Thursday, February 28, 2013

The 30th anniversary of the last MASH episode

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the finale of MASH. For many years it was the single highest rated television program in history. Not sure what finally eclipsed it – either a Super Bowl or the CELEBRITY FIT CLUB episode where Chaz Bono lost seven pounds. In any event, it was an event.

Having been a writer on the show for four of its eleven years, here are some random thoughts and reflections from inside the Swamp:

How important was MASH to me personally? When producer Gene Reynolds gave my partner, David Isaacs and I our first assignment it completely changed our lives. The response to that script (“Out of Sight/Out of Mind” – season five) launched our career. Whatever success we enjoyed for the next thirty years would not have happened had Gene Reynolds not taken a chance on two young nimrods who lied and said they had also written drama besides comedy.

Meeting and working with Larry Gelbart was like taking composing lessons from Mozart. And I learned more about storytelling from Gene Reynolds than all the other writers I worked for combined.

An agent once advised that MASH writers should remove that credit from their resumes because it flagged them as too old. I would clean the grease trap at McDonalds before I took MASH off my resume. I’m enormously proud to be associated with that show, even if it means I don’t get a 2 BROKE GIRLS assignment.

A few years ago there was a MASH reunion and a group photo was taken. Standing among those brilliant actors and writers I thought to myself – this is what it must be like to be on a Super Bowl winning team. So the next day I went to Disneyland.

More fun than the last episode airing was the final wrap party. It was held on a Saturday night at Morton’s in Beverly Hills. Very swank. Very posh. We all wore our dressed greens. The great Bobby Short was hired to play. Several of us were standing around the piano listening to him sing and I turned and noticed that the person standing right next to me was Gerald Ford. (He was on the 20th Board of Directors at the time). For several minutes I just chatted up a former president of the United States. You don’t get that at the KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS wrap party. (Of course no one at that party would even know who Gerald Ford is.)

I am so fortunate to be associated with not just one national phenomenon (MASH) but two (CHEERS) and counting. Wait until THE SIMPSONS finally ends. Of course, by that time whoever succeeds Obama will be the former president at that wrap party.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t love the finale. I thought it was too long (although I could see why the network wanted it long – ka-ching!) and I did not like some of the storylines. (Some I loved though, like the Charles subplot with the instruments.) But in particular, I had (and still have) a big problem with the story about the Korean mother who smothers her baby to silence it so villagers won’t be detected. This came from an actual event we uncovered in the research. It was around during my years. Although I find the story utterly heartbreaking, I felt it crossed a line and was too heavy for MASH. Just my opinion.

The one moment of the finale I absolutely adored was at the end when Hawkeye glanced out the helicopter and saw GOODBYE written in stones. Thanks to executive producer Burt Metcalfe for that inspired idea.

The way the script was written was each writer or writing team took turns working with Alan Alda on half hour segments. David and I were producing CHEERS that year and did not participate. We were up against them all for the WGA Award and won. I’d like to think it was due to our brilliance, but it’s tough to win a comedy award when you kill babies.

Although this was the last episode to air, it was not the last episode filmed.

With all due respect to us, the first four seasons – the Larry Gelbart/Gene Reynolds years – were the best of the series. Certainly the funniest.

The night the show aired the cast and selected staff members screened it at the studio on a movie screen. I preferred to watch it at home on a normal television. This made it more of a shared experience for me. And I didn’t have to dress up again.

And finally, there will never be another MASH. Happy 30th anniversary. I only wish Larry were still here to enjoy it.

81 comments:

Carol said...

My husband and I tend to watch MASH most nights as it's on 'ME TV'. I think it still holds up extremely well.

It's up to the years where you and your partner wrote many of the stories, as I keep seeing your name in the credits - gives me a silly little thrill 'Hey, I know him on the internet!' My husband is teasing me because I've been saying recently 'oh, I love this one!' and inevitably it's yours, which explains, I suppose, why I like this blog so much.

Last night was the 'point of view' one, and it really is a great story. So thanks.

I'm sure you answered this before, but who played the guy holding the camera?

Mister Charlie said...

I absolutely agree about the chicken/baby storyline, it rang false, seemed tacked on, Alda's hysterics were just a bit much and really it felt like unnecessary padding. A great show, a massive finale saved by the last scene, but that whole baby thing really irritated me. Not that anyone connected with the show has lost any sleep over that. Nor have I.

Chicago Pinot said...

Hi Ken! Do you think "Baby-Gate" could have worked as a stand-alone episode (probably would have to be a two parter)? It really did seem tonally "off" with the rest of the finale. Maybe if it was a patient at the 4077th who saw the incident and slowly described it to Freedman instead of Hawkeye.

OrangeTom said...

It's been said so much it's almost a cliche but the last years of MASH--for whatever reason--became so Hawkeye-centric, the show became a little annoying.

I'm surprised, Ken, that you didn't include Frasier as a national phenomenon with which you were associated. Was certainly on long enough, had consistent quality, and holds up (laughwise) in syndication as well as the other two you list.

Brian Doan said...

