Alan Alda: His Talent and Characters ‘Have Engaged Audiences for Decades’

Alan Alda, third from right, and the rest of the cast on the set of "M*A*S*H"

Entertainment industry legend Alan Alda will receive the National Association of Broadcasters’ Distinguished Service Award (NAB DSA) during this morning’s NAB Show Opening session.

Alda is best known for his starring role as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce in the hit television series “M*A*S*H,” which debuted in 1972 and ran for 11 seasons. “M*A*S*H,” a comedic drama set during the Korean War, was inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1996. Alda, in addition to playing a starring role in the series, also directed and co-wrote its feature-length final episode in 1983. The show still ranks in the top-10 list of most-watched programs in the United States and made Alda the only person to win acting, directing and writing Emmys for the same series.

In 2004, Alda joined the sixth season of “The West Wing” as Senator Arnold Vinick, for which he also received an Emmy. In total, Alda has won seven Emmy awards and has been nominated 34 times. He has made guest appearances on many popular television shows such as “ER,” “30 Rock,” “The Blacklist,” “The Good Fight” and “Ray Donovan.”

Alda first appeared on the big screen in 1963 with “Gone Are the Days!” Since then, he has appeared in dozens of movies, including “Bridges of Spies” and “The Aviator,” for which Alda was Oscar-nominated for his role as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster.

“Alan Alda is an authentic entertainer whose incredible talent and enduring characters have engaged audiences for decades,” said NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith. “We look forward to celebrating the immeasurable contributions he’s made to television and film at the 2019 NAB Show.”

The NAB Show Daily News enjoyed asking Alda a few questions shortly before the beginning of NAB Show.

NAB SHOW DAILY NEWS: People may not remember that you served in post-war Korea yourself. How did that influence your work on “M*A*S*H”?

ALAN ALDA: A lot of people think I served in Korea, but in fact I’ve never been to Korea. Most of my military experience was in Beverly Hills on the 20th Century Fox lot.

DAILY: Some actors become so identified with a character that it becomes a burden as well as a blessing in pursuit of later artistic efforts. Has being Hawkeye Pierce been a burden to your career post-“M*A*S*H”? How?

ALDA: Not at all. I’m proud of what we did on “M*A*S*H.” And it made possible everything that came after it. One of the most valuable benefits of doing “M*A*S*H” was the lifelong friendships that emerged. I have a podcast called “Clear+Vivid” and I invited the other actors on the show in one episode. You can hear the love and camaraderie we still feel for one another, even after more than 35 years.

DAILY: You were a writer and director for many episodes of “M*A*S*H.” What do you think about today’s Hollywood harassment headlines and the #MeToo movement as it relates to the show?

ALDA: I’m very glad to see that harassment is finally being taken more seriously, and I hope this awareness spreads to all workplaces—farms, offices, labs—wherever people could treat each other with more respect. On “M*A*S*H”, I was always pushing for more awareness of that kind of respect, as was Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell and others. Sometimes we were able to make progress and sometimes not so much. So, like all entertainment, the show reflects to some extent the cultural values of its time.

DAILY: The end of “M*A*S*H” felt like the end of an era when everyone watched the same TV shows and when one program could become a true cultural icon. Yet many feel we’re in a second golden era of video and film of another sort now. What’s your feeling about the quantity and quality of content created today? Which entertainment programs do you feel are doing the best creative work?

ALDA: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything better than “Shtisel” on Netflix. It’s brilliant. It’s a golden age all by itself. Whatever allowed “Shtisel” to happen, let’s have more.

DAILY: How do you feel about streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.? And do you think “M*A*S*H” would have had as big an impact in the current streaming environment?

ALDA: We, of course, benefited from the much discussed limited number of networks at the time. The huge number of people who watched the final show on the same evening would be unlikely now. But it would have been fun to do a bingeable version of “M*A*S*H.”

DAILY: So many roles, so many awards, so many great shows and movies over your career, from “The Compass Players” to “West Wing” and “Ray Donovan.” Dare we ask you to name your favorite role; and would the choice surprise us?

ALDA: It would surprise me. I don’t miss the characters I’ve played, but I have happy moments I look back on with pleasure—like the live presidential debate I did with Jimmy Smits on “West Wing.” We had a wonderful time, and that it was live made it extra exciting. Two actors taking each other’s hand and jumping out of a plane together.