Monday, May 04, 2015

My thoughts on the MASH finale

There was a CBS 60 MINUTES segment years ago on ageism in Hollywood (Yes, it exists). In the piece they spoke to a freelance writer who had done a few episodes of MASH. In order not to appear too old he was taking MASH off his resume.

I would rather leave the business and clean latrines if I had to rather than take MASH off my resume. Getting the golden opportunity to write for MASH was an unbelievable privilege. There is nothing I’ve written before or since that I am prouder of. And if declaring that meant I couldn’t get an assignment on 2 BROKE GIRLS then so be it.

Last night MeTV aired the MASH finale, seen originally by 352,565,532,528,471,943,940,395,000 people (give or take 2). I did not have a hand in the production of that episode. My partner, David Isaacs and I, had left the show a few years earlier. By that final season we were producing the first year of CHEERS. But I’m often asked what I thought of it.

I’ll be honest. I liked it but I didn’t love it. I know and greatly respect all the writers. And there are parts of it that are moving and brilliant. I also loved that everyone was affected in some way by the war. But I felt the show was too long and too serious. Just personal taste. I know many fans adored it.

To me the perfect MASH episode was the one where Henry Blake was killed. Remember that episode? It’s the last one of season three if you want to look it up and watch. It’s twenty-two minutes of inspired comedy and thirty seconds of drama. But that thirty seconds absolutely knocks you flat on your ass. I wish that had been the template. Especially since it was a national event. There were big parties all across America. People wanted to celebrate MASH. I hope the gatherings were all well stocked with alcohol.

And there’s one subplot that I just hated. Again, just my opinion, but the mother killing the baby crossed the line for me. Yes, it was based on a real incident, but for a show that mixed comedy and drama I felt you just can’t come back from that.

That story had been in the research and Alan wanted to do it during our tenure. And I understand his reasoning and agree it’s very powerful. But we just felt it was too powerful. It’s the only time we ever said, “No. Not on our watch.” (And just to be clear, this was never an argument. No actor I’ve ever worked with was more respectful to writers than Alan Alda. It was a discussion and I greatly appreciate that once Alan saw how passionate we were on this issue he acquiesced.)

I did like the interview bytes MeTV used. These were filmed last year in preparation for a documentary that is being prepared. One of my clips made it to the promo so I’m especially happy. It was nice that they used extended clips of writers. Usually in those things you see the writers for two seconds and the actors for five minutes. Unfortunately, the one writer who was the giant of the series, towering high above all of us, Larry Gelbart, had passed away so was not included.

I loved that Burt Metcalfe got a lot of face time. Burt was with the series from the beginning, was the showrunner for the last six years, and directed many terrific episodes including the finale. And they don’t list it in his bio but he was also the world’s best boss.

I guess like most people watching I got choked up. But not at the part anyone else did. Yes, the last scene is a killer with the rocks that spell ‘goodbye,’ but I had seen the show before.

However, afterwards there were final interview comments. One was by Gene Reynolds. Now in his 90’s (and still sharper than me), Gene was the co-creator and showrunner with Larry Gelbart. I’ve mentioned him before. I learned more about story construction and writing from Gene Reynolds than anyone else. In his segment, Gene got a little emotional as he thanked the actors, writers, and staff.

It was Gene who hired us – took a chance on two baby writers who lied and said they had written drama along with comedy. (We had never written drama, but we would have said we had flown to the moon if it meant getting a MASH assignment.) We owe our careers to that man and for him to thank US, well, that got to me.

MASH will not only remain on my resume, it will remain at the top of it. I still can’t believe my good fortune that I was a part of one of the greatest shows in the history of television. I may not get work but there is the small consolation that scripts I wrote thirty-five years ago are still entertaining and moving millions of people today. So there’s that.


Markus said...

Just to point out how much MASH still "clicks" and "resonates", for lack of better words: just two weeks ago, I bought me the whole box set. So yeah, it does even still sell. That someone would want to avoid being associated with it seems mindboggling to me.

MikeK.Pa. said...

I understand the rationale for the writer taking MASH - as an esteemed credit as it is - off his resume to shave some years. Sadly, the producer he'd meet with likely wouldn't be familiar with MASH. Reminds me of the story of Fred Zinnemann, the great film director, meeting with a young studio exec in the 1960s who asked him what he had done. Without missing a beat, Zinnemann replied, "You first." What a killer line.