An agent really advised someone to take M*A*S*H, arguably the greatest situation comedy of all time (it's in a three-way tie with MARY TYLER MOORE and CHEERS for my heart), off their resume? That agent should be forced to spend the rest of their lives working E! Channel red carpets with Kelly Osborne as penance.

Thanks for the great background information, Ken. Fun and fascinating, as always.

Donald said...

I loved "30 Rock's" callback to "M*A*S*H's" finale when guest star Alan Alda remarks to a sobbing Tracy Jordan, "“A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show!”

Michael said...

The night of the final episode, I was working at a local newspaper as an editor and it was our banner headline. We wrote the final story based on a leaked script in the National Enquirer, as I recall, and sat there with the Enquirer in front of me as the story checked out.

The episode was indeed too long, and the chicken/baby didn't quite play right.

By the way, Ken, my best friend from graduate school, Yanek Mieczkowski, wrote a history of Gerald Ford's administration and interviewed him a few times. He said Ford was just the nicest, most down-to-earth guy you could hope to meet, and others who met him said the same thing.

Gazzoo said...

I remember my dad, who wasn't a huge MASH fan, actually getting a bit misty-eyed at this as it reminded him of when he left the service and had to say goodbye to everyone...

John said...

Honestly, Ken -- and I felt this years before I started reading your blog -- Seasons 5-7 hold up in their own way as well as Seasons 1-4 -- they're an extension of the way Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds already started taking MASH in Seasons 3-4, but at the same time, never tipped over too far, to the point where you could tell the dramatic parts of the script were becoming the focal point and the comedy sections just the afterthought. That problem began creeping into scripts in Season 8 and really took hold in the final three years.

Also -- in regards to the final episode's hyper-serious plot line with the mother and baby on the bus -- it was interesting to watch how the various writers used Alan Arbus' Dr. Sidney Friedman over the course of the show. He debuted in a Season 2 episode that also debuted Edward Winter's Col. Flagg, but the trajectory of the two characters after that was almost diametrically opposite.

Dr. Friedman was never comical, but he became the go-to guy when MASH wanted to do more serious storylines about the effects of war on people, while Flagg began as a relatively sane (well, saner than Frank Burns) CIA guy who turned into more and more of a joke over the next five seasons.

(BTW -- and this makes me feel really old just looking it up -- while MASH's final episode is 30 years old today, I note online that Allan Arbus just turned 95 on Feb. 15. I never would have pegged him as being in his mid-60s when the show's final episode aired).

Rock Golf said...

The Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Desk Calendar also celebrates the 30th anniversary of M*A*S*H finale today. What a coincidence!

It adds some info to the story. Alda's first idea for the finale was a regular half-hour show, with him breaking character at the end and "delivering a short monologue honoring vetrans". CBS turned it down.

The outside set M*A*S*H filmed on burned down due to a forest fire during filming, so they wrote it into the script.

The show that finally beat M*A*S*H for highest number of viewers was the 2010 Super Bowl, so it held the record for 27 years.

Kirk said...

I've said this before here, but you've givenme the opportunity to say it again. My favorite part of the finale is the long kiss between Hawkeye and Margaret as BJ, Potter, and Charles awkwardly try not to gawk.

Johnny Walker said...

Totally agree! I caught the finale again not so long ago and was shocked at how dark it was (I'd clearly forgotten). One of my favourite moments ever was seeing 'Goodbye' written out in stones on the ground. That was something I *did* remember. Such a simple thing, but it worked so well.

Thinking about it now, they could have done something with the baby story without torturing us with Hawkeye's breakdown -- if they were so insistent on using it. I think part of what made M*A*S*H so enjoyable (in all of its incarnations) was having strong characters dealing hideous situations really well, without losing their humanity. Despite what they experienced, our heroes never lost their faith in people, and maintained their friendships

It would have been interesting to see how far that could be taken, with such a horrible real life story like the killing of a baby, but showing Hawkeye tormented definitely wasn't the way -- however "realistic" it may have been.

I'm not sure if anyone reading this is a Buffy fan, but Joss Whedon used genre tropes to put the characters in real emotional situations -- and they reacted to them very much like Hawkeye and company: Never losing their sense of humour, their faith in humanity, while also maintaining strong friendships. Even when Buffy went through some seriously dark stuff like finding her mother suddenly dead in the living room. (Ouch.)

In Season 6 of Buffy, however, they decided to put the title character through the wringer, and like Hawkeye in the finale, she became a tortured soul. She'd lost her sense of humour, her faith in everything was shattered, and she couldn't connect with those around her anymore. And the show became very difficult to watch.

Afterwards Whedon admitted that they'd broken the formula -- that Buffy wasn't Buffy without her admirable qualities -- and I wonder if that's what made the M*A*S*H finale so unbearable to watch? The baby killing was hideous and scarring, but the way they laid out the story (taking a leaf from Catch-22) and how Hawkeye fell apart, is possibly what made it even worse: Without Hawkeye acting as a buffer between us and the atrocities of war, it wasn't M*A*S*H anymore.

Brian said...

I dunno. I think Alda wanted to put a final "horrors of war" story into the show, and on that level it works, but it leaves us with an addled Hawkeye for the rest of the episode, which throws everything a little bit askew, since he's the center of the show.

While it's definitely too long, I think it works, especially Charles' storyline. I've seen this show several times over the years and I still get choked up at the end.

Ken, do you have that reunion photo you mentioned? That'd be great to see!



Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Well, you did it again Ken: I did a spit-take with my milk and cookie this morning when I read your line, "It's tough to win a comedy award when you kill babies."

Woof!

Ox

T. Thompson said...

As someone who watched the finale the night it aired (and had always been a huge fan of the show), I have to say that (as a then-14-year-old) I actually found the Hawkeye/baby plot was a profoundly fitting way to end the series. MASH had always seemed to me to possess a dynamic (as Johnny mentioned above) of how the grace, humor and humanity of the characters could always rise above the horror of war. This episode asked the question that had never really been explored to this point--"What happens to these people that we love when the horror really IS too great?" Watching the strongest, gentlest, most humane character in the series come completely unglued may have been too much to watch, but in my mind it was the most profoundly anti-war statement of the entire anti-war series. For me that episode re-cast the whole series in one sitting, and in a sense sweetened the humor of every other episode. Because throughout its run, MASH never quite let you forget that there were hideously evil things happening, but they were mostly kept offstage. For the final episode, the curtain was pulled back a bit and we saw for ourselves the depth of the pain the characters had been dealing with, and we (at least I) loved them more once I saw just how far their courage and resilience had to run.

And also, I can never hear Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A without a smile coming to my face over Charles...

Gabriel G. said...

When I was a child, my father would watch this show everyday in syndication. He even bought a VCR just so he could record episodes.

The only time the show would grab my attention was when the "Dreams" episode would come on. LOVED that episode and I still do. I'm one of the few.

As an adult, I really appreciate the show and what it did for TV.

PatGLex said...

How bizarre to be reading Ken's blog and seeing a mention of a book that I worked on!

[Yanek Mieczkowski, GERALD FORD AND THE CHALLENGES OF THE 1970S -- Marketing would flay me if I didn't mention it.....]

Kind of a Bacon/Six Degrees....Ken brings diverse factions together!

David Kruh said...

Ken, you write near the end of this blog that "With all due respect to us, the first four seasons – the Larry Gelbart/Gene Reynolds years – were the best of the series. Certainly the funniest."

Hope I am not being presumptuous but I would say that while I agree with you that the "Trapper John" episodes were the funniest, the show only became important afterwards.

tb said...

The ending wasn't the last episode filmed? Well that had to be weird...

Gazzoo said...

I wish they would reformat the series for HD widescreen and take off the laughtrack (like the dvd option)...it would play much better in today's tv marketplace that way.

Another Ken said...

I agree that the early years (and original cast) was the best. But the middle era was still good too. However, the show went downhill big time after season 7. I rarely watch episodes from later seasons. They just weren't funny.

Angel7306 said...

I was a college sophomore, and my roommate's boyfriend rented a big color TV so we could all watch the finale at his apartment. When MASH first started, my parents wouldn't let me watch it because I was too young for the adult humor. Seems like that show has always been part of my life.

Unknown said...

While watching the helicopter carrying the now-retired Pope lifting off from the Vatican, my warped mind thought it would have been great if we saw a shot of the word GOODBYE spelled out in stones.

BigTed said...

When I was in college ages ago, nobody had TVs in our dorm rooms -- much less Internet-enabled computers -- but there was a small TV set in the common room. The only thing we ever watched was weekly episodes of "MASH." When the finale aired, the place was packed. I had the same criticisms of the last episode that others did, but I think it worked as a celebration of the whole series.

Steve Catron said...

I have to disagree about the best episodes of MASH being the first 4 years. A bit too cartoony for my taste. The finest TV I've ever seen are the years from when Burns left, until Radar left. Just excellence.
Friday Question: Was there ever a thought of giving Winchester a spin-off show. I always thought it would be terrific if he went back to Boston with new found humanity and clashed with his old money family.

chuckcd said...

"Although this was the last episode to air, it was not the last episode filmed."

Kind of like Let It Be/Abbey Road.

Unknown said...

College. Evening 7-9:30 class. Prof was a fan. Handed out assignment and dismissed us so we could go home and watch. Fun memory, but THANKS for reminding me that college was 30 years ago!

Unknown said...

Me again...didn't mean to be Unknown - I signed in from Google and everything. Rewinding now, my family was devoted to the CBS Sat nite 1972 bloc: Archie, Mary, Bob, Carol. I was 7, but I remember the original ads for the upcoming MASH. Alda addressing the camera, telling us about a new and different comedy coming our way. Seems like an odd way to promo...

Mac said...

Nice to know Gerald Ford wasn't too snotty to chat with a lowlife comedy scribe. He always seemed like a decent man.

Michelle said...



Joel Keller thanks you and your writing partner for saving MASH and creating some of the best TV episodes ever.

Still not so Young said...

