Friday, July 20, 2007

Our first MASH

As I conduct my writing seminar this weekend here are a couple of MASH related posts. This is the story of how David Isaacs and I got our first MASH assignment.

We had sold a JEFFERSONS and a couple of episodes of another series, JOE AND SONS, cancelled one nanosecond after we turned in our second script. (Surprisingly, there are no JOE AND SONS tribute websites.) Our agents moved up to the agency that also represented MASH executive producer, Gene Reynolds. He read and liked our JEFFERSONS and invited us to come in and meet. My partner and I had met in the Army Reserves so we were very comfortable writing a military show. This was season five, Larry Gelbart, had just left, and Gene was looking for new writers. Forget for a moment that the two of us together couldn’t carry Larry Gelbart’s pencil sharpener, we jumped at the chance.

We had a good meeting, were loaded down with research material, and told to come back when we had some stories to pitch. I asked how many stories? At the JEFFERSONS writers were allowed to pitch only three. Gene said as many as we had.

A week later we were back in his office with FIFTY stories. There was no way we were going to walk out of there without a sale. Needless to say, he was a little overwhelmed. By idea number fifteen he put two of them together and gave us the assignment.

We were over the moon. (Quick aside, a little over a year later we became head writers of MASH and wound up using most of those fifty stories.)

The two stories for that initial assignment were:

A gas heater blows up and Hawkeye is temporarily blind.

And Frank bets on baseball games aired by Armed Forces Radio live in the middle of the night then rebroadcast during the day. Thus he bets knowing the outcome. (This came from a true story I heard about from the Far East Network in Viet Nam.) Our spin was that Hawkeye discovers this and he, B.J., Radar, and Klinger do a recreation of a game to fool him.

The episode was called OUT OF SIGHT/OUT OF MIND. Our draft was very well received and proved to be the turning point of our career.

It took us two weeks to complete -- one week to write just one speech. But that speech was key to the episode.

Tomorrow – that speech.

16 comments:

Otto Schmidlap said...

I remember Joe and Sons. There was running gag where Richard Castellano would be alone and reach for his secret hidden cigarettes and the neighbor lady would always walk in and catch him before he got to light up.

RAC said...

Fifty stories to pitch? NOW you're talkin'! I really wish I was at your writing room seminar this weekend!

R.A. Porter said...

This posting is coming from inside the hotel!!!

I'm one of the lucky few who gets to act as guinea pig for Ken's first go at the Sitcom Room. I'm sure to blog quite heavily about it when it's over, possibly even some Saturday night if I haven't worn out my fingers in pursuit of the funny. 'Cause I am worried about that. I mean, what if it's all just some trick? Maybe Ken's bringing a bunch of eager writers to LA for the weekend so he can chain us to tables in a dimly lit ballroom doing piecework for a shady multi-national shoe-and-sitcom conglomerate. Tonight I sleep the sleep of the innocent, but tomorrow I might get shipped off in a cargo container to write episodes of Jolly Happy Father with Too Skinny Wife for Taiwan Channel 3.

I wonder if they get dental?

NYLouOC said...

I am assuming the speech you are talking about is the one where Hawkeye sort of comes to terms with his temporary disability..listening to the thunderstorm, etc...

Anonymous said...

As close as I could find to a Joe and Sons tribute site.
http://www.tv.com/joe-and-sons/show/10988/summary.html

Anonymous said...

How often did Mike Price write for M*A*S*H ?

Gail Renard said...

Okay my life is sad enough that I googled "Joe and Sons" and see that Jimmy Baio was in the cast. Now if you'd had SCOTT....

Cathy Krasnianski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy Krasnianski said...

I know the speech you're referring to. I particularly loved the comparison of the sound of rainfall to frying bacon.

Excellent work!

Grubber said...

Looking forward to your posts RA even if they are a week from now. My feeling is it will be worth every penny.
cheers
Dave

tb said...

If Scott Baio is the "poor man's Tony Danza", then what is Jimmy?

Graham Powell said...

I remember that faked radio broadcast. Hawkeye calls, "Here's the windup... strike three!"

But BJ smacks a "hit", so Hawk backtracks - "Oh, he just got a piece of it!"

So you wrote this BEFORE you were a baseball announcer?

Mahala said...

MASH was one of my all time favorite shows. I always wanted to be Hot Lips, instead I grew up to be Chunky Hips.

John said...

"Out of Sight, Out of Mind" was one of the best episodes of Season 5. While it took on a serious issue, there was a relaxed nature to it that was missing in the serious episodes of the final few seasons -- no preaching, and the comedy (blind Hawkeye in the nurses tent, both in the initial scene and when he fakes it at the end of the show) didn't suffer from the loud/over-the-top acting that makes the last 3-4 years of M*A*S*H far less fun to watch in reruns because the actors/writers/directors don't seem to trust the audience to get what's funny without beating them over the head with it.

Reid Harrison said...

>>(Quick aside, a little over a year later we became head writers of MASH and wound up using most of those fifty stories.)<<

Ah, the words every resentful writer loves to read.

I'm going off to shoot myself in the head now.

MitchJ said...

That was a great episode. Thanks for sharing your experience in writing it.