A question on the Henry Blake episode. I'd always heard that in the last scene when Radar rushed into the OR and announced that Henry had died in a crash, that the rest of the cast was unaware his character died in the script. That the reaction and tears captured were genuinely of shock and sadness.

Glad to know Burt and Gene are still with us. Larry Gelbart left too soon. Recently caught him on YouTube when he sat on a panel with Sid Caesar an the writers of YOUR SHOW OF SHOW WRITERS. Highly recommend his book LAUGHING MATTERS. There's a great story in there on how relentlessly Gene Reynolds pursued Larry, who was writing in London at the time, to help adapt MASH for TV.

Oat Willie said...

So that's why the 8 PM Columbo wasn't on. Different show, same pelvic mesh lawyer commercials.

Carol said...

My husband and I watched some of it last night - couldn't watch it to the end, as we get up at a ridiculous time in the morning and needed to sleep.

I agree that it was a bit too serious. I would have been happier if it was more like a typical episode - mostly humor with some sadness tucked into it - but longer. That said, it was still pretty amazing..

It was totally cool seeing you talk, too. I felt like it was seeing a friend on television!

I also loved the story that was told by Mike Farrell that some network guy didn't want the episode to end the war because it would kill the show in syndication, ala the Fugitive, and he said they pointed out that pretty much everyone in America knew the Korean War ended. LOL

Alan Iverson said...

California, USA, 100 years ago.

A couple of twenty-something chaps walk into a office and hand over a ream titled "Out of Sight, Out of Mind". No one questions their credentials, after all they are the toast of the town following the touching "Movin' on Down", and mogul Robert Getchell has used every trick in the book to tie them to an eight year deal on "Alice", but these two have been cherry picked personally to quietly usher out Radar. It only takes them four years. He doesn't see it coming!

Take Mash off your resume? Hell, I'm writing one about Igor right now.

As for the finale, I differ with the common consensus. I am in favor of the bus storyline. What else could have cracked Hawkeye in the same way?

I'm still keeping an eye out for a chicken on "The Odd Couple ,2015", or as I like to call it... a "Perfect Strangers" ripoff without the charm or dancing of Larry & Balki.

Jake said...

Best moments of the finale:

Potter and Sophie

Winchester's plot

Potter's farewell to Hawkeye and BJ

Nurse Bigelow


Not-so-great scenes: Mulcahy's hearing loss played for laughs, Charles and Margaret's silly mess-tent argument, a nurse's lifeless line reading during a crucial scene with Charles and BJ's discharge plot. I could never tell if Potter knew it was a mistake and just let him get away.

Michael said...

I do think MASH stayed too long at the fair--they should have closed up shop after season 9, maybe. But MASH at its worst was and remains better than almost any other TV show at its best. The finale was, for me, too long and serious, but they did want to show how the war affected all of them, and Winchester may have been the most painful one to watch.

As for the Henry Blake episode, I've read that they did know it was coming, but that they got the last page of the script later than the rest and Gary Burghoff started saying, no, no, you're going to do something terrible. And of course he had the hardest work to do in that scene. I've also heard that when they were filming it, someone dropped an instrument, and they realized it fit the moment and left it in.

Stoney said...

The thing that always bugged me about the mother and baby subplot was that the idea of Hawkeye having to re-live a painful memory, with coaxing by Sidney Freedman, had been done in an earlier episode. Remember when Hawkeye suffered from chronic sneezing and Sidney helped him unbury the memory of being pushed into the water by his cousin. Alda gave Hawkeye a more stunning reaction to that than the one we see in the finale.

Hawkeye and Sidney talk about an incident that led to the breakdown; Hawkeye driving a jeep into the officers' club. Why didn't they film an actual scene of that? It would have made for one shocker of an opener!

Charles and the musical POW's could well have been left out. The Klinger storyline was set-up for "AfterMASH", all the goodbyes were no match, emotionally, for what we saw in "Goodbye Radar"!

BryanW said...

My favorite line on 30 Rock comes from an episode in which Alan Alda's character says: "A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show."

Oh, and the showrunners for 2 Broke Girls should be begging you to write an episode for them.

Anonymous said...

Nurse Bigelow is the best. Iconic indeed.

It's crazy here at the office, so far - 4 scripts to read. Boss' not in. All the gang arguing about the avengers.

But reading scripts when it's noisy is the best.

keep re-writing
and stay true to your vision

bryan north of seattle said...

Watching it this time reinforced that it was a bit bloated. The last half hour was great. But some of the subplots seemed contrived. I appreciate now having heard about it that the fire scene was necessary because of the circumstances. Otherwise it didn't fit. The BJ is going home but he's not seemed totally unnecessary, and only there to set up an unnecessary parallel to Trapper's departure. The thing could easily have been done in two hours.

Stoney said...


Anyone else besides me think that Wayne Rogers looks like one of the older versions of Dave Bowman from "2001"?

Jerry Krull said...

Regarding the last Henry Blake episode; Larry Gelbart did an interview for Emmy TV Legends that you can see on YouTube. One of the segments he talks about the last Henry Blake episode in detail. How they told the writers to have Henry die at the end, they pulled the last page from all the scripts, etc.

He states they didn't want the actors to know while they filmed the episode to keep it from coloring their acting. He also directed the episode and said he did a little director's trick every time Henry was in his office in the episode that foretold what was going to happen.

Here is the link to the interview segment -

Mike Doran said...

A kind of side note:

MeTV does a series of promos featuring actors who turn up in guest shots on various of their shows: people like Richard Anderson, Mark Richman, Ed Asner, Bill Schallert, Sally Kellerman, and like that there ( I often think that if MeTV had started up about ten years earlier than they did, they might have gotten dozens more such actors who were still alive).
It occurred to me as I watched the M*A*S*H special that one of the interviewees was a prime candidate to appear in such a spot.
I'm referring to Burt Metcalfe, who started out as a ridiculously handsome "juve lead" in shows like Perry Mason, Twilight Zone, outer Limits, and any number of other shows that happen to be in the MeTV inventory.
Metcalfe was then young and handsome; he's now bald and bearded, but the MeTv promo people are quite adept at this sort of thing - they'd figure something out ...
... if they haven't already ...

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I watched last night, and I really enjoyed seeing the remaining castmembers who are still with us (minus David Ogden Stiers, whom I'm assuming still doesn't want to constantly be associated with M*A*S*H, though he always seemed to have the least amount of stories to tell in the reunion specials and other documentaries), and it was wonderful listening to the insight from not only Ken and Gene Reynolds, but also Burt Metcalfe, David Isaacs (and Ken, do you feel that David got very minimal screentime compared to the others?), David Pollack, Elias Davis, Dan Wilcox, and Thad Mumford (the latter two actually wrote scripts and songs for SESAME STREET prior to M*A*S*H).

Yes, there were a number of anecdotes that I had heard before, but there were a few that I hadn't, so I was able to learn new things: the smothered baby being a real-life incident that happened more than once, Gary Burghoff's encounter with a shell-shocked veteran, the fire giving them an extra half-hour (I knew it was thrown in, but I wasn't aware the entire show was extended an extra half-hour because of it), among other things.

Ken, what's the status of this documentary? Do you know when it will completed and released? And what's the occasion? I know a lot of us were hoping for a 40th anniversary reunion special in 2012 like we got the 30th anniversary reunion in 2002 and the MEMORIES OF M*A*S*H 20th anniversary reunion in 1992.

Artie in Sin City said...

What a joyous line to have on your already FULL resume...

Now what's next for KL?

Deep sea diving?

John Fox said...

Ken - a question I've wanted to ask for a while and this M*A*S*H thread made me think of it again.

Minor characters come and go for single episodes and short arcs. Occasionally, but especially in the case of M*A*S*H, key characters get replaced. How much (if any) input do established, respected writers such as you and David get in casting? Conversely, do you ever alter your vision for a character to match what you're given to work with - or, hopefully are blessed to be given?

Texas Annie said...

Ken, you mentioned my all time favorite episode. Henry Blake's goodbye, even today can take me from the "turd tree is the toidy" to bawling my eyes out at "Lt Col Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors."

I can quote it today, from memory, here at work. And now my eyes are wet.

My son is 26, he and I watched every episode on DVD as he was growing up and he can quote them as well. He joined the Marines and came home on leave to tell me that Colonel Flagg is real.

Thank you for that. From a Mom and her son.

ScottyB said...

I saw the MeTV program Sunday nite, and I saw the finale when it first aired. Re-watching it, I agree with Ken: The chicken part was, at least to me, illustrative of why MASH became irrelevant to me as a viewer in the later seasons: Hawkeye became overly preachy and, well, contrived. For me anyway, the show became an exercise in how many Groucho-esque one-liners can be stuffed into a line of dialog. Not taking away from Alan Alda's abilities, the show's writing for me just became tedious and forced and not so enjoyable.

But still, I had to bang the cobwebs trying to remember the whole chicken scene whether Dr. Sidney Freeman was alive or not at that point of the show, and whether the snapped-Hawkeye was actually talking to a dead therapist like Bruce Willis in 'The Sixth Sense'. Still, the scene where Hawkeye walked away from the crowd and his exchange with Dr. Sidney was poignant in a very quiet, touching, and very human and caring way. THAT'S great writing that it largely unappreciated, IMO.

I kinda tuned out of Sunday's revisit during the whole bugout scene and watched "Mr. Selfridge" on PBS for like a half hour instead. Been there and seen it on the show before; it just seemed redundant. The ending was the same tearjerker it was then, but this time around, I noticed even more how close whoever was BJ on that motorcycle speeding down the hill came to wiping out and breaking his neck.

One last personal observation for @Ken Levine: I never noticed before this presentation how long your neck is. Good thing you're not a TV actor. The studio would probably recommend that you lop a good half-foot off that thing :)

Houston Mitchell said...

The big thing that bothered me in the finale was that BJ would be so insensitive as to bring up his 2 year old daughter to Hawkeye. Unless we are to believe they didn't know what sent Hawkeye over the edge?

I loved the show, and I watch the episodes now on DVD with my daughters, who now love the show. And I have Ken Levine to thank for that, partially. Your work will live on forever.

ScottyB said...

Y'know what touched me more than anything during MeTV's presentation Sunday nite? Gary Burghoff's recollection of when he was approached by the Korean War vet who, up until the series, could never talk about his wartime experience. But still (and my old man was in that war), no matter how real and personal the writers tried to make it in 30 minutes, I've never thought MASH (or any program short of a documentary) ever captured what it was *really* like for those who were there, living and breathing it, for a very long time. Life in the MASH compound and life in the trenches were two different things on two different levels. But still, I realize MASH wasn't developed for that kind of purpose, and I loved it for what it was, especially in the early seasons.

I was a bit surprised to see William Christoper these days. I totally wouldn't recognize him in a crowded room. And I kept thinking, during the writer/actor reflection segments, how much more interesting it would've been if Larry Linville was still alive.

ScottyB said...

@Ken Levine: What kind of crazy-ass blog site is this? It asked me to select bread photos to verify that I'm not a "robot".

Ohhhhhh, wait. Nevermind. I get it. *Comedy*.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, I never realised that Burt Metcalfe was with the show for the entire run.

Wonderfully it seems did a full interview with him before he passed on. I will have to watch that:

I agree with you Ken that the baby/chicken story pushed the boundaries too far for me. It was TOO powerful. But I admire their chutzpah for taking us there for good reason (rather than just shock value).

Difficult to understand how Hawkeye could come back from that, though. Sigh.

Ken Levine said...


Burt Metcalfe is happily alive and well. Same with Gene Reynolds.

Ben K. said...

Whoever said there were probably a lot more people watching the finale than the ratings could count was right. I was in college when it aired, and our dorm building only had one TV (unlike today, when every student has two or three TV-ready screens). Probably 20 of us gathered around in the common room to watch it.

I have to admit that the only part I remembered from the episode was Hawkeye's sessions with Dr. Freedman. The story may have been over-the-top for a comedy series, but it certainly made an impact.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Alan Iverson said:

"Take Mash off your resume? Hell, I'm writing one about Igor right now."

Finally! Thank you, Alan. I'll dirty my apron and cream some weenies.

Ken's wonderful post compels me to take this opportunity to express my pride at having been part of MASH for the last nine of the eleven years of production. Without question, a deeply personal experience for me and, as witnessed, seemingly everyone from showbiz veterans to newbies on the cast and crew. MASH was a room filled with smart grownups who simply gave a crap. Along with the original, brilliant leadership from Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart, and the incomparable writing, producing, directing and acting, there was also friendship, respect, loyalty, intelligence, fun, sex (no, I won't) and great cheeseburgers at the commissary. The only downside is realizing it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Proudly, GFA,
Private Igor
(not to be mistaken for poster Igor)

Joseph Scarbrough said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Scarbrough said...

