Saturday, July 28, 2007

M*I*S*C M*A*S*H


By popular demand, more MASH stuff. (I never get this kind of reaction to my Palm Springs travelogues.) Here are some random questions and thoughts:

How did we get the medical jargon? We had a consultant on staff, Dr. Walter Dishell. When writing the script, David and I would just slug in medical nonsense.

HAWKEYE: I think his freebazzber is ruptured.

BJ: You might have to gumenford him and eeknonoogle his interior norgalflagle.


HAWKEYE: Nurse, zignuts. Stat!


Walt would send the script back replacing the zignuts. Eventually we became more proficient in operating procedures and by the end of our tenure we were taking a crack at the jargon ourselves, just calling him and running the scene by him. One of our proudest moments on the show was once writing an OR scene that required no changes. Of course the patient did die.

If you’re writing a spec script like a HOUSE that requires medical-speak, consult a doctor to get it right.

When breaking stories, we would often call Walt and say something like, “Here’s what we need -- a patient that comes in with a bad fever. He becomes delusional that night. The next day he’s better. But that night he dies.” An hour later Walt would call back with Hemorrhagic Fever or some other exotic disease.

At MASH we also had a nurse on stage who served as our technical advisor. That is why you never saw Hawkeye operate with a band saw.

A few people commented on the number of inconsistencies in the show. Yes, a show bible might have been nice. To me there were two BIG inconsistencies: Harry Morgan initially appeared as an insane general (maybe the funniest MASH episode EVER – “The General Flipped at Dawn”) and then later as Colonel Potter. And the other – we’re supposed to believe that eleven years of stories, main characters coming and going, actors aging over a decade, etc. all took place in less than two years.

The theme song, taken from the movie, “Suicide is Painless” was never sung on the series.

The show was shot at Twentieth Century Fox on Stage 9, and on location in Malibu canyon. A later brush fire destroyed most of the exterior sets. The sets from the stage are in the Smithsonian in Washington. I didn’t steal any of the props. I’m an idiot.

It took four days to shoot an episode. One day to read and rehearse, and three to film. One of the three shooting days would be out on location. But only until the end of Daylight Savings Time. After that the days were too short. The final six or seven episodes were always filmed exclusively on the stage, even the exterior scenes.

For my money the best episodes were written by Larry Gelbart and the team of Everett Greenbaum & Jim Frizzell.

I was there for the creation of Charles Emerson Winchester. The idea was to replace Frank Burns with a character that was very much his opposite. We all wanted Charles to be smarter and more gifted as a surgeon than Hawkeye or B.J. and, as opposed to Frank, a worthy adversary.

There were no auditions for the part of part. Producer Burt Metcalfe had seen David Ogden Stiers guesting on an episode of the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and thought he’d be perfect. It was only after David was hired that we learned he could do that slight Boston accent.

MASH tribute sites have trivia contests. I often can’t answer questions from episodes I wrote.

25 comments:

pat said...

If you are planning to write a spec script for my fave show, "House," this is a great reference: http://www.politedissent.com/house_pd.html

It's a site where a doctor critiques the medicine of each episode in detail. When you see how many mistakes he picks up in all that impenetrable medical yipyap, you might despair. But even so, he says he only does this because "House" is so good that he expects the highest research standards from it. His worst insult is reserved for episodes with glaring medical errors, ridiculous leaps of logic or impossible coincidences. He calls that "'Gray's Anatomy' level medicine."

emily latella said...

M*A*R*V*E*L*O*U*S

Mike B. said...

But only until the end of Daylight Savings Time. After that the days were too short.

Huh? As you approach DST, it would be spring or summer, which means your days would be longer. Or can the unions bend time?

Graham Powell said...

I'm glad they never sang "Suicide is Painless". It's a tragic song, and it really gave M*A*S*H the movie an odd vibe: it's a series of comic episodes that combine to make a tragedy.

The Crutnacker said...

Summer reruns, even on Ken Levine's blog.

I must admit that I now feel better knowing that the hundreds of hours I spent watching M*A*S*H helped contribute another 22 1/3 cents in residuals to Ken.

Ken mentions "Suicide is Painless". Can you imagine that flying as a theme song today? Of course, if M*A*S*H were to premiere today, the theme song would be a 5 second bugle tune with the show's logo on a white background. I wonder who they'd get to play all the characters in today's world.

As for the opening, I always wondered what those nurses were all running for. Was there a unit marathon or something?

estiv said...

As for the opening, I always wondered what those nurses were all running for. Was there a unit marathon or something?

C'mon, crutnacker, the choppers were landing with wounded. I always thought that was, like the quiet theme music itself that Ken has highlighted in earlier posts, a very nice example of how an intro tells you what to expect, if you're a newcomer. "Here's what this show is about," basically. At its best, which was often, the wounded, often barely more than kids, were the real heart of the show, whatever else was going on.

Or maybe you knew all that and just successfully punked me. That's been known to happen.

