A New ‘M*A*S*H’ Scene: Written by ChatGPT, Read by Hawkeye and B.J.

Alan Alda, the star of the long-running sitcom, asked the artificial intelligence software to create a script for him and his former co-star Mike Farrell to read.

For the first time in more than 40 years, Alan Alda and Mike Farrell sat down for a table read of a new scene of “M*A*S*H,” stepping into their old roles of Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicutt, two bantering doctors in a Korean War mobile surgical unit.

But the script wasn’t by Larry Gelbart or any of the other writers who shaped the television show over more than a decade — it was the work of ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence software that has become a global phenomenon in recent months.

Alda, who hosts a podcast called “Clear+Vivid,” had decided to ask the tool to write a scene for “M*A*S*H” in which Hawkeye accuses B.J., his right hand man and fellow prankster, of stealing his boxer shorts.

The result, after plenty of behind-the-keyboard prompting from Alda, was a brief, slightly stilted scene between the two men, recorded for the podcast while the actors were on opposite coasts.

Did it work? Not quite, Alda acknowledged. While “M*A*S*H” was known for its snappy humor and lively dialogue, ChatGPT’s effort was hollow and its jokes leaden at best. But it was the first time the two characters interacted since the 1983 series finale, which aired almost exactly 40 years ago and remains the most watched non-Super Bowl program ever broadcast on American TV.

Hawkeye: Where are they? My shorts.

B.J.: Your what?

Hawkeye: My shorts — the ones I wear every time I have important surgery. I know you took them.

B.J.: I wouldn’t be caught dead in your underwear.

Hawkeye: They’re not just underwear; they’re comfortable and I like wearing them and they’re missing.

Alda — who, like much of the world, has become “obsessed” with artificial intelligence technology — said in an interview that he had decided to record the scene to test whether ChatGPT was capable of writing a “playable” television scene. As the software has grown into a cultural fixation, many users have tested its ability to compose stories, which it attempts to do by referencing its vast repository of digital information, including books, Wikipedia articles and other online writing.

On the podcast, Farrell said the resulting script and the idea that artificial intelligence could one day supplant human TV writers had unnerved him. Alda seemed less concerned, noting that when he commanded ChatGPT to “make it funny,” it came up with “some really stupid stuff.” The technology also had a tendency to get sappy, leading him to direct it to “stop being sentimental.”

B.J.: Oh, you mean your lucky shorts?

Hawkeye: They’re not lucky. I don’t believe in that nonsense.

B.J.: Like the time you insisted on wearing the same pair of socks for a week because you won a game of poker in them?

Hawkeye: I am not superstitious! Those are just my normal, everyday shorts.

B.J.: Right, just like the time you made everyone walk backward around the O.R. to ward off bad luck.

Hawkeye: That was a joke — I can’t believe you’re taking that seriously. I am not superstitious. And those are just my normal everyday shorts. I wear them because they inspire me and they remind me of my grandmother.

“It has a terrible sense of humor,” Alda said. (Before he removed this joke, ChatGPT wrote Hawkeye a nonsensical line in which he said the boxer shorts reminded him of his grandmother, because “she once bet on a horse that turned out to be a cow and still managed to make a profit.”)

So, should this exchange between B.J. and Hawkeye about the boxer shorts be considered canon? Or mere fan fiction?

“That’s for future generations to determine,” Alda said.

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