I wish BOTH Larrys, Harry, McLean, et al, were here to celebrate their accomplishments on the show.

Kat said...

I agree that the earlier seasons where the best. Frank Burns was a great foil to Hawkeye and Trapper/BJ.

I can't believe anybody would think a M*A*S*H credit is a detriment to a resume.

Glenn said...

Ken, I’m hoping you can include this in your weekly Friday questions:

One of the things that always seemed odd to me was that the character of Frank Burns remained pretty-two dimensional throughout his run on the series. (Towards the end, he was practically one-dimensional.) I understand that he was used as a foil for Hawkeye and Trapper and BJ, but I always was waiting for the show to let him have “grow up”, even if it was just a tiny bit. Then, in the episode when Margaret flies off on her honeymoon (which ended up being Frank’s final episode), his final line was “Goodbye, Margaret”. It was delivered in such a heartfelt way, and Larry Linville delivered it perfectly. It was the one moment in his entire run where, even for a brief moment, the character of Frank seemed to move up a tiny notch in his attitude. At the time, I had no idea Linville was leaving, so I was expecting them to finally explore more with his character in the new season, but he was not coming back. Did the writers ever consider letting Frank grow a bit more in his time on the series?

Lala said...

30 years ago?! Really! Then I would have been 12. The chicken/baby scene resonates with me still. I was profoundly moved by it, even at 12, and I still am. I use it as a tool to reflect on how good my life is and has been because I've NEVER been in that situation.

Seven Ooteed said...

Well said, Mr. L...Bravo-Zulu! I didn't care for the dead-baby story line either, but I guess it worked. To me, it was far, far away from the show's basic character. Not that it hurt the ratings.

Ford always struck me as a good and decent man...someone who never forgot where he came from. Did you give him any golf tips, like get a good lawyer?

McAlvie said...

Oh, it pains me to think that it was 30 years ago. Mostly it pains me to think that I was watching it in the first run, which makes me ... um, a little older than 30. heh

Anyway, I loved the comedy of the first four years, but if they hadn't tweaked the show and brought in the new characters, it never would have become the iconic show that it was. along with most commenters here, I found the chicken/baby plot disturbing. But as I remember it, Hawkeye came back to the camp and kinda saved the day with some common sense. So in the end, he was our Hawkeye again.

Thanks, Ken, for your part in this show.

Jake Mabe said...

I adore this series. It's my favorite. It changed my life, changed my perspective, gave me a more humanistic outlook on life. The writing, the acting, the entire production, nothing -- nothing -- holds a candle to "M*A*S*H." Like somebody else said, "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Cheers" are in the discussion, but neither quite measures up to "M*A*S*H."

I'm in a minority, but I don't care for the early episodes as much as I do the later ones (even the unfairly-maligned final three seasons). There are exceptions, of course -- "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet," and "Abysinia, Henry" and a couple dozen more -- but "M*A*S*H" to me hit its stride in Seasons 3 and 4 and kept getting better. It's hard to put "Life Time" or "Point of View" up against something subpar like "Major Fred C. Dobbs."

I'm also a fan of the finale, even the strangled baby storyline (especially once I found out it was based on a true event). The years and years of death and trauma finally sent Hawkeye over the edge. His nervous breakdown was a chillingly brilliant performance by the super talented Alda.

Thirty years ago, my dad and I watched the finale together. Even at a relatively young age I realized I was witnessing history.

Like fine wine, "M*A*S*H" keeps getting better with age. Be proud of your work, Ken. You, David, the other writers, the actors, Gene, Larry, Burt, the crew, more than deserve it.

I'm just ashamed that a true piece of filth like "Two Broke Girls" now airs in "M*A*S*H's" final time slot on CBS.

Where have you gone, Hawkeye Pierce?

mdv1959 said...

Thanks for reminding me how old I've gotten.

That was so long ago that cable TV was still in it's infancy and there were only 6 VHF stations to choose from in Los Angeles (and a couple of stray UHF channels). With so few choices I remember MASH being one of a handful of shows I always tried to catch. (Mary Tyler Moore and The Bob Newhart Show were the others)

I watched the finale when it aired but the only thing I remember about the show is the plot line involving the baby, which I thought was a surprisingly depressing choice for the final episode. Oh, and it was too long.

It's amazing how much the TV landscape has changed in the past 30 years.

Jim Prichard said...

MASH first aired when I was 12 and ended when I was in my early 20s. I loved the show, especially during the first three seasons with MacLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers. But I also enjoyed the later years, at least until Larry Linville and Gary Burghoff left, then I, too, grew a little weary of Alan Alda overexposure. Like much of the county, I watched the finale, and while I understand why you disliked the smothered-infant story line, it has always stuck with me as one of the most memorable series finales ever. And it never rang false with me.

Kabir! said...

Here's my MASH finale story -- my parents were (and are) hugely devoted fans of the show. Easily their favorite (along with "Cheers," oddly enough). Those are the two shows which, to this day, they won't answer the phone while it's on. Anyhow, the night of the finale I was 3, my brother was 1, so I don't remember it exactly. But my brother had a cold and was getting sicker and ended up getting dehydrated. Around 7pm, they dropped me at a neighbor's house for the night and headed to the hospital with my brother. Fortunately, everything turned out fine, but they missed almost the entire finale! There was a TV in the commissary, so my Mom says she got to see a few minutes around 9:45pm when she went down to get something to drink. I don't think they saw the whole thing until years later when it finally went into syndication (1993?), because that's when I saw it. I, too, found the baby plot a bit jarring. Maybe they could have expanded Charles' plot (since that involved several deaths)? And the last episode filmed was "As Time Goes By" (time capsule). Check out the beginning of the 1991 "Memories of MASH" special; they intercut outtake footage of the shoot with news video to show the final moments of filming.

Paul Duca said...

Like Big Ted. ( watched the finale in a college common room.

Michael said...

The last season showed the wisdom of a line by one of Ken's fellow baseball broadcasters, Lindsey Nelson, to explain why he left the Mets: Never stay too long at the fair. They struck me as wheezing by then.

The later shows were more dramatic but there was a lot of character comedy, I thought--they knew that we knew these people, so they could say and do things that wouldn't be funny otherwise. I thought one of the great late episodes was in the ninth season, "Oh How We Danced," which combined comedy and drama, and the best moment was when Hawkeye imitated Winchester in a phone call. Think about it: they're BOTH from New England, but Hawkeye has absolutely NO New England accent. I was hysterical when he said, "AN harmonica," and I still cry at the final scene. Yet in the final season, "Foreign Affairs" and "Run for the Money" were, I thought, excellent. But it was time to go.

That Neil Guy said...

Here's a Friday question. Did you have any memories of working with Susan Oliver on MASH? She's most famous for being the first green skinned girl on Star Trek and some guy is trying to kickstart a documentary about her.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/806849424/the-green-girl

It says on that page and on IMDB that she directed an episode of MASH (and an episode of Trapper John MD). I know IMDB isn't always the most reliable source. Do you think that's really the same woman? Did you know her?

Baylink said...

I'm gonna post this before I read the comments...

With a 60.2, as of 2010, it is *still* the highest rated television program ever, with only two possible exceptions: The 9/11 telethon, and the 12/12/12 Sandy telethon, each of which required a Grand Network to beat it.

Some shows have gotten higher households numbers in the last 3 decades, of course, because the market has expanded so much. The only thing ever to get a higher share was the 42nd Emmy's in 1970 -- wasn't that the one with the streaker?

KB said...

You mean the 1970 Oscars got the higher share, I believe. That was just a highly anticipated ceremony. And 1974 is the year with the streaker :)

Baylink said...

I think there's an excellent chance that reunion photo mentioned is this one:

http://www.jamiefarr.com/images/mash-02.jpg

and coincidentally, today was *also* the 30th anniversary of the release date of U2's third studio album -- the first one which was overtly poltical.

It's title?

WAR.

Baylink said...

KB: Wikipedia's article says the Emmy's got a 78 share to MASH's 77, but that table's been cut for possible inaccuracy, so...

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_most_watched_television_broadcasts&oldid=538829202

Baylink said...

And the streaker was the Oscars, no? That was merely my nod that Ken was joking in the first place. :-)

Neil Quinlan said...

I was nine years old when "M*A*S*H" first went to air, and it took me a couple of years to discover it... I was a little young for it to begin with.

However, I caught the re-runs of the first two or three seasons, then picked it up in "real time" as it went to air each week here in Australia.

That show taught me so much... I learned about teamwork, responsibility, black humour, sensitivity, comradeship and even a little about Toledo, Ohio ("Go, the Mudhens!")

By the time the last episode aired, I was 20 years old and completely hooked on the show. I loved that last episode... even the "baby" subplot... and when it ended, I felt as if I'd just said goodbye to old friends for the very last time.

Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce is definitely one of my heroes... and I don't have many. The show has insinuated its way into my thinking and my life. At the place where I work, there is a chaplain, whom I refer to as "Padre", because that's what Colonel Potter used to call Father Mulcahy.

Since there's no way I can adequately describe the full effects that "M*A*S*H" had on me, let me leave you with a short quote from Dr Sidney Freedman:

"Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice:
pull down your pants and slide on the ice."

Julie Fenyes said...

First, I need to pick 3 nits: "When producer Gene Reynolds gave my partner, David Isaacs and I our first assignment . . ."; it should say, ". . . my partner . . . and ME . . ." and there should be a comma after David Isaacs' name and after the word assignment. Just sayin' . . .

Second, I was THE most devoted fan. I watched the originals from day 1 and I saw the reruns so many times, I speak the lines. One of my favorite lines is the answer to "How many days can you go without sleeping?" -- "16, but you have to keep dancing." I love it. Haven't watched in a couple of years but those 11 seasons were among the best years of my life.

Larry Lee Moniz said...

Ken, I am so happy you wrote a blog to mark this historic television milestone. I built a M*A*S*H signpost in my parents' back yard the day after the episode. I agree, some plots were a little heavy, although so many great shows never get that finality they deserve. I am, and always will be a M*A*S*H. Hell, I dressed up as Hawkeye for Halloween just last year (Hawaiian shirt and all)! And yes, those early years were quite special.

Larry Lee Moniz said...

Ken, I am so happy you wrote a blog to mark this historic television milestone. I built a M*A*S*H signpost in my parents' back yard the day after the episode. I agree, some plots were a little heavy, although so many great shows never get that finality they deserve. I am, and always will be a M*A*S*H. Hell, I dressed up as Hawkeye for Halloween just last year (Hawaiian shirt and all)! And yes, those early years were quite special.

Joseph Dickerson said...

Ken, thanks for this. I tweeted it to my many followers and, ironically, today is my last day I am working at my current job. I didn't work there as long as the TV Korean War, but it was almost three times longer than the actual Korean conflict...

Seeing this article and anniversary as I say farewell to my work friends seems somewhat... appropriate.

Matt said...

I haven't seen the episode in years. But what I remember about it was that it almost didn't seem to be MASH. To be special it seemed they tried to expand the universe and bring things in that were not in other episodes. The POW camp was brought into the final episode. While historically accurate, it had never been mentioned in the MASH universe. It just seemed odd that it would become a major plot point and just threw me off. It didn't seem like a MASH episode.

emily said...

Attention Grammar Police...be on the lookout for Julie Fenyes...wanted for picking nits without a license, criticizing bloggers out of season, and for being a public nuisance. That is all...

Rob said...

Odd that no one else on the bus was affected by the baby incident. Odder that Father Mulcahy's hearing loss was played for laughs.

Klinger deciding to stay in Korea was inspired, Potter's farewell to Sophie and Nurse Bigelow giving up on nursing were poignant, and B.J.'s discharge and return seemed like padding.

Some of the bug-out footage was recycled from the original bug-out episode (I think you can even glimpse Radar!)

Best exchange:

Charles (to Igor): You handle our food and dig latrines?

Igor: I always wash my hands before I dig the latrines.

The writers of the mixed-race baby episode didn't like it. Which episodes (yours or not) didn't you like?

Johnny Walker said...

Wow. Some great comments! Makes me want to watch the series again. I have to say I'm among those who can't bear the overly cartoony first four seasons. Even with the laugh track switched off. Frank Burns was just too one dimensional to me... But maybe that's because I grew up on the later seasons, making the difference feel pretty jarring when I finally saw them as an adult.

As comedies go, I can't think of anything comparable, and that's because it had such a great message that left a strong impression on me. The mixture of real horror and comedy was profound. Plus, I cannot imagine setting a sitcom in a war today!

Jeff said...

As many others have mentioned, the finale was flawed. Yet if I stumble across it, I usually stick around. Yes, the baby storyline is a bit much. But some of the other moments are beautifully heartfelt. Those final dinner speeches are wonderful - one nurse says she's just done with the profession; another says she wants to work in maternity, so she can help bring lives into the world instead of the other way around. And that final scene with the helicopter, the message, and the theme music, is perfection.

Cap'n Bob said...

Julie: Ken is a great comedy writer but a so-so punctuator. Let us celebrate the writing and ignore the other.

I don't agree that Frank Burns didn't grow as the seasons wore on, although there wasn't much left to be done with him when Hot Lips married.

Tor Hershman said...

I wonder if anyone thought the final M*A*S*H t'were going to have such a vast audience?
Oh, wait a sec.....that's right, NO...I (Indeed "I") don't wonder about that in the slightest.

Hey! If ya wanna view a Michelle Marie & Marcus Bachmann M*A*S*H parody pic, go to me blog, click the 5th down Most Recent Posts.

Stay on groovin' safari,
Tor

Tor Hershman said...

Oh, yeah, I find it interesting that during the helicopter scene, of M*A*S*H's intro, there's a bloody arm hanging.
In later intros/years it wasn't there, sanitized no doubt.
Methinks it made a comeback, tho.

Kudos to those who put it in.

Keith Massey said...

I remember what an event that episode was in our house. The entire family in front of that little screen. We laughed and we cried. That's for that sweet memory.

Kirk said...

I didn't like the smothered baby plotline for the simple reason that I just don't like the idea of mothers smothering babies. But if it happened in real life, maybe you should show it. One minor problem with MASH is that horrors of war was more apparent to the characters--whom, after all, looking right into these bodies while they're being operated on--than the show's viewers, who see everything in abstract. So, the smothered baby kind of evened things out.

As to why Hawkeye was the only person on the bus to flip out, it's because he's the one who told the woman to shut the baby up in the first place, making him indirectly responsible for the tragedy.

I may be the only one who actually found Hawkeye's mental breakdown rather believable. There was always something desparate about his humor, as if he was trying to stave off madness with his constant joking.

Sebastian White said...

Was a 'huge' fan of M*A*S*H,* but due to my age... only got into the series in England, towards the back-end! So, was particularly disappointed when it finished.

I am a writer myself *WWW.QUIRKYCLAUS.COM, and
The Tallest Dwarf 'synopsis' a comic fantasy can be found on the 'final page' of the above website or through the URL provided, but this synopsis is soon to be uploaded to - the 'first seven' chapters of the book...

MASH was an inspiration for myself, throughout my formative years, and seemingly for 'ever' as a writer, but particularly with my book: The Tallest Dwarf, because - while this story is undoubtedly funny (if I may so myself ;0)... some elements of this are quite 'dark,' which I have not been too afraid to shy away from; this is in large part - due to the influence of MASH... I realised the humour gives open 'relief' and contrasted - very well to the darker elements of the story!

Talking about giving 'young nimrods' an opportunity... well I have written a large amount of comedy, which genuinely - I feel stands up there - with the "best" of them; nonetheless I am still awaiting that illusive break..?

(PS: I also post quite frequently on the HuffPost Newspaper under: seanwhite06... 'I'm the icon with the perplexed canary pondering the logistics of their next move - over a chessboard. Working on contributing a 'blog' some time in the future to the paper.)

Amy Waldfogle said...

I was 12 when the MASH finale was broadcast. My family was and still is huge fans. I was disappointed in the baby/chicken arc because it felt recycled since Hawkeye went through pretty much the same process over the childhood friend who pushed him in the pond - the story itself belonged in there, I think - especially since it's true, but I felt like was a mistake to re-use a device that was pretty strange and "out there" to begin with. MASH was how I found out about war and a little about what it can be like for real, normal people to find themselves far from home, scared, lonely and trying to figure out how to do the right thing despite all that.

Amy Waldfogle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
workplace innovator said...

I was at college in the mid-70's and a friend was dating a young woman a couple of years behind us. She was the first "real writer" I ever met- she was someone who HAD to write every day. She got this idea to write a script for MASH and she sent it in. Later, she was in her sorority house when Alan Alda called her to tell her how much he liked it. Her name was Karen Hall and she wound up writing for MASH and many other series.

I hadn't thought of that for a long time but this 30th anniversary of the finale brought back those memories. I loved that finale and think it is the very definition of "bittersweet." A lovely series of characters making their exits in ways that fit perfectly. And those rocks spelling GOODBYE...

Traci said...

I was in sixth grade when the finale was coming, and everyone was anticipating it. My teacher offered a HUGE amount of extra credit to students who would write their own finale scripts. I spent hours and hours on that thing, the one and only script I have ever written. I think my story ended up being something about Hawkeye having to play a prank on every other character before he could leave. Oh how I agonized, trying to come up with good pranks (that hadn't been used on the show already)! It was way more work than the extra credit was worth, but I didn't care. It was a pleasure even at age 11 to write for characters I loved.

Dale said...

MASH, wow. I am looking at my shelf which has all 11 seasons on DVD.

I watched it again recently, 1 through 11. None of it was out of place. I recall watching the baby seen as a young man. I was saddened, but thought it real. My dad had already told me of the stench, three miles offshore from Guadalcanal. War is war. Babies die.

To put the horror in perspective: years later I met a very old digger. This old soldier had fought the Germans on the Somme. He later fought the Japanese in Papua. He told me, matter of factly the following: "We got one just off the the track. Shot him as he ran. Skinny fella. When we went through his pockets we found a steak of fresh meat. We knew they had no supplies and wondered where he got it.
About a mile up the track we found some diggers. They were dead and some looked like they had slices taken from their thighs. We knew then that the Japs were eating our dead. So we ate them too!"

War cannot be made worse. It is as bad as bad gets. The death of the baby simply reflected the horror of war.

Ken. Kudos. And endless respect. Dale.

Joe in DC said...

Ken, thank you for this post. I share first-commenter Carol's sentiments -- "I know him on the internet!" -- plus (as I've mentioned before) your antics with Jon Miller as his Orioles co-announcer kept this small-station, minimum-wage, baseball game "bored"-op entertained for many summer nights in the early '90s.

Since everyone is sharing their reminiscences, please let me add two of mine:

1. When the finale aired, I was a junior in a boarding high school. (Not a rich kid by any stretch; I thought at the time I wanted to be a Catholic priest. Dodged that bullet.) A bunch of us got "special permission" to stay up late that night and watch the whole "movie" by crowding into our dorm advisor's living room. I think Domino's Pizza was served. We loved it. (The movie, not the pizza.)

2. Five years later, I miraculously graduated from college. At graduation, most of my classmates stuck "Thanks, Mom" messages on their mortarboards. Mine read, "Goodbye, farewell and amen." Glad to report that many people got the reference.

Debra McClng said...
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Jerry Bowles said...

Gave my partner, David Isaacs and ME our first assignment...
Gave David, Gave me...Gave David and me.

KunsanKid said...

I was a big fan of MASH and I was sorry to see the series end in February '83. A few day after the last episode aired I received orders to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. During my year on "The ROK" I even met a "Hawkeye" Pierce. On the morning I was to leave South Korea in July '84 I left note in the dayroom to all my friends in the barracks that read;
"Goodbye, Farewell, Amen". It's hard to believe it's been thirty years already.

David G. said...