John said...

Just as a side note -- it drives me crazy the way Fox pre-edited “The General Flipped at Dawn” for syndication, taking out the final scene where we find out the general's been promoted following his performance of "Mississippi Mud" during Hawkeye's court matrial. Before the shows were sent out on videotape for syndication, most stations left that scene in and edited out one of the earlier ones to get in their extra commercials.

Mike Snider said...

Hey, Ken - I love your blog!

But I had to comment on M.A.S.H. inconsistencies because there was a blatant one that always bugged me and my fellow enlistees in the military while the show was on: the HAIR! There was no way our superiors in the 1970s would let us get away with "the over-the-ears, down-past-the-collar" look (even at my base in remote Turkey!), and we were pretty sure commanders of wartime 1950s weren't any more "liberal" or "cool". So, how come we never saw the stacks of Letters of Reprimand and Article 15s about hair-violations next to Hawkeye's, Trapper John's and BJ's bunks?

Anonymous said...

Mike, inside the army, what would Klinger have gotten in the way of reprimands for his outfits, earrings, high heels (in that kind of terrain - can you imagine, ladies??) and boa feathers? :-)

Stacey

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I agree about the hair, especially the later shows with B.J. Also, women didn't wear hot pants and glossy lipstick back then. In my rough and tumble engineer outfit (Nam), a kid that slept with a teddy bear would have been beaten mercilessly. Every so often I'd notice an error--reference to events that happened after the war, comics being read that were published 20-30 years later, phrases that weren't in vogue at the time, etc. Still, it was a good show and I still watch reruns regularly.

The Crutnacker said...

I was joking about the nurses running. It always struck me as funny because we never saw anyone running in the episodes.

There appears to be a Ken Levine marathon on Hallmark Channel Wednesday, with two or three of his episodes, and then apparently more on Friday. Check IMDB.com.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if this was from the show "The General Flipped," but it might have been and it is one of my favorite from the show: Hawk is asked what the star on the officer's uniform signifies, and he said: "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star." I was in the Army at the time and MASH was a lifeline to sanity for me during those two years. I thank anyone who was a part of that series.

Stan from Tacoma

NYLouOC said...

The 'trust your car to the man with the star' comment comes from "Chief Surgeon WHO?" from Season 1....

The General in this case being portrayed by Sorrell 'Boss Hogg' Booke...

Mary Stella said...

All this time I thought a ruptured freebazzber was inoperable.

*g*

Great post, Ken!

Tim Dunleavy said...

The 'trust your car to the man with the star' comment comes from "Chief Surgeon WHO?" from Season 1....

When I read that line, I thought "that's gotta be a Larry Gelbart line"... and sure enough it was - Gelbart wrote that episode.

Gelbart and Laurence Marks wrote "Rainbow Bridge" (third season), which has one of my favorite witticisms ever: "'Mutiny on the Bus' - It was a B picture. Allen Jenkins played the bus driver." Hawkeye said it, but you can almost picture Gelbart saying it too.

Thanks for bringing back great memories.

NYLouOC said...

All this time I thought a ruptured freebazzber was inoperable.


only if you have the gabloots at the time...

name that reference in less than 10 seconds....

Matt said...

Ken, I would have thought you'd have thought of this already but there is a way to argue that MASH did not go to far beyond the actual term of the Korean Conflict. The show was on for 11 years, lets say an average of 26 episodes a season. Most episodes take place over one or two days, with that you're talking about say 500 or so days, add another 200 or so to account for episodes that took place over longer periods and you end with about 700 days which is at least on the shuttle bus to the auxiliary parking lot of the ballpark of truth.

Anonymous said...

I love these Mash stories. Especially since episodes are now airing on TV Land.

Ronzoni Rigatoni said...

"Harry Morgan initially appeared as an insane general (maybe the funniest MASH episode EVER – “The General Flipped at Dawn”

C'mon, Mr. Ken, you stole this title from George MacDonald Fraser's "The General Danced at Dawn," Right?

Geoduck said...

I was joking about the nurses running. It always struck me as funny because we never saw anyone running in the episodes.

It's also amusing to note that the actresses were hired to shoot just that one scene, and never appeared in the show itself.

France said...

This serie was so funny!!

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I know! It was!

And water is so wet! ;)

ajmilner said...

One big MASH goof worth mentioning: The "War for All Seasons" episode summarized the entire year 1951, in particular the camp's interest in the National League Giants/Dodgers pennant race. This ended with Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" home run, which occured at 3:58 pm New York time. Thing of it is, we see the 4077th listening to a live radio simulcast of the ballgame in Korea and it's mid-afternoon there! IRL, they'd have needed to have been up at around 5-6 AM to have heard the game live...

John Eje Thelin said...

So the fact that the show was obviously about Vietnam and not Korea isn't considered a big inconsistency?

methodactor said...

Fantastic. This is the best my MASH appetite has been whetted, in a very long time. Thanks.