Hey Jeff, since you frequent Ken's blog, as long as you're here, there are a couple of specific questions I've actually wanted to ask you for quite some time: first of which regards your appearance in "Fade Out, Fade In", where Igor was bartending in the Officer's Club while Charles requests a stronger (or smoother, I don't quite remember) drink, and invites Igor to have a glass, to which he responds, "Are you kidding? I've got a stomach and a family to think of!" But your dialogue was clearly dubbed by somebody else (sounded like Johnny Haymer) - do you remember what that may have been all about? I know sometimes actors are brought into ADR studios to re-record a line that may not have been picked up well, but this is a stark difference! Also, there were a couple of episodes that same season where Igor appeared (both of them he was fighting with Zale), but was played by another actor; I assume you must have been absent or couldn't make it for those periods of filming, but maybe you can confirm something.

@ScottyB I know right? Not only sandwiches but sushi too!

Johnny Walker said...

Doh! Sorry, Ken. I somehow got Burt Metcalfe mixed up with Larry Gelbart.

For anyone interested, although I'm sure regular readers know, Larry Gelbart was also interviewed by (I've even previously even watched his interview - double doh):

And for that matter, so was Gene Reynolds:

Burt Metcalfe's interview is really helping me understand the different contributions to the show. I never really fully understood it before, despite probably reading about it several times here. As I understand it:

Gene: Very good at story, and scholastic in his thinking. For example, he completely absorbed all the Army interviews they did, and was eager to do them before they'd even been given the go-ahead.

Larry: A comedic genius -- a very literal comedic genius. Hawkeye was pretty much his voice.

As I say, I'm almost certain I've read all that before here, but I think now it's finally sinking in. I don't think I'll get them mixed up again in the future!

Brian said...

I have to agree that the last years of Mash were way to serious. I had forgotten about the mother killing her baby. Its those kinds of things that turned me off. I liked the finale but didn't love it either.

Jami Deise said...

I was completely obsessed with M*A*S*H growing up; it was one of the factors that made me want to be a writer. So thanks a lot for that. ;-) It's always in the back of my mind somewhere. It seems there was a real baton-passing between M*A*S*H and Cheers, as M*A*S*H was truly a stand-alone show with very few elements carrying on from one episode to another. And then Cheers introduced us to the will-they-or-won't-they Sam and Diane game, leading directly to Friends, HIMYM and other sit-coms with serial-based storytelling. I wonder how much of that M*A*S*H would have used had it come out 10 years later or lasted longer?

Benjamin said...

Out of curiosity, I checked to see what ABC and NBC were running on February 28, 1983, the night CBS aired the finale of MASH.

ABC aired an episode of THAT'S INCREDIBLE, followed by the 1980 movie AMERICAN GIGOLO.

NBC ran THE NIGHT THE BRIDGE FELL DOWN, a three-hour, Irwin Allen-produced, made-for-TV disaster epic that had been filmed in 1979 and had sat on the shelf for four years. Apparently, NBC figured the evening was going to be a total loss no matter what they ran, so why not air this dud they'd been avoiding for four years. This cast included Leslie Nielsen, Desi Arnaz Jr. and Eve Plumb.

For the record, CBS preceded the MASH finale with an episode of the Linda Lavin sitcom ALICE.

According to the New York Times, CBS was charging advertisers $300,000 per thirty second spot during MASH that night. I'm sure that was astronomical at the time.

"Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" had a rating of 60.7 and a 77 share that evening.

gottacook said...

"But that thirty seconds absolutely knocks you flat on your ass."

I saw that episode first-run, and I still remember how it affected me - I hadn't lost (at that time) any close family members except for one grandparent, and found myself staggered by the off-screen death of a fictional character. Well done, season 3 MASH writers and producers (and actors, of course).

It was also a matter of "Now we're really going to diverge from the movie..." - a rather brave thing to do - and this was underscored by having the movie's sole holdover actor deliver the news.

tavm said...

So Leslie Nielson made "The Night the Bridge Fell Down" before his comedic turn in Airplane! but it aired a few years after that (and "Police Squad!" too!). Now I'm wondering what fans of his watching that that night instead of the "M*A*S*H' finale thought of him there...

Gary said...

Another classic episode that blends comedy and tragedy (and packs a wallop) is the "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" episode. That one shocked me just as much as Henry Blake's farewell.

