screenwriter who not only played Batman villain and perpetually mute Penguin cohort Barney “Ballpoint” Baxter, but he also wrote 27 episodes of Batman, including many Catwoman stories. Perhaps Catwoman’s love/hate relationship with Batman is where he got inspired to write the complicated MASH story?
In his career, Ross was also nominated for an Emmy for the All in the Family episode “Oh, My Aching Back,” the one where Archie learns how the Jeffersons’ got that insurance settlement that led them to open the dry cleaners.
As a writer, he occasionally used the punny name “Sue Donem” (say it aloud, it reads “pseudonym”). Ross came up as a writer of beach party movies, went on to co-create the Wonder Woman TV series and eventually served as a voice actor in the Superman cartoon, as well as many others in the 1970s, from The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang to Challenge of the Superfriends. He also voiced more than 1,000 commercials.