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M A S H (television)

Inspired by the film of the same name, M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) was an American television series that aired on CBS from September 17, 1972 to February 28, 1983 (251 episodes). The sitcom was about an outfit of medical workers stationed in Korea during the Korean War. Much like the movie, it combined elements of a "zany" comedy and a darker antiwar message.

20th Century Fox head William Self[?] gave the show to producer Gene Reynolds[?] and comedy writer Larry Gelbart. This combining of genres was unusual for television series of its time, and was in fact an early example of what later became known as a dramedy[?]. The show's producers did not even want a laugh track in the show, but this proposal was rejected by CBS; however, as a compromise, the emergency room scenes were shown without a laugh track, and in fact the show was shown in the United Kingdom entirely without the use of canned laughter. The DVD release offers a choice between laugh-encrusted and laugh-free soundtracks. Many of the stories were based on real life tales told by hundreds of actual M*A*S*H surgeons interviewed for the show.

At the end of the its first season the show ended 46th in the ratings. CBS responded by moving the show to Saturday night between hits All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. M*A*S*H ended the next 9 of 10 seasons in the top 10.

The series used the theme song "Suicide is Painless", which was taken from the film, though without the lyrics. Some said the series seemed to be more about the Vietnam War, given the attitudes of the characters, than about the Korean War -- despite its Korean setting. However, even the movie was somewhat anachronistic, given its use of such early seventies fashion as the fu manchu mustache. The show's producers have said that the movie was really about all wars, not just Korea or Vietnam.

The series was followed by After M*A*S*H[?] starting Morgan, Farr, and Christopher reunited in a midwestern hospital after the war. It was not well regarded, and was quickly cancelled.

The show featured Alan Alda, who wrote and directed some of the most emotional and award winning episodes;

Out of all the starring characters Hawkeye, Hotlips, Klinger and Father Mulcahy were the only ones in the show for its entire series. McLean Stevenson left the show at the end of the third series, and his character Henry Blake was discharged and sent home. In the final scene of his last episode it was reported that Blake's plane had been shot down and he was killed. Actor Wayne Rogers left the series after the end of series three due to disagreements about his character. At the beginning of the fourth series Hawkeye was informed by Radar that Trapper had been discharged, and audiences did not see Trapper's departure. At the same time Col Potter was assigned to the unit as Commanding Officer replacing Blake, while BJ Hunnicut was drafted in as Trapper's replacement. Larry Linville left during the first episode of series six as Frank Burns became mad and was drafted away from the 4077th. Charles Winchester, a snobbish but highly skilled surgeon, was his replacement. A couple of episodes into series eight Gary Burghoff left the series, and Radar was discharged. Existing character Klinger took over Radar's post, the character thereafter enjoying a more prominent position in the series.

Gary Burghoff (Radar O'Reilly) was the only M*A*S*H actor to reprise his role from the movie, retaining his extraordinary ability to detect the arrival of choppers transporting wounded long before anyone else could hear a thing. When Burghoff left the series, the company clerk role was taken up by Jamie Farr (Corporal (later Sergeant) Klinger, whose cross-dressing never got him the discharge he wanted).

Viewed as one of the most popular sitcoms in history, it is still a very popular syndicated series. Originally seen as an ensemble show, it became increasingly centered around Alan Alda's character, Hawkeye Pierce. The show survived many personnel changes over the course of the show, and in fact the series changed its tone over the years. Initially, the series placed more emphasis on the "zany" elements, while in the later years it focused more on serious elements and character development; however, both the serious and the comedic elements were present throughout the history of the series. In the later years the story lines began to also stale and the show's comedic edge had dulled even though the show was still in the top of the ratings. Alda and his fellow actors then voted to end the series with the 10th season but CBS and 20th Century Fox offered the actors a shortened 11th season leading up to an opportunity for them to say goodbye in a grand finale.

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen The final episode was titled "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" and was first broadcasted on February 28, 1983. The episode was 2.5 hours long and was viewed by over 125 million Americans (77% of viewship that night) which made "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" the most watched television episode in history up to that time.

The finale started in the wanning days of the war with Hawkeye in a mental hospital who was finally driven over the edge by a bus ride gone terribly wrong. The bus passengers, who were refugees, were in danger of being discovered and executed by a North Korean patrol. Hawkeye scolds the refugees to be quiet but a baby begins to whimper and its mother responds by smothering the child. Hawkeye repressed this by replacing the memory of the baby with that of a small animal.

Dr. Winchester captured a rag-tag bunch of Chinese musicians who he teaches Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Quintet for Clarinet and Strings[?]" to them. However he later sees all the musicians killed and as a result views classical music as stained for him (classical music was his number one solace during the war).

Corporal Max Klinger, best known for constantly trying to be discharged via a Section 8[?], finally decides to stay in Korea to be with his new wife even though he finally got his release papers (along with most of the 4077).

The final and perhaps most memorable scene was between Hawkeye and BJ Hunnicut. Hunnicut was not able to say goodbye and Hawkeye mocked him for this failure. Both men lament that they will be on opposite sides of the country after they go home and conclude that they will probably never see each other again. They tearfully embrace for the last time and Hawkeye boards a helicopter and lifts off. Hunnicut rides off on a motorcycle and as the helicopter ascends Hawkeye sees a final message from his longtime friend spelt out with stones on the sandy soil, "GOODBYE."


  • Joe Garner, Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments (Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2002) ISBN 0-7407-2693-5

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