Monday, May 04, 2015
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.
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.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM