M*A*S*H - The 1970s TV Series

"Suicide is painless"

When the MASH TV show was being screened in the UK, I was still a young boy with a young boy’s naïve view of war, so I never really did get the underlying message of MASH. It’s now being shown again on UK Free View TV, and this time I understand what MASH was really about.  Some of the episodes of MASH are, in fact, so poignant; they now move me to tears. MASH was a brilliant combination of comedy and drama that highlighted the futility of war, right at the time that the US was up to their neck in the Vietnam War. MASH was based on the book by Richard Hooker, which was subsequently turned into a movie, which led the TV series.

The show about the 4077th MASH unit in Korea brought us the MASH characters of Radar and his teddy bear, the cross dressing Klinger, Hot Lips and Frank Burns and, of course, Hawkeye Pierce. It ran from 1972 to 1983 and made television history when the final ever episode,” Goodbye, Farewell and Amen", was aired in 1972. Here are ten facts that you may not have known about the 1970s TV show M.A.S.H.

1. Many of the MASH stories were based on real events
Many of the stories in the show, especially in the early seasons of the show, were based on real tales of what happened in MASH outfits in Korea as told by real MASH surgeons and nurses. The show portrayed, with some realism, the way that the doctors and nurses coped with the hell of the situation they were in by telling jokes and playing pranks on one another.

2. MASH grew from a pure comedy
Season one of the series was without a doubt, a comedy show, but as the seasons progressed, so did the seriousness of the subject matter of the episodes of the MASH. TV show. The show certainly was a thinly veiled comment on the Vietnam war, but MASH also tackled other controversial topics including racism and homophobia in the armed forces too.

3. The show ran for longer than the war did
The show ran for eleven years, far longer than the Korean War that it portrayed, which lasted about three and a half years.  Towards the end of its run, ideas had begun to run out and the producers were finding that even the true life stories that were being sent in by Korean vets had already been used in the show.

4. Klinger was supposed to have been gay

The original intention was that the MASH character of Max Klingler was only to have been in one episode and the character played by Jamie Farr, was originally going to be gay. The part was changed to become the cross dressing character that was trying to get a discharge from the army.

5. Trapper John left because of Alan Alda
When Wayne Rogers, the MASH cast member who played Trapper John McIntyre, signed up for the show, it was on the basis that he would be an equal co-star with Alan Alda playing Hawkeye Pierce. Rogers Quit after season three because of how the show increasingly concentrated on Alda’s character. He left without giving any notice; hence he just disappears in an episode, without any goodbyes, apparently to return the US. He was quickly replaced by B. J. Hunnicutt, played by Mike Farrell.

6. It was the network that wanted the laugh track
CBS insisted on a laughter track being added to MASH because, in their minds, the MASH TV show was a situation comedy. The producers and the writer, Larry Gelbart didn’t want canned laughter at all, but the compromise of there being no laughter in the operating room scenes was what we ended up with. The laughter track is present on the current re-run of MASH that I have been watching and it really does seem very out of place and annoying. When MASH was first screened in the UK by the BBC, they omitted the canned laughter altogether.

7. Some of the filming techniques were innovative for the time
Unlike most situation comedies, which is what the show was first classified as, MASH was usually filmed on location, without a studio audience being present. This allowed the directors to try new, innovative storytelling techniques, such as the episode, “Life Time”, which showed a wounded soldier’s eye view of his experiences as he was being treated at the 4077th MASH unit. Another example of these different narrative viewpoints was the episode where the work of the unit was seen through the eyes of a newsreel reporter.

8. Henry Blake’s final departure was a shock to the cast
When the actor who played Henry Blake, McLean Stevenson, left the show, the writers wanted to take the opportunity of the character's departure to highlight how wasteful war was. Having finally got his discharge, Blake was killed on the airplane on his way home. When the scene was shot in the episode “Abyssinia, Henry” where Radar comes into the operating with the news of Blake’s death, the cast had only been given the script for that scene a few minutes earlier. The scene was so moving that the producers received over 1,000 letters about it and CBS even cut the scene out of some repeat showings of the show because it was so sad.

9. Radar’s teddy bear was eventually returned to Gary Burghoff
When Radar O’Reilly left the show, his teddy bear that he slept with was somehow lost. Believe it or not, it turned up again in 2005 and was bought be a medical student at an auction for $11,500. The medical student then promptly sold it to MASH cast member Gary Burghoff.

10. The final episode of MASH broke TV recordsThe last ever episode of the MASH TV show was the two and half hour long special "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen". The episode was watched by over 125 million viewers and it said that so many people used their toilets at the end of the show at the same time, that plumbing systems failed in New York. It is still the most watched television series finale in history. 

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  1. Before DVR allowed us to watch a beloved sitcom or dramedy whenever we pleased, people used to plan their schedules around being home to watch their favorite shows.
    James Anthony || www.howgoodisreview.co.uk


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