And, boy, was M*A*S*H funny, and boy was it something new and and somewhat awesome for television, even in the early 70’s.
So new and awesome, and unlike anything that preceded it, in comedy or otherwise in episodic television, that it nearly didn’t make it past the season which followed the launch date of the first episode which aired on CBS-TV on September 17,1972.
Consider that the TV show was spawned by Robert Altaman’s unforgettable and ground breaking movie in 1970, starring Donald Sutherland as Surgeon and U.S. Army Captain “Hawkeye” Pierce, and Elliott Gould, as Surgeon and U.S. Army Captain “Trapper John” McIntyre, and you understand the reluctance of the tv audience to tune into a show about, well…blood and gore and mayhem in a war setting.
Consider that the TV show was launched when this nation was close to the end of a ten year war in the asian country of far away Vietnam which contained all of the blood and gore and mayhem one wanted to see during the first televised war in history, and one might think the premise of such a show in episodic show was a true recipe for failure and banishment from the air waves.
Then consider the creator of the tv series was the late comedy writer, author and playwright, Larry Gelbart, arguably one of the funniest and best writers ever to work for film, stage or tv, and that the characters and the ambience of the show itself were lifted straight from Altman’s hit movie, and, well, as they say in show biz…the tv series got “legs” and stuck around for another 11 unforgettable seasons of 251 episodes, and finally, on February 28, 1983, ended it’s long and successful run in an episode which still holds the record for the largest audience ever to view -77%, or more than 105 million people – a single episode of any tv show.
Whew. And what a run it was. Humor, pathos, drama and hi-jinks all around and each episode managing to show us human nature at it’s best and worst, and make us laugh and cry as well as explore the deeper meaning of war as a political tool without getting all preachy about it.
And the show is still in re-runs today…all over the planet. Ringing onto the screen with that unmistakable combination of the strains of the show theme, “Suicide is Painless,” over the subtle vibrations of the army helicopters carrying the wounded into the MASH -Mobile Army Surgical Hospital – compound.
Who can forget Colonel Blake, Radar, Hawkeye, Trapper, Hot Lips, Father Mulcahy, Frank, Dr. Sidney Freedman, et al without remembering their favorite episode, their favorite line, or how their eyes filled with tears during one or more episodes which told us, with a subtle gesture, the true and hard and unfathomable horror of war?
And who can forget the snappy writing and the true to life story lines, created by Gelbart and his crack writing staff, and with material culled from the many interviews the staff of the show conducted with Army surgeons who had actually been in Korea…and/or Vietnam, along with the anecdotes culled from the book which inspired both the movie and tv series, a novel entitled, “MASH: A Novel About Army Doctors,” and written by Army surgeon, and Korean vet, Richard Hooker, a man whose very name sounds like a snappy throw away line from the tv show.
And still, today, when this reporter hears from another room, the strains of the opening theme song, it is hard to pull away from the computer, or preparing dinner, or reading, to not run to the next room and settle down for a half hour of solid entertainment, and laughter.
And this reporter, cannot watch one episode of the show without remembering a magic evening out there in Los Angeles, when she shared dinner with Larry Gelbart, at the table in the home of a well known Hollywood agent, where sat some of the most inspired and talented people in all of Hollywood Land, and listened to and watched Larry Gelbart, and roared along with all of the other dinner guests as he single handedly brought the house down several times over the few hours over dinner.
A night, which this reporter remembers so fondly, and which helped her to know just why M*A*S*H, the monster hit show that got “legs” way back in the 70’s will always live in the memories of so many fans and viewers, both young and old.