Friday, March 11, 2011

Was MASH ever asked to change its title?


It’s March 11th. To celebrate the Meiji Japanese government officially annexing the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1872, here are some Friday questions:


John starts it off:

Back in the 1960s and early 70s, I remember shows that went into daytime/evening re-runs while still showing on network were usually renamed, under the idea that the public was too dumb to figure out the difference between a first-run prime-time episode and one airing opposite the 6 p.m. news. Supposedly, that changed in 1978 because for some odd reason, Fox had sold the syndication rights to M*A*S*H as "M*A*S*H", and the story was CBS was facing the prospect of actually having to change the name of the prime-time show before a deal was reached.

Since that was about the time you and David were the head writers, is that true? Was the 1979-80 season ever close to being renamed something like "The A*L*A*N A*L*D*A Show"?

No. There was never any serious discussion of changing the name of MASH. I mean, seriously, what else could you call it? THE POTTER BARN? THOSE WACKY MEDICOS OF THE 4077? MEATBALL SURGERY? IF IT’S 1951 THIS MUST BE KOREA? (I’m sure you guys will chip in a few others.)

Before MASH went into syndication CBS aired reruns of the show Friday nights at midnight. This was 1977 or 78 as I recall. The following year it went into full syndication. MASH is rather unusual in that generally shows go into syndication and after the first three years their numbers go down (which is understandable. How many times can you watch the same episode of SILVER SPOONS?). But MASH’s numbers remained pretty steady. And CONTINUE to stay high, even after thirty years.

Of course, no show will EVER surpass the staying power of I LOVE LUCY. Can you imagine? Those episodes are sixty years old?  Do you think in 2071 people will be watching TWO AND A HALF MEN reruns and saying, “Can you believe Charlie Sheen is 106 years-old”?

But you’re right, John. In the ‘60s and ‘70s networks were concerned their primetime series would suffer competing with themselves in syndication so they often changed the names. The one that pops to mind is GUNSMOKE. In syndication it was called MARSHALL DILLON.  (Reminds me of that old '50s oldie -- they call me Speedo but my real name is Mr. Earl.)

And then there's YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH.  That became THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW and yet no one called it either.  For most of us, that show will always be SGT. BILKO.

MASH certainly proved that having a show run in syndication concurrent with its original run does not hurt first-run ratings. MASH’s primetime numbers were never higher than its last three seasons.


And an even better example is WINGS. After several years it went on the USA NETWORK. And they didn’t just play it five times a week; they played it five hundred times a week. It was a joke! USA played nothing but WINGS. The result: more people discovered the show and its primetime ratings shot up. Of course, in this case, it sort of helped that the show was terrific.


From bettyd:

Approximately how many staff will be out of work when a typical show stops production for this reason or because of cancellation? Of course Two and a half Men has a small cast, but I assume it is the same number of camera people, writers, etc for most 3 camera sit-coms.

Generally about two hundred people.  Think about that the next time you trash a hotel room, Charlie.

And finally, Anonymous (please leave a name) asks:

So when you write, do you write for yourself or do you write for an audience in middle America?

Both but myself first. And it’s not middle America, it’s whoever the intended audience is. Jokes that work on FRASIER might not have the same zing on HANNAH MONTANA.

But here’s the thing about “middle America” – everyone assumes they’re cornpones. On MASH we did all kinds of sophisticated jokes and literary references. Where were our best ratings? Those cornpones are a lot sharper than you think.

What’s your question? And again, congratulations to the Meijis.

45 comments:

DonBoy said...

M+A-S/H

RockGolf said...

DuringM*A*S*H?

Phillip B said...

"Meatball Surgery"

"MedSurg Doc"

"Hawkeye and His Friends"

"Suicide is Painless"

The brand was too strong, they could have shown a series of stills and out takes on those late nights with decent ratings......

Mark said...

I think an obvious alternative title would have been "4077th". Although I would love to see some promotional spots for "M*A*S*H*ed" Seems like the kind of stuff networks think is funny.

Jeff Clem said...

"Middle America" is defined as any place that is NOT New York City or Los Angeles, correct?

Please Leave Name said...

"Hawkeye's Diary"

"Trouble Near the 38th Parallel"

"Radar's War"

"Cutting Up"

"Trapper John, M.D." (Hmm...)

"Hot Lips"

LouOCNY said...

M*I*S*H*M*O*S*H

M*A*S*H*U*G*A

bonus points for those who know where those came from

Dimension Skipper said...

Two politically incorrect alternate M*A*S*H-up titles...

"$*!+ Hawkeye Pierce Says"

"How I Met Your Mama-san"

Anonymous said...

BeforeAfterM*A*S*H

Nat G said...

S*H*A*Z*A*M

--Nat (whose favorite TV shows were always The Dick Van Dyke Daytime Show, Chips Patrol, and Happy Days Again.)

Breadbaker said...

Suicide is Painless. Would make a great TV Guide entry: "This week on Suicide is Painless, Klinger wears Coco Chanel."

Powerhouse Salter said...

BLEEDING HEARTS?

Outcharg said...

Today's useless trivia: GUNSMOKE is still MARSHALL DILLON in syndication, for only the episodes from the first six years. The syndicator uses the title to distinguish the early half-hour episodes from the later full-hour version.

John said...

Thanks for the reply, Ken. The renaming of shows still on prime-time runs seemed pretty silly to begin with.

I was living in D.C. when M*A*S*H went into syndication on Ch. 5 in the fall of '79 with its regular title, but back-to-back with "Happy Days", which was retitled "Happy Days Again", just so people could tell the difference between weekdays at 7 p.m. and Tuesday nights at 8 on ABC ("Happy Days -- The Brother Chuck Era" probably would have been a better syndicated title, though I think that was the last instance of a show changing its name for re-runs. By the time its companion piece, "Laverne & Shirley" was syndicated, Paramount felt no need to rename the show "Brooklyn Girls in Milwaukee" or "Schlmeel, Schlmozzle, Hasenpfeffer Incorportated" or whatever they came up with).

Dave said...

In those early days of cable, USA meant Usually Shows Airwolf.

D. McEwan said...

"Middle America" can not afford TVs any more, thanks to the politicians Middle-Americans voted in, who are busy busting the unions their voters belonged to (Because, you know, teachers are evil.), and seeing to it that rather than 75% of America's wealth being in the pokets of its wealthiest 1%, but are busy trying to get it to 100% into the pockets of 1%. People can't afford TVs, nor the homes to put them in.

So why write for an audience that no longer has TVs?

Carlos M Hernandez said...

I know, I know!

Because they now have the internet?

Anonymous said...

When you were working on becoming a baseball announcer, did you ever have the cojones to ask Vin Scully to listen to one of your tapes and comment? Your dad worked for the Dodgers flagship station so it must have been a possibility.

Anonymous said...

Along with "Marshal Dillon", one of the best know syndication titles was "Andy of Mayberry" - to this day it's sometimes referenced that way rather than by its correct name. I agree that "Happy Days Again" was probably the last.

B said...

I found MASH reruns also in 1979 at the same time I started watching and appreciating great comedy shows. In the Everett Greenbaum interview, he says the "audience never noticed the difference" in the show's quality in the last few seasons. I assume he meant because the ratings were high. I think the ratings were high not because of the quality, but because the show was a huge hit in syndication and more people started watching the first-run episodes to see how it was going to end. In my case, I can't watch any episodes in Seasons 9, 10 and 11. But did watch them once just to see them. As for Lucy, I back the Jerry Seinfeld line where Jerry says "I've never watched one episode of I Love Lucy" to which his date says "that's incredible" and Jerry says "thank you."

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

One of the weirdest stories about syndication concerns The Simpsons. Ever since the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, you can't show Homer or Bart naked on TV (the movie skateboard scene notwithstanding).

However, older syndicated episodes of The Simpsons are aired at 5PM, way before primetime, with plenty of shows that do have Homer and Bart fully nude. Go figure.

Anonymous (please leave a name) said...

