Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The MASH Oscar show

With the 2007 Academy Award nominations being announced, Oscar Fever has officially begun. Doing my part, today’s topic is the annual MASH Oscar show. You might think that’s the one episode a year we deemed worthy of Hollywood’s highest honor. No. It was the one episode we’d try to bury by airing it up against the Oscars. (At the time both MASH and the Academy Awards were on Monday night.)

Every show has at least one episode a year that is just a clam. The trick is not to have nineteen.

So that is what we’d routinely do. Put our weakest show in that slot. (The scary thing is that whatever terrible number we got back then would probably be good enough for renewal now) However, in season seven we aired a pretty good episode. So why was it there? Read on.

The name of the episode was Preventive Medicine. The story seemed very intriguing. The number of arriving wounded had increased because of one careless Colonel. Hawkeye slips him a mickey then to keep him from returning to the front removes his appendix. This was before malpractice suits and HMO’s but there was still that pesky question of ethics. It created a nice debate between Hawkeye and BJ. We did a lot of rewriting on that episode, the cast was happy, we were happy, and they went off to the ranch to make it.

On Friday night David tuned in to the MASH rerun that CBS was airing at 11:45. After watching a few minutes he came upon a horrible discovery – IT WAS THE EXACT SAME SHOW THAT WE WERE FILMING. Identical. Same plotline, same argument. The only difference was it was better (no surprise there – Larry Gelbart vs. us).

We were mortified. I mean, it’s one thing to steal from other shows, but to steal from your own? We looked like a couple of blithering idiots. The amazing thing is that no one on the cast or crew caught it. And a lot of them were there for the original episode.

So that became our Oscar show, not because it was bad but because it was the only original episode of MASH that was also a rerun.

26 comments:

James said...

One episode in 11 years isn't that bad. The writers of Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Enterprise spent ten whole years doing nothing but stealing from earlier episodes.

LA Guy said...

For some reason your episode and the one where the guy didn't want a blood transfusion from a black donor are about the only two episodes of MASH I have any recollection of. (No reflection on MASH, it's just been a long time since I've seen them.)

I thought it was a pretty bold story line and was a good premise for discussing the morality of war.

Or maybe I just remember it because in effect the story line got twice as much exposure in reruns due to it's double incarnation.

Was Wayne Rogers in the Gelbart version? I only remember it with Alda and Farrell.

Either way it was fine work.

Eric said...

ER did it all the time. And they couldn't ever keep straight who should be on which side of the argument.

Tom said...

It's a long tradition, going back to at least Bewitched, which not only reused ideas, but actually refilmed the exact same script on more than one occasion.

Anonymous said...

"Every show has at least one episode a year that is just a clam. The trick is not to have nineteen."

Ken, I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. I laugh out loud at least once every post. Thanks for the candor and the insight.

Bobarino said...

I saw these two similar episodes discussed elsewhere, some years ago, and the observation made at that time was one I agreed with: your show was better. The earlier show treated the unnecessary operation as a joke, while you guys made the point that such an operation is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Not a barrel of laughs, maybe, but a good story nevertheless.

Face it: even the weakest stuff on Mash was pretty damn good.

mharvey816 said...

As much as I got sick of Preachy BJ as time went on, this episode was not only better than the original, but I always thought that they should be viewed together, one after the other. That way, you can see that while Hawkeye had no compunctions about doing such a thing twice, let alone once, at last someone along the line was finally willing to call him on it.

Patrick Walsh said...

Speaking of "preachy BJs," that's something I'd love to hear your thoughts on, Ken. When you have a character named BJ, how tempting is it as a comedy writer to just make an endless string of easy jokes about the name? I realize it's a little hacky, but look how much mileage "Meet the Parents" got out of Gaylord Focker?

Diane said...

Speaking of BJ and memorable episodes, how 'bout the one where Hawkeye was trying to guess what "BJ" stood for? The answer if I recall correctly was that he was named after his parents, Bea and Jay.

stephen said...

i remember watching that episode, and comparing it to the first one thinking, "that bj sucks the fun out of everything."

Anonymous said...

wow - thanks for the backstory, Ken. My teevee friends and I have always used that as "exhibit A" in how tired and preacy MASH became in the latter years... we always knew the "who" and "when" for these eps - so its really gratifying to learn the "why".

(Um, Patrick? Beej was in the show in the late '70s and early '80s. Making "blowjob" jokes and references wasn't really an option on television, and it was probably too cheap and easy a joke to make in the writers' room for all but the hackiest or most punch-drunk writers even then.)

GWG said...

