The show's pilot was filmed in December of 1971, and aired September 17, 1972.
Returning to the Swamp after a long session in the OR, Hawkeye receives a letter announcing that Ho-Jon has been accepted into his alma mater, though he and Trapper still have the task of coming up with the $2,000 for travel and tuition. Hawkeye convinces Trapper that they can accomplish it by raffling off a weekend pass to Tokyo with the company of a gorgeous nurse. They go to Col. Blake's office to propose the idea to him, and he nervously gives them permission.
Later on, Hawkeye and Trapper get into an argument with Frank Burns, who, in a fit of rage, destroys their still. Furious with him, they put a bag over his head and throw him out of the tent. When Blake hears about it, he withdraws the passes and cancels the party they had planned to throw for fear that Burns will complain to General Hammond. He adds that he has to see Hammond in Seoul and was unhappy about the party taking place in his absence. However, as Blake is leaving, Radar reveals that he tricked him into signing two passes, so the party can take place. Unfortunately, Hawkeye's and Trapper's happiness is short lived as they discover that Frank Burns was made temporary commander. To get rid of him so they can have their party, Hawkeye injects him with a sedative and wraps a bandage around his face, prescribing that Frank should be sedated every hour on the hour.
During the party, Margaret expresses her inability to find Frank. Suspicious of the activities of Hawkeye and Trapper, she calls General Hammond, who is so excited to hear from her he leaves at once. Meanwhile, Hawkeye announces that they have raised $1800 and then has the nurse draw a name for the raffle. Knowing that the nurse in question, Lt. Dish, is engaged, he announces that Father Mulcahy is the winner, but unfortunately, he does so just as General Hammond walks in.
While the infuriated general questions Hawkeye and Trapper, Margaret walks in with Burns, still sedated and with bandages around his head, and screams at the two of them. Hammond demands that they be arrested, but just in the nick of time, choppers arrive loaded with casualties. After the session, which Hammond participates in, he tells Blake that Pierce and McIntyre are two of the best surgeons he has ever seen and, for that reason, he is dropping the charges.
Attention, all personnel! M*A*S*H welcomes you with the following tropes:
- Adaptation Distillation: While the movie removed some of the uglier parts of the books, the series removed the uglier parts of the movie to make it air-able on prime time television.
- Adaptation Dye-Job:
- Father Mulcahy was a redhead in the books and film, affectionately called Dago Red. Both George Morgan and William Christopher have brown hair, though Hawkeye uses the nickname once in the pilot.
- Hawkeye was played by blonde-haired Donald Sutherland in the film and the black haired Alan Alda in the series.
- Bandage Mummy: Hawkeye and Trapper sedate Frank and bandage his face up, leaving him in the post-op. Margaret fails to recognize him until she sees his bare chest.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer / Ultimate Job Security: Hawkeye and Trapper, for all their quirks, are released for being competent surgeons with high survival rates.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- When the helicopters are on approach, the PA announces "Report immediately to Admitting Ward and Operating Room," as opposed to later episodes, which simply declare "Attention all personnel: incoming wounded!"
- Hawkeye's hair is shaggier and he's nastier to the nurses in OR (like how he was in the film) than almost every other episode after.
- Footsie Under the Table: Margaret and Frank are introduced fully in uniform... except for the fact they are casually barefoot and cuddling each other's feet while sitting at a table in her tent.
- Meaningful Name: Lt. Dish was not the episode's most subtle touch.
- Mythology Gag: The camp's dentist of the film, Walter Waldowski, is mentioned by (nick) name, when Hawkeye says "...ten dollars for the Painless Pole...", but, despite appearing throughout the first season, is never referred to by that name again.
- Shout-Out: Hawkeye refers to Frank as the titular character from Elmer Gantry, who was a religious hypocrite. Note that Elmer Gantry is now best known from the 1960 film version, which obviously postdates the Korean War. Hawkeye is presumably referencing the original book, which was published in 1927.
- Tantrum Throwing: Hawkeye hurls a rock at one of the camp loudspeakers after the announcement about the party.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: Henry goes down to Seoul, leaving Frank in charge, who plans to confine the entire camp to duty stations to get back at Hawkeye and Trapper.
- Unique Pilot Title Sequence: The pilot starts with the title "Korea 1950 - 100 Years Ago" as Hawkeye and Trapper John play golf with "My Blue Heaven" playing in the background. Radar gets tossed a football and stops as he hears the choppers coming, which then leads into an extended version of the standard opening.
- This becomes Hilarious in Hindsight when in the show's final season the characters bury a time capsule that will be dug up and opened in ... one hundred years' time.