Thursday, February 28, 2013
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.
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.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM