Alan Alda reminisced about M*A*S*H as the ultimate TV watercooler event and stressed the importance of communal viewing and interpersonal communication during an appearance today at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
“On the final episode of M*A*S*H, so many people were watching that when the first commercial came on, everybody went to the bathroom at the same time and it nearly broke the water works,” Alda said in accepting the Distinguished Service Award from the NAB, dryly adding, “I’ve never had a salute like that.”
The audience on the opening morning of the trade show ate out of the 83-year-old actor’s hand, rewarding many of his bon mots with fond murmurs and applause. After some brief solo remarks, Alda sat for a one-on-one chat with Cynthia Littleton of Variety, Deadline’s sister publication.
In 2018, Alda revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease more than three years earlier. He has not let his condition slow his stride, though. Alda recently launched a podcast and continues to oversee a center for “science communication” that he founded at New York’s Sony Brook University. During the 20-minute appearance, Alda’s right handle trembled slightly, but he delivered plenty of his customarily sharp wit and curiosity about science and human nature.
In today’s digitally obsessed landscape, Alda said, the feeling of gathering around the TV set as tens of millions did for M*A*S*H two decades ago “is something that we’re sadly losing. I hope we can find a way to get back to that. I notice a lot of kids sit by themselves and watch streaming shows and movies for hours. But there’s something missing when you don’t have companions that you know and trust, where you can say, Look at that. What do you think of that?'”
When Alda convened a podcast reunion in February with his former M*A*S*H castmates Loretta Swit, Gary Burghoff, Jamie Farr, and Mike Farrell in February, the actor said, “The response to that was wonderful to see. It’s so interesting. People like to know that we’re still friends. I guess it’s partly a response to the program originally because the characters were drawn from all over the country, but they had to live together like a family. I think to see that played out in real life is reassuring to people, that a sense of family is possible.”