How do you think Jessica Alba's remark about writers will affect her when it comes time to staff her new show?

David said...

In the latter first-run years of M*A*S*H, KTTV-11 here in L.A. ran reruns at 7, 730, and 11pm. So on Monday nights, when first-run eps aired on CBS, it was actually possible without VCR/DVR to watch four episodes of M*A*S*H in a single evening. Heaven.

Alternative title: eps that focused on Hawkeye, Trapper/B.J., and Rader could have been tagged "Two and a Half Men"...

What? Why are you all looking at me like that?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question. I do think there are regional sensibilities and humor. It is pure genius to create something that everyone finds funny. Although, my husband thinks the Three Stoogies is funny we both like Raising Hope and the Big Bang Theory.

chalmers said...

I actually do remember watching, at least on the NYC stations, "Laverne & Shirley & Company."

Bruce said...

200 people dedicated to one show?! I find that very hard to believe. Surely 150+ are supporting other shows at the same time, no?

gottacook said...

Another fine example of the (ex-)genre: "Jim Rockford, Private Investigator." Really makes you want to watch, doesn't it?

mike said...

Just so you know, M*I*S*H*M*O*S*H and M*A*S*H*U*G*A are both from M*A*D M*A*G*A*Z*I*N*E

unkystan said...

I remember when "Marcus Welby, MD" went syndicated it was called "Robert Young, Family Doctor" which led someone (I wish I could remember who)thought a good name for MASH would be, "Alan Alda, Subversive Surgeon"

LouOCNY said...

Just so you know, M*I*S*H*M*O*S*H and M*A*S*H*U*G*A are both from M*A*D M*A*G*A*Z*I*N*E

ding ding ding


I believe that M*A*S*H is the only series that MAD ever did two official parodies of while it was still on the prime time schedule. the first title was done during the Henry Blake era, and the second title was done in either season 9 or 10.

The second parody was the best, as they skewered EVERY thing that was wrong with the show those years.

Our local library once had a MAD editor (Joe Riaola) as a speaker, and I had a chance to chat with him and comment on how the quality of a MAD TV/Movie parody is directly inverse to the quality of the show/movie they are using.

What is really cool, is that as a result of that visit, MAD gave our library a PERPETUAL subscription to MAD! So to this day, MAD sits on the magazine racks at the library, right next to MADMOISELLE.

LouOCNY said...

Funny that Ken happened to make the joke about Charlie Sheen being 107 in 2071 - This year is the 100th anniversary of Lucille Ball's birth. If you know her story at all, Lucy had one the hardest struggles in show biz history - family tragedies...one setback after another etc, etc. Her and Desi did I.L.L. on THEIR terms, and ended up inventing the modern sitcom. And Desi invented the modern TV production company, and took risks even when they had the #1 show on TV, by buying more properties and taking risks on shows like THE UNTOUCHABLES.

And remember - with out I Love Lucy, there's no STAR TREK...no MISSION IMPOSSIBLE either.


I know more than few put I Love Lucy down, but will people be laughing at SEINFELD in 60 years?

Chris G. said...

When a show is not just a hit that will run for five or six or seven years but a legitimate institution that runs for over a decade (MASH, Cheers, Frasier) or two (Law & Order, Simpsons) or three (SNL), at what point do the folks making it realize this? Is there ever a point where the showrunners and producers realize they're doing something that will have that sort of a run? And if they do, does that realization affect the way the show gets made?

lansing said...

Hi Ken

This is a follow-on to Chris G’s question above. Do writers on a long term show perceive when the quality of a program is in decline? A substantial decline in ratings makes this obvious to everyone. However, a ratings decline can substantially lag a quality decline.

A quality decline could be a reflection of actively fighting losing battle against time (how many fresh situations can anyone come up with for a given sitcom). Conversely, it could be that the writers are oblivious to a slow gradual decline until it is too late to turn it around. I’m curious if you have any insights on this situation?

As background, I thought of this question after watching last week’s Simpsons (A Scorpion’s Tale). To me, that show hit a new low in what I perceive to be a steady decline in quality for at least the last three years. Story driven humour has been replaced by meaningless plots used to frame random jokes . Rather than building humour from the deeply developed characters, the current writers have reduced these characters to stereotypes so they can take the easy path to cheap jokes. I just wonder if this is conscious or unconscious.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

My favorite show name change was for the early episodes of "Lassie". For syndication some "genius" came up with "Jeff's Collie". How lame is that?

Mike Schryver said...

Yes, "Laverne & Shirley" was called

Laverne
&
Shirley
&
Company

in syndication. I think the "Dick Van Dyke Daytime Show" was used on CBS daytime, but I don't think any of Lucy's series were renamed on network daytime. Curious.

I vote for "Hawkeye's Hijinks".

LouOCNY said...

I think the "Dick Van Dyke Daytime Show" was used on CBS daytime, but I don't think any of Lucy's series were renamed on network daytime. Curious.

I vote for "Hawkeye's Hijinks".


Au contraire! After I.L.L. went off the air, for a short time CBS bundled up the last half of the last season where the show moved to Connecticut, and aired them as....are you ready..."Lucy in Connecticut" Also, between when Lucy had started in 1951, and 1954, the number of TV markets in the country had tripled, so a lot of places had not seen the first couple of seasons of Lucy, so CBS bundled THOSE up, and aired them early Sunday evening as 'The Sunday Lucy Show' whew!

DrBear said...

When CBS was running Hawaii Five-O reruns in late night, they were renamed "McGarrett," so I assume it would have been "Hawkeye" which sounds like a Burt Reynolds detective show.

And when USA was running Duckman, they once had Duckman watching a TV with the announcer saying "Wings, Wings, Wings and Wings will not be seen tonight..."

Earl B said...

What about the occasional episode I saw in syndication as "M*A*S*H 4077" ?

jbryant said...

How about KOREA: THE ELEVEN-YEAR WAR?

Vinny said...

Ken,

So, I work in an office building (not in film/tv industry) and the office next to mine was recently rented by an extremely well known producer/writer's production team for an upcoming feature film. I don't have any completed scripts/specs or any experience in the film industry other than what my actor uncle has talked to me about. Would it be completely out of line for me to slip a cover letter/resume under the door, inquiring about any open position for after I get out of my regular day job? Who would I address it to? Like I said, I don't have any experience in the industry and was curious if this would be a way to get my head in the door. Thanks!

Vinny

Vinny

Johnny Walker said...

Interesting trivia on the Sgt. Bilko Show (from IDMB): Although the ratings were still good in the show's final season, it was canceled by CBS because they wanted to sell the reruns in syndication. At the time, it was believed that a series could not still be in production in order to do well in reruns. The reruns were sold to NBC and aired continuously for 40 years.

Anonymous said...

Though I greatly admired the talent of the late Lucille Ball, her personal life frankly wasn't that interesting. It's why those biographical TV movies of her weren't that successful. She had a troubled marriage, it ended, she remarried and that one did last. Same thing has happened to a lot of people.

Now, her professional life, on the other hand, was very interesting. However, her husband - not her - was the creative force behind their production company. And as good as he was, I have no doubt that even if Desilu never existed, Gene Roddenberry still would have created Star Trek, and Bruce Geller would have created Mission Impossible. Those shows just would have happened at different studios.

Anonymous said...

Chris G. and Lansing's comments above remind me of a late SCTV bit about a "Dennis the Menace" type show titled "Oh That Rusty!" that had premiered in 1952 and was still running in 1983 with the 40-something star continuing to play a 7 year old boy.

Dana Gabbard said...

"... the 40-something star continuing to play a 7 year old boy."

Maybe Charlie Sheen is doing 2 1/2 Men a favor since the kid is so old now they have had plots where he has competed with Uncle Charlie for the same 20ish woman.

Anonymous said...

"W*A*R?"
War is Hell(arious)?
A*C*T*U*A*L*LY A*B*O*U*T
V*I*E*T N*A*M?
(Left by Beckdog)