Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm on TV again... for six seconds

That 30th ANNIVERSARY MASH SPECIAL that originally aired on Fox in 2002 is running again on cable channels above 200. I know this because people come up to me and say, "Hey, I saw you on television. Or at least I think it was you. You were gone in a second." Actually, it was six seconds. And that was more than any of the other writers got.

When they were putting together the special they invited groups of us longtime MASH writers to be interviewed. They broke us up into two groups of five. My group was interviewed for two hours. Same with group two. We all told great anecdotes, had wonderful concise overviews of the show filled with insight, great pith, and social perspective. We were funny, charming, articulate, dazzling – you would have been proud of us. The end result: my six second sound byte and one master shot of us sitting at a table like loxes made it to air. And I imagine the production company had to be arm wrestled into using that much.

Fortunately, in the round table discussion with the actors, Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Burt Metcalfe were included. You never see them in any cast photo but these three men really were the heart and soul of MASH. I always maintain that when my partner, David and I were head writers during the middle seasons we were just allowed to take the wheel and drive daddy’s car for awhile. But it was Larry, Gene, Burt, and later, Alan Alda who really established the series, gave it its tone, humor, humanity, and voice.

The actors roundtable segment was seemingly done on the MASH set. In truth, it was a replication, filmed not on Stage 9 at 20th Century Fox but on some rented sound stage in Hollywood. But walking on that set, seeing those familiar tents, and reuniting with the people who were so much a part of my life for so long, it was very eerie. And impossible to even fathom that 30 long years had passed.

I was six when I was on MASH so of course I still looked good, but I was happy to see how well everyone else looked.

It was a wonderful reunion. We writers told the same sparkling stories we did at the interview, desperately hoping someone would listen. Thank you, Jaimie Farr, for indulging us.

Being a part of MASH was like being a member of a Superbowl winning team. It was an experience I will always cherish.

Networks are so intent on shaking up the sitcom format. They’re frantically grasping for anything different and new. Maybe instead of looking forward they should be looking backwards…

30 years.


Anonymous said...

Catching lightning in a bottle (and that's what a great TV show does when it pays attention to the talent of the writers) would seem to happen infrequently. But if you look at the classic TV shows, there's always a common thread: great writers write great scripts and their talent invites audiences to see actors working at their best.

And it's one thing to catch that lightning once, but to do it over and over again can mean only one thing: your talent was no accident, it was a gift [to all of us fortunate to watch it week in and week out] from the gods. Well, that and some badass hard work.

Thanks for sharing your skill with all of us.

Anonymous said...

This summer, we've been renting old movies and sitcoms. Feeling nostalgic, I rented the first season of M*A*S*H thinking my teenage daughter would get a kick out of the stuff I was watching at her age.

I fully expected it to be corny and dated. Nah-uh. It's great. Classic. In fact, my daughter's determined to watch all the episodes before the end of summer; she's hooked. We've started season 6 and have noticed yours and your partners name. She's in such awe that she'd probably love to watch the whole 2 hour interview you guys gave. Unfortunately, we don't have cable so we can't even watch the anniversary special 'til we dig up the DVD I guess.

It must have a been a great experience. Can you share some of the stories that you shared with Jamie Farr? My kid would be thrilled. :)

Like the first comment, we so appreciate the skill and hard work that went into that show. We laugh and we cry.


Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I wonder of that unused interview footage exists anywhere convenient for you to get permission to post it on YouTube? THAT would be very cool to watch!

rob! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rob! said...

i love that special; i thought it was much better than the previous one, since you got to see everyone (sans linville and stevenson, sadly) converse together.

i could've watched a 4 hr "director's cut" of this special if they had made one...

MASH to me looks better and better as it ages. and in this political climate, its viewpoint seems downright revolutionary. if MASH was on today, people like Limbaugh and Coulter would be blasting every episode, calling it "treasonous" and "un-american" simply because it refused to be pro-war.

Anonymous said...

For those who wonder what Ken's better half, David, is doing this summer while Beaver is at the ballpark...he's credited as Consulting Producer on the current episode of the show currently holding the title "Coolest, Hippest, Most Buzzed-About"...MAD MEN, the series about the advertising scene in 1960's New York, running on the AMC cable channel.

Unknown said...

I watched it with my grandfather this weekend. He says hello.