M*A*S*H TV Series Overview


Introduction

M*A*S*H (an acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is an American war comedy-drama television series that aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983.

It was developed by Larry Gelbart as the first original spin-off series adapted from the 1970 feature film MASH, which, in turn, was based on Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors.

The series, which was produced with 20th Century Fox Television (currently part of Disney Television Studios) for CBS, follows a team of doctors and support staff stationed at the “4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” in Uijeongbu, South Korea, during the Korean War (1950–53).

The show’s title sequence features an instrumental-only version of “Suicide Is Painless,” the original film’s theme song.

The show was created after an attempt to film the original book’s sequel, M*A*S*H Goes to Maine, failed. The television series is the best-known of the M*A*S*H works, and one of the highest-rated shows in US television history.

You read more about the M*A*S*H franchise here.

Outline

M*A*S*H aired weekly on CBS, with most episodes being a half-hour in length. The series is usually categorised as a situation comedy, though it has also been described as a “dark comedy” or a “dramedy” because of the often dramatic subject matter.

The show is an ensemble piece revolving around key personnel in a United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in the Korean War (1950–53). The “4077th MASH” was one of several surgical units in Korea.

While the show is traditionally viewed as a comedy, many episodes had a more serious tone. Early seasons aired on network prime time while the Vietnam War was still going on; the show was forced to walk the fine line of commenting on that war while at the same time not seeming to protest against it. For this reason, the show’s discourse, under the cover of comedy, often questioned, mocked, and grappled with America’s role in the Cold War.

Episodes were both plot- and character-driven, with several narrated by one of the show’s characters as the contents of a letter home. The show’s tone could move from silly to sobering from one episode to the next, with dramatic tension often occurring between the civilian draftees of 4077th – Hawkeye, Trapper John, and B.J. Hunnicutt, for example – who are forced to leave their homes to tend the wounded and dying of the war, and the “regular Army” characters, such as Margaret Houlihan and Colonel Potter, who tend to represent patriotism and duty (though Houlihan and Potter could also represent the other perspective at times). Other characters, such as Col. Blake, Maj. Winchester, and Cpl. Klinger, help demonstrate various American civilian attitudes toward Army life, while guest characters played by such actors as Eldon Quick, Herb Voland, Mary Wickes, and Tim O’Connor also help further the show’s discussion of America’s place as Cold War war maker and peace maker.

Cast

  • Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce: Alan Alda.
  • Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan Penobscott: Loretta Swit.
  • Maxwell Q. Klinger (Recurring seasons 1–3, regular 4–11): Jamie Farr.
  • Father John Patrick Francis Mulcahy (recurring seasons 1–4, regular 5–11): George Morgan (pilot episode), replaced by William Christopher.
  • Trapper John McIntyre (seasons 1–3): Wayne Rogers.
  • Henry Blake (seasons 1–3): McLean Stevenson.
  • Frank Burns (seasons 1–5): Larry Linville.
  • Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly (seasons 1–8); Gary Burghoff.
  • B. J. Hunnicutt (replaced Trapper; seasons 4–11): Mike Farrell.
  • Sherman T. Potter (replaced Henry Blake; seasons 4–11): Harry Morgan.
  • Charles Emerson Winchester III (replaced Frank Burns; seasons 6–11): David Ogden Stiers.

Trivia

  • The asterisks in the name are not part of military nomenclature and were creatively introduced in the novel and used in only the posters for the movie version, not the actual movie.
  • The 4077th consisted of two separate sets.
    • An outdoor set in the mountains near Malibu (Calabasas, Los Angeles County, California) was used for most exterior and tent scenes for every season. This was the same set used to shoot the movie, although there were changes made to the positions of several tents for the TV show.
    • he indoor set, on a sound stage at Fox Studios in Century City, was used for the indoor scenes for the run of the series. Later, after the indoor set was renovated to permit many of the “outdoor” scenes to be filmed there, both sets were used for exterior shooting as script requirements dictated (e.g. night scenes were far easier to film on the sound stage, but scenes at the helicopter pad required using the ranch).
  • Just as the series was wrapping production, a brush fire destroyed most of the outdoor set on 09 October 1982.
    • The fire was written into the final episode as a forest fire caused by enemy incendiary bombs that forced the 4077th to move out.
  • The Malibu location is today known as Malibu Creek State Park. Formerly called the Century Ranch and owned by 20th Century Fox Studios until the 1980’s.
    • Today the site is returning to a natural state, and is marked by a rusted Jeep and a Dodge ambulance used in the show.
    • Through the 1990’s, the area was occasionally used for television commercial production.
  • M*A*S*H was nominated for over 100 Emmy Awards during its 11-year run, winning 14:
    • 1974 – Outstanding Comedy Series – MAS*H; Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds (Producers).
    • 1974 – Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Alan Alda.
    • 1974 – Best Directing in Comedy – Jackie Cooper: “Carry On, Hawkeye”.
    • 1974 – Actor of the Year, Series – Alan Alda.
    • 1975 – Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Gene Reynolds: “O.R.”.
    • 1976 – Outstanding Film Editing for Entertainment Programming – Fred W. Berger and Stanford Tischler: “Welcome to Korea”.
    • 1976 – Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Gene Reynolds: “Welcome to Korea”.
    • 1977 – Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Alan Alda: “Dear Sigmund”.
    • 1977 – Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – Gary Burghoff.
    • 1979 – Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series – Alan Alda: “Inga”.
    • 1980 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series – Loretta Swit.
    • 1980 – Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series – Harry Morgan.
    • 1982 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – Alan Alda.
    • 1982 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series – Loretta Swit.

M*A*S*H Series

You can find a full index and overview of the M*A*S*H franchise here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Developer(s): Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds.
  • Producer(s): Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Burt Metcalfe.
  • Music:
    • Theme music composer Johnny Mandel (written for the film).
    • Opening theme “Suicide Is Painless” (Instrumental).
    • Ending theme “Suicide Is Painless” (Big Band Version).
  • Production: 20th Century Fox Television.
  • Distributor(s): 20th Television.
  • Release Date: 17 September 1972 to 28 February 1983.
  • Running time: 30 minutes (except the final episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” which was 120 minutes).
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

YouTube Link

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