Thursday, December 03, 2009

Were there subplots on MASH you didn't know about?

Aloha from Hawaii. Taking a break from surfing those 100 foot waves to answer a Friday question or three.

From Charlotte:

I've been hearing this as a rumor for decades, that there was a C storyline written into every episode of M*A*S*H specifically so that it could be cleanly cut out to shorten the episodes for syndication without affecting the A and B storylines. People have been telling me my whole life, big a M*A*S*H fan as I am, that there are actually whole, complete storylines I've never seen because I've only ever watched the show in reruns. Is this true, Ken?

No. The shows were edited (a nice word for "hacked") for syndication but there were never pre-designed storylines for them to lift. So instead they just cut and trimmed whatever they wanted, sometimes leaving stories incomprehensible. If you're a MASH fan I suggest you watch the DVD's for the original versions. And a great new book is just out called "TV's MASH: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE BOOK" by Ed Solomonson & Mark O'Neill. It is 818 pages and has more stuff in there about MASH than anyone would ever want to know.

Mary Stella asks:

During last week's three hour commercial for Macy's and NBC, aka the parade, Al Roker interviewed several stars of NBC shows. One guy from a sitcom was markedly unfunny, even though he tried to be. When casting for a sitcom, do you try to find actors who are also naturally funny off-script or do you just need ones who can act with the comic timing, etc.?

Not all producers look for the same things but when I cast, first and foremost, I look for FUNNY people. Some people just have a natural gift or they have a funny look or voice or gait. The OFFICE and MODERN FAMILY are two perfectly cast shows in my estimation. Just looking at the cast photos you smile.

And I go for funny over good-looking. It’s amazing how much more attractive someone becomes if they can make you laugh. A great comparison of funny vs. attractiveness is the British and American versions of COUPLING. The U.K. cast is a little quirky, weird, goofy and brilliant. The U.S. cast was a J. Crew ad.

I don’t care if my cast members are good guests on talk shows. We’ll write them funny things to say. And if they want to go on THE VIEW, well, they can’t say I didn’t warn them.

blogward asks:

Today I will be attending a preliminary audition for Britain's Got Talent (my son signed me up). Do you have any suggestions for how to make the best impression on the 3rd AD who I will be trying to impress?

Wear a schlumpy house dress and sing “I Dreamed a Dream”. If that doesn’t work, sleep with somebody. Good luck. If you make it through let us know. I’d like to become the official blog of BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT.

From Rick Whelan

Whatever happened to your planned movie about the Brill building geniuses (like Ellie Greenwich)who wrote most of the rock 'n roll songs of the early 60s? I'd love to see their story told!

It wasn’t a movie. It was a planned musical. There had been several movies in development on the Brill Building but they never got off the ground. There was a 1996 film called GRACE OF MY HEART starring Illeana Douglas as sort of a Carole King character but that movie strayed from reality to the point where it could have been a western.

Having now co-written the book for a produced musical I see how incredibly hard it is to get one of these things mounted. Especially if you don’t have investors going in. Imagine writing a spec screenplay that would cost as much as AVATAR to produce. Good luck selling it. That’s how it is with a spec musical.

I’d still like to do the project one day. I have a rough outline and know just where the story is going. If someone out there has a few millions and is looking to be a Broadway producer, give me a call.

Okay, the Banzai Pipeline seems gnarly enough to surf. Gotta go. Leave your questions in the comments section. Mahalo.


David J. Loehr said...

Have you ever heard of Ken Davenport? He's a Broadway producer who might be the guy you're looking for.

It might be worth a shot. What's the worst he could do? Say no? It's not like he's Allan Carr or anything...

gottacook said...

Grace of My Heart "strayed from reality to the point where it could have been a western..." Well, perhaps so, and perhaps even for good reasons - but I still really enjoyed the film, especially the contributions of the very decent singer-songwriters invited by Alison Anders. The Burt Bacharach-Elvis Costello collaboration "God Give Me Strength" (see is a good example, although atypical of how songs are used in the movie.

I hope your Brill Building musical works out, although I wonder who could convincingly play Neil Diamond (or Neil Sedaka, for that matter).

Anonymous said...

I have this crazy plan about how you can make millions with a musical guaranteed to fail.

I saw it on some movie.

alan0825 said...


Christopher Lloys is a terrific actor, but you never see him do print or tv interviews. If you know him (as I guess you might), could you tell us what he's like away from the cameras?

Alan Hinton

Larry said...

Grace Of My Heart should have never strayed from the Brill Building. Moving beyond into the rest of the 60s world was a huge mistake.

The other problem, not so easily fized, is trying to write songs as good as the original hits. You just can't do it. (Though, to be fair, the songs written for That Thing You Do are pretty good.)

AHomer said...

"The Front" did a commendable job at giving an impression of 50s comedy TV in homage to "Show of Shows", by way of not dealing directly with the writers and creatives, but by a quirky tangent through what the "Front" sees of them, hired as the name implies, to "be" them during the Communist-paranoia of the period, etc.. I would love to see that construction somehow applied to a Brill Building era story, as there are too many sub-relationships involved and great musical partnerships otherwise.
But having said that, I am still waiting for a film on something like one week in a comedy club in the late 50s early 60s, and the stand-up Comedians of yore breaking in their material. THAT would be timely. Maybe an HBO season...

Phil Guest said...

I grew up watching MASH on the BBC here in the UK. It wasn't until years later that I learned that it was broadcast with a laugh track in the US, whereas in the UK, it had been removed.

What were your feelings when you first heard about this? Do you think the programme is significantly different with or without it?

Fred said...

Friday Question: Have you ever actually surfed in Hawaii?

Bob Oscar said...

So what is the "network" first run length of a half-hour show?

And what would that same half-hour show be cut down to for syndication purposes?

Rick Whelan said...


Thanks for answering my question about the Brill building musical. I'm reading a great book now called Always Magic in the Air ... which is the history of the wunderkinds who wrote the American rock and roll songbook in the 1960s from both the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway. If I had the means, I'd invest in a musical about this era. The book is full of great anecdotes ... like composer Doc Pomus (This Magic Moment, Save the Last Dance for Me, Viva Las Vegas) is the brother of divorce lawyer Raoul Felder. Who knew?!!!

Dana King said...

The secret of getting a musical produced is to sell 10% of the show to 100 different investors, then have the show flop on opening night. Guaranteed way to make money.

Just don't tell Mel Brooks.

Michael said...

Bob, I remember as a kid that when MASH was aired during the day, I could see differences. I believe that in prime time, it used to be six minutes of commercials per hour, double that during the day. So for the daytime syndicated MASH, they had to cut three minutes.

Now, there are times when some of the lines make no sense because the earlier set-up has been deleted. It's just awful. Sometimes, TVLand will air the full original of a half-hour show and run it for 35 minutes, which obviously throws off everyone's dinner plans.

By the way, in his later years, Stan Laurel would call or write to LA stations showing his old films and offer to cut them for the stations so that they wouldn't destroy the storyline. Of course, they ignored him.

TheSplenda said...

When a show starts to lose it (*cough* House *cough*) are the writers the first people to notice it or the last?

blogward said...

Thanks for answering, Ken. As it happens, there were quite a few men of a certain age in silver lamé miniskirts, as well as some nice bellydancers. Along with the 7-year-old Michael Jackson impressionists, teenage bodypoppers and cheerleader troupes. I struck up with a girl who told me about her recent depressive episode. Out of ten 'acts' in my group, four had serious attitudes. The runner had been there since 4AM, it was her birthday, and she was still smiling. I have no idea how it went, I had a couple of beers and a large Scotch beforehand.

WV: retria = presumably this means I will be back next year.

Chad said...

If you could erase one line from a produced TV script you wrote, what would it be?

Unknown said...

Ken in the UK its traditional to only do short season (series) of comedies and the episodes are normally all written by the same person.
My Friday question is which show of yours/others, would you like to have a six-part reboot that you wrote every episode.

charlotte said...

Thanks so much for answering my M*A*S*H question, Ken. (It still seems completely surreal to me that you're really YOU... and that we have access to actually ask the real you questions. Love that internet! :D

"And a great new book is just out called "TV's MASH: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE BOOK" by Ed Solomonson & Mark O'Neill."

Cool! Thanks for letting me know about it! Just added it to my Xmas list. I'll let you know if someone comes though for me.

PS. Love, love, loved Dharma & Greg! (Didn't see it until reruns.) Mentioning it here, because I don't want to get involved in the tangent that particular post's comment section has become. But I'd like to second whoever asked there about the episode that originally aired against the series' finale of Seinfeld. Amazing a competing network allowed the Dharma & Greg writers to do that! Has that episode posed any problem in syndication? By promoting another show/a competing product, I mean.