Dan Wilcox Dies: ‘M*A*S*H’ Writer-Producer Who Co-Penned Series Finale & Worked On Early ‘Sesame Street’ Was 82

Dan Wilcox, an Emmy-winning writer, producer and longtime union man who penned dozens of M*A*S*H episodes including co-writing its record-setting series finale and had many other TV credits including Sesame Street and Fernwood/America 2-Nite, has died. He was 82.

His niece, Julie Merson Rothenberg, told the WGA that he died February 14 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. No cause was given.

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A six-decade WGA member and longtime former board member who was active in the 2007-08 strike, Wilcox was a fierce champion of unions and equal rights. In 2017, he received the Morgan Cox Award in recognition of his exemplary service to the Guild. WGAW President Howard A. Rodman said at the time: “Dan Wilcox has been, in a sustained and deeply moving way, a voice for the voiceless. His work, at once passionate and effective, has been on behalf of those who might otherwise lack the power to make themselves fully heard.”

Born on April 17, 1941, in New York City, Wilcox got his career start writing for the CBS children’s show Captain Kangaroo when his brother-in-law Marc Merson, then a casting director at CBS, got him an interview. “I almost blew the interview,” Wilcox said. “I had to write spec scripts, and they weren’t very good. My uncle Jed was living at my mom’s, and we watched Captain Kangaroo together. He read my scripts, and told me I had comedy all wrong. ‘Never let the character be aware there is a problem. He thinks it’s going perfectly, and then it all falls apart!’ Jed gave me a crash course in how to write comedy that I’ve relied on my entire career.”

Wilcox went on to landing work on such 1970s series as What’s Happening!!, Norman Lear’s Good Times and PBS’ Sesame Street. He won an Emmy for the latter in 1970 and it was the first of five career Emmy nominations.

He met Thad Mumford, his longtime writing partner, while working on the kids program, where Wilcox wrote for humans and Jim Henson’s Muppets.

His second Emmy nom was for America 2-Nite, the late-night talk-show sendup fronted by Martin Mull and Fred Willard. He would pen more than 60 episodes on that show, which originally was titled Fernwood 2-Nite.

He went on to write for ABC’s 1979 sequel miniseries Roots: The Next Generations.

Around that time, Wilcox and Mumford joined the Season 8 writing team for M*A*S*H, the hugely popular Korean War dramedy starring Alan Alda and Mike Farrell on which Wilcox also was a producer. The show already had been a staple among the Top 10 primetime series for years and would continue to be through the rest of its 11-season run.

Among the M*A*S*H episodes Wilcox helped to write was the 2½-hour series finale. Airing in February 1983, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” remains the most-watched episode of series television in history, with more than 105 million viewers and a still-stunning 60.2 rating/77 share.

Wilcox shared Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy noms for the final two seasons of M*A*S*H and a 1981 writing nom for the show. He also scooped five Writers Guild Awards nominations for the series from 1980-84, winning in 1980.

Along the way, Wilcox also wrote episodes of Alice, Angie and the short-lived Bay City Blues, before working on such 1980s and ’90s series as Newhart — including its popular and influential finale — Diagnosis Murder, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, Lois & Claark: The New Adventures of Superman, Cosby, Becker, Blue’s Clues and Murder, She Wrote.

Wilcox was a producer on Newhart from 1984-86. Watch him discuss the series’ famous final scene as part of his 2016 interview for the Television Academy Foundation here:

Later in that interview, Wilcox recalled an early experience in TV.

“As a kid, I was in the peanut gallery of Howdy Doody,” he said. “On each episode, they would run an old-time movie. I said, ‘I can’t see,’ and a voice nearby said, ‘Shut up!’ I looked around, and it was Clarabell the Clown!”

Along with Merson Rothenberg, he is survived by his wife, Leslie Easterbrook; sister Nina Wilcox Merson; and niece Wendy Merson Rich.

Watch more of his interview here:

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