Matt said...

I didn't like the finale because it seemed like it was happening at a different place than the rest of the series.

All of the sudden there were POWs. While historically accurate, they were never mentioned in the rest of the series.

Matt said...

This question can be for Ken or any big MASH fan.

While Hawkeye was a major character in the movie MASH I don't feel he is the central character. While in the series he clearly is. Was Hawkeye always planned to be the main character in the TV series or was this due to the popularity of Alan Alda?

gottacook said...

Matt: Alan Alda was not very well known in 1972. I'd seen him in the movie "The Mephisto Waltz" (1971) - which I'd sought out because I was a teenage pianist - and he was certainly good in the role, but at that time I'd go so far as to say Robert Alda was better known.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Matt: Hawkeye and Trapper were originally intended to be interchangable leads of the show, in that either one of them could be the central character of the show depending on the episode. Like gottacook said, Alan Alda was rather obscure prior to M*A*S*H, he was mostly a stage/theater actor, and outside of that medium, he really only appeared in a few modest and not very successful movies. As far as M*A*S*H go, he ended up embodying Hawkeye to such an amazing degree with his zany personality and antiwar mentality that he became a fan favorite with audiences and the writers began to write more for him than for Trapper, which reduced Trapper to Hawkeye's sidekick. That's pretty much one of the main reasons why Wayne Rogers left the show - not that Alan Alda stole his thunder, but he felt by giving him so little to do as Trapper that he was wasting him time coming in and maybe filming a scene or two a week.

scott O. said...

The episode where Henry dies at the end reminded me of Mr. Roberts.

Ed from SFV said...

+1 scott O. Thanks for the liberty, Henry.

Gene Reynolds produced Room 222, another iconic and smart series before he got the M*A*S*H gig. I particularly loved the ep about a stud football player being recruited by a shady as hell college. Guess who played a weasel registrar? None other than Larry Linville! He totally was Frank, before Frank.

The evolution that bugged me the most was Hot Lips'. Her change from fierce, career, and a little crazy, military officer to anachronistic feminist was way too much. I also did not like that Klinger became "lovable." He was a much better character when he was bitter with a little bit of menace in his mien. That guy was not screwing around about getting out of Korea. He was literally deadly serious about that.

Barry Traylor said...

I would have enjoyed watching it, except DISH seems to have taken that channel away and replaced it with something else.

Johnny Walker said...

I can't help but feel sorry for Wayne Rogers when I watch the early seasons. He was perfectly great as another Hawkeye-esque doctor, but as things progress, you seen Alda given more and more of the funny lines.

When Mike Farrell joined, his quieter, saner, character naturally suited playing second fiddle, but Rogers was supposed to be Hawkeye's equally zany partner -- so it feels more noticeable. (Or maybe it's just because I know that's what was going on.)

Possible Friday Question, Ken: Do you know if it was ever discussed with Wayne Rogers that his character would be becoming more and more second fiddle, or did he just discover it as the scripts were delivered? I suppose it's one thing to say, "Yes, we know Wayne. We're sorry, we understand you're not too happy, but this is just what's best for the show right now", but it's another just to find yourself getting slowly marginalised.

I do wonder how Alda felt about the whole thing. He was supposedly so reluctant to even join the show in the first place.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@Texas Annie
"He joined the Marines and came home on leave to tell me that Colonel Flagg is real."

There still isn't one character on "Mad Men" that is as accurate in the advertising business (or most workplaces) as Larry Tate from "Bewitched."

Mister Charlie said...

I hated the chicken arc, it was so added on and poised for an Alda Emmy rather than have anything to do with the last episode. Terrible idea.

peabody nobis said...

@Johnny Walker-If I remember correctly, MASH wasn't a "wildly popular" show for the first couple of years. I would imagine if the writers and producers of the show got wind of Alan Alda becoming a "fan favorite", it's only logical that they would want to play up his character to broaden the appeal of the show. And maintain employment, of course!

Kirk said...

The very first episode of MASH opens with an Alan Alda voicover of Hawkeye writing a letter to his father. That makes me think, in regards to Wayne Rogers, that Alda was always meant to be, at the very least, the first among equals.

Hawkeye's and Margaret's goodbye kiss as B.J., Charles, and Potter try not to look on, remains the highlight of the series-ending movie for me.

