A lot of shows use technical advisers. It’s hard enough to write a good autopsy scene without also having to know anatomy. Sure, writers spent a lot of their high school nights at home alone, but we didn’t spend the time learning forensics. While others were taking pre-med courses in college we were taking Sitcom 101 and playing poker.
So when we’re asked to write lawyer/cop/doctor/dance shows we need a little help. On MASH we had three technical advisers. Dr. Walt Dishell who was our medical expert. We also had a trained nurse on the set to make sure the actors weren’t picking up scalpels from the wrong end. (The extras who played the patients in the operating scenes used their own organs, by the way. There were no guts-doubles.)
Additionally, we had a military adviser. When you hear Radar rattle off a list of incomprehensible army directives some are actually legit. And who needs to make up insane military procedures when all you have to do is use the real thing?
A Colonel from the Public Information Office of the army was assigned to us. When we first spoke to him he was very by-the-book, very wary of what we show business personnel were going to do with the information he was asked to provide. He also was new to the assignment, having only recently been transferred to Los Angeles. He had been overseas for two years.
We would ask him a simple question. He would call back with a long excruciatingly detailed answer that would include no less than five directives, four regulations, and seven procedures.
Now flash forward a year.
We call him for clarification on where death certificates were sent and he says, “Yeah yeah, sweetie, I’ll get to that. But first, I’ve got a great idea for a pilot. Okay, now picture this: establishing shot…” And he goes on to describe this stupefying idea. And all the while I'm thinking:
Sweetie? Establishing shot??
From then on we called him very rarely. Making stuff up was better than hearing his latest movie/pilot/mini series idea. And how do you complain to his superiors that we wanted a different adviser because this highly decorated war hero Colonel had gone too Hollywood?
So the next time you see a TV doctor or lawyer spouting authentic dialog just know there is a technical adviser somewhere, who spent years in law school or medical school, making an appointment for a Botox treatment.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM