Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Questions

This turned out to be an all MASH Friday Question day.

Joe starts with a question about the MASH article that ran in the Hollywood Reporter a few weeks ago.

Great article, but I have one question, Ken. They said Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart both left after season 4, but Gene stayed another year, right?

Also, he was listed as a creative consultant for the rest of the show. How much was he involved when you and David were running the writers room?

Yes, Gene stayed for season five and was the showrunner. He left after that to run LOU GRANT for MTM. But he remained a consultant.

Once a week, David Isaacs, Burt Metcalfe, and I would go up to Gene’s house with outlines. Gene would go over them and make suggestions for improvements. It was a weekly master class on story structure. I can’t begin to calculate how much I learned from those sessions. Gene has the uncanny ability to hear a story and almost instantly know what’s wrong with it and what would make it better.

To this day, when I’m stuck on a story I think to myself: What would Gene do?  He's the best I ever worked with in that department. 

From Pete Grossman:

The show was peppered with Yiddish words - Hawkeye yelling "Dreck!" (Shit) during the river of liver and ocean of fish scene; "Mazel Tov" (Good Luck [said with a congratulatory tone] uttered from Pat Morita's character; Col. Potter responding with "Emis" [truth] later in the show's run. For the last one, I remember watching it with my father when it first aired and my dad asking me, "How does Col. Potter know Yiddish?" Sure, there's a certain conceit, but wondering how much it was discussed if at all, as most of the population isn't quite up on their "farshtand" (understanding) of the language. Thanks!

I suspect that was Larry Gelbart’s sensibility. And I think it stems not so much from Larry trying to make the characters more Jewish but from his love of words and language. Larry was always looking for colorful words and expressions you might not expect. It’s one of the many reasons his writing was so sharp and layered.

Podcast listener Chris Dellecese asks:

Why did Henry Blake get a huge goodbye episode on MASH but nothing for Trapper John? Did it involve the timing of who left when?

The producers knew ahead of time that McLean was leaving the end of season three. So they had time to plan his exit.

Wayne decided not to come back after the season wrapped. So Gelbart & Reynolds just had to explain away his disappearance. Whether he was asked to come back and do a farewell show or not, that I don’t know. That all happened a year before David and I came aboard.

But when Larry Linville left after season five we invited him back for the season six opener to explain away Frank Burn’s departure, but he chose not to return.

And finally, from Cedric Hohnstadt:

You've written before that flaws are what make characters interesting and entertaining. During a recent bout of insomnia I was lying in bed trying to think through the flaws of various MASH characters. I got stuck when I came to BJ. Hawkeye could be idealistic, impulsive, mischievous, womanizing, and a bit self-righteous. BJ, on the other hand, was mostly just a warm, friendly family man - intelligent and funny but (aside from an occasional mischievous streak) he was overall a very balanced and grounded guy. I'm sure that made him a good compliment to Hawkeye but I would think there was also a real danger of him becoming a "vanilla" character. How did you get around that problem?

There was a huge distinction between Hawkeye and B.J.   B.J. had a mustache. 

But seriously, it was a problem. We tried to make him more stubborn than Hawkeye, more obsessive with patients, a practical joker, and we gave him a higher moral standard than Hawkeye. There were times when B.J. and Hawkeye would clash over medical treatment. Still, we felt somewhat handcuffed by B.J.’s lack of flaws. Mike Farrell is such a wonderful actor and if I'm being honest, there were times he was not well served. 

What’s your Friday Question?

38 comments :

Stephen Robinson said...

"Goodbye, Margaret." The way Larry Linville delivers that line is devastating. I think it works amazingly as the last time we see him.

Terrence Moss said...

What other actors do you think, for whatever reasons, weren't very well served by the show they were on?

McAlvie said...

I've heard that villains are more interesting to write than heroes. I can see where it would be tougher to keep BJ a strong enough character to balance Hawkeye, but I have to say that I think his being a more low key character did bring balance, an anchor of sorts that keeps it all tethered. I've watched shows (rarely more than once) where all the characters were zany in some way, and it was just annoying.

Bringing in BJ, Colonel Potter, and then Charles both grounded and balanced the show, which I really think is why it had such a great run. I thought I would miss Radar more than I did, and I can see now that shifting Klinger to that position opened up more story lines, adding mileage to the show.

Kirk said...

I read somewhere that Wayne Rogers voice can be heard in the Season 4 opener (the episode that introduced BJ) He announcing a flight leaving at the airport.

Also, I think the difference between Hawkeye and BJ was much greater than the difference between Hawkeye and Trapper (one reason I slightly prefer BJ to Trapper, though both Rogers and Farrell were great actors.)

CRAIG RUSSELL said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: And maybe its been addressed...if it has I apologize. What did the "Q" in "Maxwell Q Klinger" stand for?

Joel Keller said...

From the other side of the TV, as it were... I always enjoyed B.J., much more than Trapper. Trapper was kinda a slimeball, doing a lot of the skeevy stuff Hawkeye did with women, but was married back home. Also, having two of the same guy in the Swamp amped up the wacky factor, despite Larry Gelbart's brilliant writing.

B.J.'s groundedness and his loyalty to his family made for a better balance with Hawkeye, as well as more dramatic stories -- like when he had to resist the advances of Susan Saint James' character despite his deep attraction to her, or when he fell into depression when his little daughter called Radar "daddy," or when he helps a Korean family and is heartbroken when they have to run from the fighting.

Also, I liked seeing his transition from straight arrow to a guy with a mischievous streak... believe it or not, the mustache was a brilliant move, reflecting on how, at least during Vietnam, the war experience changed even the most straight-arrow soldiers.

The groundedness of B.J., Potter and later Charles is why I tend to enjoy seasons 4-11 more than seasons 1-3. It's when the show really hit its stride to me.

gottacook said...

Ken, are (or were) you a fan of Lou Grant? And if so, did that series do anything that strikes you as particularly Gene Reynolds-esque?

In 1976-77 he must have been quite busy, showrunning MASH as well as co-creating Lou Grant and producing and directing its terrific pilot episode (I just looked at the first 5 minutes again on youtube). Heck of an achievement, if you ask me.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Who wrote the episode where Hawkeye, stuck on a crossword puzzle, brings in a friend from the Navy (and his CO) to ask the Yiddish word for "bedbug"? All America now knows it's "vontz."

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Trapper did have a big farewell, just not when he actually left. . . .

Earlier that season, he came down with an ulcer, which everybody thought was his ticket home, so they threw a big farewell bash for him in the Officer's Club - with alcoholic punch, slow dancing, and oddball presents. Unfortunately, it turned out Trapper wasn't going home after all, since an ulcer isn't grounds for discharge. Logistically, I think showing another big farewell bash for him on the show would have been pointless and redundant.

His actually departure could have been handled a little better . . . I mean, if they supposedly had Wayne Rogers come in to record those P.A. announcements at Kimpo Airbase, or have him dub in that line, "I'm from Vermont!" maybe a note could have been left for Hawkeye and we hear it read in Trapper's voice . . . or hell, maybe we could even have seen Trapper boarding his plane (even if we don't see his face like Steinbrenner on SEINFELD), and uttering one last line like, "I'll never miss this place," or something like that.

Having Potter, B.J., and Hawkeye speak to Frank over the phone in "Fade Out, Fade In" was executed a lot better - even if Frank wasn't actually there, you felt like his spirit was there for one last farewell.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@McAlvie I agree. One of the main reasons I prefer B.J. over Trapper (aside from the writers not bothering to expand and develop Trapper) is that with his contrasting personality to Hawkeye, that kept things interesting, because sometimes their dynamics lead to conflicts that would test their friendship, but at least at the end of the day, they were still the best of friends. With Trapper, on the other hand, he was just so similar to Hawkeye, that their schtick of boozing their brains out, chasing nurses, tormenting Frank, and getting themselves into trouble (and being blase about it all) was really starting to get old. Granted, Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers had incredible chemistry with each other, but without any dynamic between their characters, and them being so similar and interchangable (or, at least, that was the original point before Trapper got reduced to a sidekick), there just wasn't any room for growth.

Anonymous said...

I loved the scene where Sydney catches BJ filling the hole Frank dug with water. Brilliant.

Pam, St. Louis

Bob Gassel said...

Friday Followup Question:

Any thoughts what Frank's farewell episode might have looked like had Linville chosen to come back and do it? Would it have just been a dramatization of the events of "Fade Out, Fade In"?

YEKIMI said...

My nickname all through high school [and beyond] was "Radar" because a lot of people thought I looked like him [I had round glasses and always wore a ball cap before the show had even started] so I was sort of glad when Gary left the show thinking maybe they'd quit calling me "Radar" and start calling me by my actual name. No such luck. Heading toward my 50th class reunion and people still call me "Radar" even though I long ago lost the round glasses and ball cap. At my 40th class reunion I even had a classmate come up and ask me what my real name was because all through high school he had only known me as "Radar".

Cap'n Bob said...

Has everyone forgotten the sexual union BJ had with a nurse?

Leilani said...

Hi Ken, I have always wondered- on shows such as Cheers, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond (just to name a few), whenever they have certain gags where they very slowly with the camera approach the character's hilarious sight gag, for instance, in the one Cheers episode "Diane Chambers Day", when they slowly reveal that all Norm, Woody, Cliff, Sam and even Diane fell asleep, you can tell that the studio audience laughs when YOU at home see it too, as the scene was slowly unveiled. How do they keep the live audience from seeing the laugh before the camera does?

Joe said...

Thanks for asking my question, Ken. It's great that Gene Reynolds was still involved in the show. I have a similar question: There are no "Cheers" scripts credited to the Charles Brothers between Kirstie Alley's first episode and the finale. I know other people served as showrunners, but how active were the Charles Brothers during the Kirstie Alley years?

Ben said...

"Nice guy" characters in sitcoms can be boring, but it's even worse when writers try to avoid that by turning them into annoying jerks. I'd say that was the main problem with Ross from "Friends," Ted from "How I Met Your Mother," Leonard from "Big Bang Theory," etc., etc.

Jahn Ghalt said...

When was the last time you consulted with Reynolds or Gelbart on a story?

In one of your recent podcasts you mentioned that producers paying for "punch up" on a story is a thing on the past - to be replaced (for you and other connected writers) by an "all-star-team" of unpaid writers - worth a million bucks (so you said).

Were Reynolds or Gelbart ever part of such a Murderers' Row?

Pilot Joe said...

Loved how B.J. was introduced to Frank and Margret.
"What say Ferret Face?"
Joe

Donald Benson said...

I just finished a novel (soon to appear as a vanity ebook) with a hero who could be classed as Too Nice. Two things to mitigate it:

One, he can't shake the belief that people and the universe are essentially reasonable. He's neither self-righteous nor a sucker (usually). Look at Christopher Reeve as Superman -- He KNOWS people laugh at his decency, and if anything he's a little amused by it.

Two, he'd strayed off the path at one point in his life and recoiled when he saw what he'd become. There's some of that in B.J. -- he has to actively resist temptation and anger; sometimes unsuccessfully.

Edward said...

Here is an interview with a much older Larry Linville in 1992 on Howard Stern's local late night show. He's 15 years removed from MASH and talks about leaving the show.

https://youtu.be/JywbRq1_m4o?t=151

Here is a sketch with Larry (Frank Ass Burns) and Howard (Hawknose) called C*A*S*H where they team up as breast implant surgeons.

https://youtu.be/ghZIiEhJVVg?t=444

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Edward I almost feel sorry for Larry in that sketch - that look on his face says to me what the hell am I doing here?

Tom Lawrence said...

I greatly prefer the funny, satiric, cutting comedy of the first three seasons with the original cast compared to the schmaltzy, over-written, who’s got a zinger, Klinger, here’s a punchline, padre, of the middle years, and the preachiness of the final slog of seasons. I can accept Potter — Harry Morgan was such a brilliant performer in any role. B.J. left me cold then and now. His character was drab and his lack of chemistry with Hawkeye after the rollicking relationship between Hawk and Trapper was readily apparent. Mike Farrell seems like a swell guy, but B.J. was a sharp decline from Trapper. It’s too bad that despite their reported close friendship, Alan Alda seized command of the series and allowed/forced Wayne Rogers to depart. McLean Stevenson, who reportedly left seeking greener pastures — in every sense — soon regretted his move. Wayne Rogers did say he would have hung around if he knew it would run for 11 seasons. Sure wish he had. It’s remarkable the number of comments I see here and elsewhere in the ever-expanding MASH universe about Trapper’s womanizing ways. As Col. Blake said, they were grown men a long way from home, while back in the land of the all-night degenerator, orthondonists were on the prowl for lonely wives.

Tom Lawrence said...

I greatly prefer the funny, satiric, cutting comedy of the first three seasons with the original cast compared to the schmaltzy, over-written, who’s got a zinger, Klinger, here’s a punchline, padre, of the middle years, and the preachiness of the final slog of seasons. I can accept Potter — Harry Morgan was such a brilliant performer in any role. B.J. left me cold then and now — and I never thought I would utter THAT sentiment. His character was drab and his lack of chemistry with Hawkeye after the rollicking relationship between Hawk and Trapper was readily apparent. Mike Farrell seems like a swell guy, but B.J. was a sharp decline from Trapper. It’s too bad that despite their reported close friendship, Alan Alda seized command of the series and allowed/forced Wayne Rogers to depart. McLean Stevenson, who reportedly left seeking greener pastures — in every sense — soon regretted his move. Wayne Rogers did say he would have hung around if he knew it would run for 11 seasons. Sure wish he had. It’s remarkable the number of comments I see here and elsewhere in the ever-expanding MASH universe about Trapper’s womanizing ways. As Col. Blake said, they were grown men a long way from home, while back in the land of the all-night degenerator, orthondonists were on the prowl for lonely wives.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Wayne Rogers tops the list, in my opinion. As much as I've always liked Alan Alda and the Hawkeye character, it's appalling how many Hawkeye-in-the-limelight moments there were considering that Rogers and Alda were signed as equals. The imbalance is apparent in the earliest episodes. No wonder Rogers left the show.

Franklin G. said...

I can see why Hawkeye and Klinger would have non-regulation haircuts, but I can't explain away why so many of the soldier patients had non-military haircuts that looked like 70's style. It messes with my 'suspension of disbelief.' Was there ever any discussion on making the guest actors cut their hair?

Seoul City Sue said...

Friday Question: Hey Ken, love the blog! Watching 'The Winchester Tapes' in tribute to DOS, are you the 'Bean Pole Levine' referenced in the episode??

BJ Wanlund said...

Okay Ken, I was listening to a Chuck Thompson CD recently (the Baseball Voices CD tribute to Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Baltimore Orioles) and he was mentioning a Ken Levine, pronounced the same way you pronounce your last name. (Pretty sure it wasn't the same guy, but hey, figured I'd ask if that was you.) Are there any good baseball broadcasting stories still left in the tank? And if you DID work with Chuck Thompson, what were your personal memories of working with Chuck?

BJ Wanlund said...

And BTW, no I wasn't named after B Wanlund and J Wanlund ;) (Sorry, been getting that joke lately.)

Paul Duca said...

Dreck is a naughty word in Yiddish? I did not know that...

Pete Grossman said...

Thanks for answering the M*A*S*H Yiddish question, Ken. Greatly appreciate it as it's been rattling in my *meshuganah kop* for, oh, some 30 plus years.

Ken Levine said...

BJ,

That was me. I'm also a baseball announcer. Chuck was my partner in 1991 with the Orioles. He was a SPECTACULAR human being.

Cristina Graziella said...

Mash is amazing! A real masterpiece of Tv art, entertainment, intelligence, high-quality humour, irony, generosity and humanity! And the episodes written by Mr. Ken Levine and Mr. David Isaacs are the best. They got in the spirit of the project and identified themselves with Mash world. But most of all, they put love, devotion and poetry.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Friday question: I have always greatly admired and enjoyed seeing the multi-talented Mary Kay Place since discovering her on MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN. I was glancing at her IMDB entry to see what she's been doing lately, and see that not only was she in a season 3 episode of MASH but she shared the writing credit for the episode, so I wondered if you had any memories of her and her work to share.

wg

Stephen Gallagher said...

I remember watching it with my father when it first aired and my dad asking me, "How does Col. Potter know Yiddish?"

You could pick up a lot if you were a reader of MAD magazine. And btw, Mazel Tov on your new Portzebie.

Roger Owen Green said...

Ken: "Frank Burn’s departure" - Burns' or Burns's, please.

Cap'n Bob: Yeah, I remember BJ cheating on his wife and feeling terrible about it. But why I thought MASH was losing it was in one of the latter seasons, he ALMOST cheats on his wife. I bought the former, but not the latter.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Seoul City Sue Yes, that's him, except that Ken pronounces his name "Le-vyne" instead of "Le-veen."

This is BDOR, BTW. ;)

David G. said...

Ken -- Unless I'm mis-remembering something, you did once confirm on this site that Wayne Rogers somehow was brought in to voice a P.A. announcement line during the airbase scene in "Welcome To Korea." I had asked this question here shortly after Wayne Rogers died, something I'd been wondering about for a lot of years after first hearing that particular moment on that episode. I've never been clear, though, on why Wayne would've been offered to do that or why he would've accepted doing it, considering he had made the effort to remove himself from his contract with the series.