David Ogden Stiers seems to be making a good living these days on PBS. I swear to God he narrates most of the documentaries they show. He certainly has the voice for it.

Unknown said...

I'm in my 40s and was introduced to the show by my 5th/6th grade teacher. I only got to see maybe the last season or so when it aired. (Along with the finale.) But I eventually caught up on reruns and then in later years via Netflix DVDs.

If I ever find a job again, one of my first purchases will be the DVDs. (It's such a wonderful think to watch without the laugh track!)

It's my favorite show. It really did change my life in many ways. I know much of the show by heart.

I would love seeing this special!


Bill said...

I finally got to watch the complete finale last night on MeTV, first time since it initially aired.

I am glad to head that Ken liked it but didn't love it. My reaction is much the same. I wanted badly to love it but just couldn't, although I still watched it to the end. The episode had its moments but it really did suffer from rather poor writing and direction, both of which I have to say were directly due to the "Alda years." I only wish Ken, David and the great Larry Gelbart had been involved in writing the script, and that Gene Reynolds had directed. While not belittling the talent of Alan Alda, his strong suits were not writing or directing. A typical affliction of actors on hit series who are given the power to wear too many hats. The coverage in the finale ranged from poor to frankly odd, with the John Huston-like low up angles being especially strange, and most of the storylines were way too telegraphed.

Still, this was an event. But one more viewing was enough for me. I am waiting for the reruns to start over and the first 4 seasons will occupy my evenings of TV viewing.

Mark O'Neill said...

...I'm, admittedly, not very good with blogs, in terms of where to post a question or how to (re) contact a blog owner. And so, Mr Levine, I'm placing my question for you, here.
...As someone else mentioned, on another of your blog topics, MASH "looked" different in the later years....specifically 8-11. I noticed it, immediately, when season 8 premiered, and I notice it to this day. I'm not talking just camera angles, but the actual look of the film stock. For instance (and I know it will be attributed on my familiarity with episodes), I can watch an exterior shot of the Swamp on stage 9 from season one, and a similar shot from season 9, and know the difference, instantly. Medium shots of actors either in the mess tent or Swamp show the stage 9 compound in the background. But in seasons 8-11, the background shows more clearly...but I'm not suggesting it's a good thing. The officer's club from season two looks pretty big. But the officer's club from season 10 ..though sharper, looks more like a "set". "Everything" looks more like a set in latter seasons.
From what I know, film was used for all 11 seasons. But either the cameras or film stock changed for 8-11. I know it isn't, but it "almost" looks like super sharp videotape. Yes, backgrounds are sharper, but somehow none of it looks as rich.
Certainly, mess tent scenes fell into a standard kind of group shot which didn't happen early on. But, the actual film and depth looks different. I understand that, in syndication, different levels of quality of MASH show up on TV. But that doesn't explain it all.
The closing tag for Private Charles lamb has the camera starting with Henry, then panning along down the mess tent, where a party is taking place, and then it pans back to Henry. It looks like good, rich, vibrant film. But if that same shot had been done in latter seasons, the pan would have distorted objects as it moved (like a digital camera does)and not had that atmospheric feel that even Altman had in the movie. I have been trying, for decades now, to define precisely what "changed" on how MASH was filmed...starting with season 8, but possibly sooner.
I'd appreciate any insight, or even a tip on who I could contact about it.

Joshua Puchalski said...

I would like to share a concept that occurred to me a few years back regarding the last episode. It too is supported by Hawkeye narrating the shows opening episode. What I think the ultra devastating seriousness of the final episode does, is cause us to rethink the entire series. Being that it is the war as seen from Hawkeye's perspective, being that the zany show we all love it's in the same frame of mind as Hawk's version of the beach party, passing around a bottle, etc... perhaps we need to see that the war was all around, more like the hellish event that broke Hawkeye, and that what WE saw, was the war according to Hawkeye's rewriting of it as mostly a barrel of laughs. Intentional or not, it works and makes the whole of the show even more brilliant, even more amazing than it already was. It makes it stay honest to the truth of war, and justifies Hawkeye's hatred of it a thousand times over.

Anonymous said...

I loved M*A*S*H when it was on originally, but since I've been watching it in re-runs, I've realized that Hawkeye was really kind of an ass. My favorite character ever was Winchester, who, though snobby, would give back to Hawkeye and BJ as good as he got.The final episode was a bit much, too Hawkeye centric.