Hey, Ken--

This means you're now just over 6 months away from writing your "30th Anniversary of 'AfterMASH'" post!

PolyWogg said...

With the cease-fire crumbling, my co-worker wanted to know if M*A*S*H was coming back :) I said I wouldn't believe it until I saw it on your blog. :)

P.

David K. M. Klaus said...

I knew the real Major Frank Burns, a psychologist famous Army-wide simply due to his name and rank. He was a good joe. Like Larry Linville, he's gone now, but at least he got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel before he retired from the service, so no one laughs at his grave.

Tom said...

The first four seasons of M*A*S*H are clearly superior, funny, fast and with a more balanced use of the cast. There's a reason people still watch them, and the other seasons are far less popular.
Larry Gelbart was a comic genius, and Gene Reynolds had a great touch.
Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville -- such great performances. The final few seasons, like the finale, were pale imitations.

Jesse said...

It's really strange to agree about everything there's written about the finale and then feel completely different when I read about the preference of the first 4 seasons. I rewatch Mash over and over again, (I go through the whole show 7 times per year) but I always have a tendency to skip at least the first two or three seasons completely. The humor is too shallow for me, way too many simple jokes about sex mostly and I just don't find it that funny altogether. For me the best part of Mash starts with season 6. Jokes are unusual, unpredictable and very subtle. People watching with me sometimes don't even realize there were any. For instance, Winchester's quote "Out family had problems with immigrants ever since we came to America" fits into the description perfectly. And another thing with Winchester, there's finally no stereotypical antagonist apart from the war itself which brings a very rare element to the show and (to me) one of the best screenwriting performances ever. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world mr. Levine! Jesse, 22, Czech Republic.

PS: Are you by any chance related to Ken Levine (game developer) who stands behind Bioshock series?

Anonymous said...

This 30th Anniversary was filmed in 2002 and its now 2013 - that makes it 11 years ago and now it would be the 41st Anniversary of M*A*S*H - a show I have loved since I was in my early 20's and now I am 51 and I still love watching the show. It never gets old to me...always makes me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Didnt see the finale when it first aired,here in Australia but I had been anavid viewer growing up.When I did see the final show it felt like I was losing some of mygood friends ang I still watch the series now ,it will never die

Mark O'Neill said...

Sadly, I'm fairly computer illiterate. So, since I'm seeing a notice that I'm posting anonymously...which is frowned upon, let me just say (type) that my name is Mark and I co-authored a book about TV's M*A*S*H. My wife and son are asleep, and as I came across this blog and comments about M*A*S*H, I just had to create an account and toss in my 2 cents.
I appreciate that Ken Levine heralds the first 4 years of MASH as the best. I will even get more specific, as I see the first three as the best, simply because, to me, the cast, the dialogue and the character dynamics worked the best. And, finally, on a public forum and despite negative comments about it by Gelbart, Rogers and many fans, by golly I think...minus the gold jeep at the end, Major Fred C Dobbs is classic MASH. But then, I'm one who thinks comedy is harder to write/act than drama, and that Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom should have received Oscars for their Pink Panther portrayals, and not those who did plain old drama.
Having said (typed) that, I do think the Ken Levine years of MASH are very much in keeping with the Gelbart tone, and I applaud him for that.
Personally, I felt the final 4 seasons of MASH and the final movie was an entirely different show, using the same sets and actors. If you don't believe me, watch Deal Me Out and then jump to GFA. It's utterly jarring.
To my knowledge, it was Gelbart who originally conceived of a final episode having Alda break the fourth wall and speak to the camera. I asked Gelbart to verify what I had read in 1983 about how he would have ended the show, and he didn't recall at that point...but I know what I read when I read it.
And though I disliked GFA, I'll add one more absurdity, in that I am one of those rare MASH fans who loves the laugh track. I don't enjoy watching comedy alone, yet I do. And if I do, by golly I like hearing others enjoying it, too. It's all about suspension of belief, anyway. I don't watch MASH to see 100% reality. That's what documentaries are for. I watch to see what "could" be. To that end, I even loath that Henry never made it home. Ionce askeda producer why there was no background music in the latter years. I thought it was used quite effectively, especially in White Gold and The Incubator's classic opening. His answer was, "Well, there wouldn't be any music playing in the background in Korea, would there?" That train of thought could be applied to any film or show, serious or not, and kind of surprised me as an answer. I love the MASH background music, limited as it was. It set a tone and helped the scene.
Ok, maybe I added 3 or 4 cents. It's late, and I'm on a Christmas cookie sugar high. I have enjoyed your MASH episodes for years, Mr Levine. Thanks for allowing my comments. If you ever, ever come across an actual photo of the stage 9 or Malibu Creek Park set set of MASH, please let me know if getting a copy would be possible. Aside from screen captures and a few photos in previous books, I have yet to find a good photo of the whole compound.
PS Point of View does not look like it was shot on the same film stock as other episodes. I've been told that Reynolds experimented with different types of film (though he was only a consultant at this time). Do you know anything about that? I know that seasons 8-11 have a totally different look to them.
THANKS!!