(Oops - that me above as "anon")

Tom - when "Bewitched" did that, it was an economic decision: they wanted a good show filmed in B&W available in syndication filmed in color. Its more akin to the one 'Seinfeld' re-filmed with Jerry Stiller in the dad role instead of the previous one-off John Randoplh appearrance. Its hardly an inadvertant very-close reworking of the same plot by a later, different writing staff.

Can you imagine the way you guys would have gotten shredded on the Internet, if that'd happened today, Ken?

Mr. Hollywood said...

I read where in the old Quinn Martin shows, they literally used the same scripts and just changed character names. Those were shows like Barnaby Jones and Cannon. Amazing that no one ever said anything.

Anonymous said...

When Bewitched remade episodes, they didn't use the exact same script - they changed character names and some dialogue and minor plot points. They were running out of ideas and felt they could get away with it because there was a different actor playing Darrin. It had nothing to do with B&W vs. color - the B&W episodes of Bewitched played in syndication througout the 70s, and were only withdrawn from the syndication package in the 80s.

Seinfeld didn't refilm that entire episode, either - just a couple of scenes. The original version, with John Randolph, is not in syndication.

I can tolerate BJ for his first few seasons, but once Charles showed up and BJ grew that cheesy mustache, I was out of there (who let him grow that thing, anyway?).

Seymour said...

Well, if you're going to steal (Even accidentally) steal from the best.

I have all too many times seen tow or three different sit-coms all use the same story IN THE SAME WEEK, and usually bad stories to boot.

TE said...

Supposedly, during a writers strike in the late '50s, Warner Bros. interchanged scripts between 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat, etc., with only minor changes.

And there was one night when three different series debuting on Fox included the same joke: a variation on "I'm not a waiter, I'm an actor!"/"Well, then, act like a waiter and bring me a piece of pie."

stephen said...

Aaron Spelling recycled Mod Squad scripts for Charlie's Angels. And The Bionic Woman had used some Six Million Dollar Man scripts.

Paul Duca said...

And let's not forget the DRAGNET Christmas-themed episode that was in both the original and the revival version.

I also noticed myself when a writer of an episode of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW recycled his same story (a school musical upsets the old fogies)on THE DORIS DAY SHOW--the major difference being high schoolers on ANDY vs. elementary students on DORIS.

John said...

M*A*S*H's second season opener, involving the exploits of the inept North Korean bomber pilot "Five O'Clock Charlie" was also surprisingly similar to a first season episode of McHale's Navy that featured an errant Japanese bomber with a slow-flying plane named "Washing Machine Charlie". I'd have to go back and check to see if Gene Reynolds was involved with the McHale episode, but at least the plots did diverge towards the end of the show (though that M*A*S*H episode, with Frank blowing up the ammo dump, was only slightly less slapsticky than what Tim Conway ended up doing in Charlie's plane).

tomthedog said...

"It was pink and perfect and I threw it in the garbage." I still recall Hawkeye shamefully speaking that line (or something very similar) post-surgery, referring to the healthy appendix he had just removed. For some reason that's one of those TV lines/moments that has really stuck with me. Your version, or Gelbart's?

Ken Levine said...

Pink and perfect was from our version. And yes, if there was the internet when our episode aired for the first time we would have been savaged in cyberspace.

Anonymous said...

The Avengers remade two Honor Blackman episodes with Diana Rigg when they were running short of stories in 1967.

Stephen mentioned Aaron Spelling above... The Philadelphia Inquirer's TV magazine used to have a "Viewer's Views" column in the 70's, and I remember a lot of letters complaining back in the first season of Charlie's Angels when they reused a Mod Squad script. Oh, those pre-internet days...

-Tim D.

Batocchio said...

Based on bobarino's comment above, I'm almost certain I saw your version, but I definitely remember an episode with that plot. It was striking, very different from the usual fare (and since I was a kid watching MASH primarily in reruns, it frankly made quite an impression). I thought I'd seen pretty much every MASH episode, but maybe I never saw the Gelbart version.

Karl said...

This is an older post, but I read a posting (URL below) on a comic blog I look at occasionally, and had to leave it on a MASH posting for this blog, which I subscribe to in Google Reader - basically, the writer makes a great case for a MASH comic. There's a growing list of TV writers doing comics these days (John Rogers and Joss Whedon come immediately to mind), and as a fan of this blog I think it's interesting enough to let you know about. Anyhow, thanks for the great reading material...

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2007/02/14/comics-that-should-exist-mash-the-comic/#more-4637

Anonymous said...

what's the name of the episode with Gelbart's version?!!

Lydia Echo said...

If the original episode you're referring to is "White Gold", I actually thought the duplicate served to highlight the differences between Trapper (who goes along eagerly) and BJ (the voice of dissent).