Saturday, September 03, 2022

Weekend Post

Among the many things we learned on MASH was the value of research. Gene Reynolds, the showrunner, loaded us down with transcripts, articles, books, and even maps. The more authentic, the more real you can make your world, the richer and more interesting it will be. During our time on MASH we conducted numerous interviews with doctors, corpsmen, nurses, and soldiers who had served in Korea. And there were five years of interviews before us. Gene and series creator, Larry Gelbart, even took a trip to Korea. Many of the stories we used came right out of the research.  In some cases we had to tone them down.  The real stories were too absurd to be believed. 

On staff we had a medical adviser, a technical adviser, and a military adviser. We had no fashion consultant for Klinger however. The budget was only so large.

But my partner, David Isaacs and I continued to do our homework on future projects. Hey, Paddy Chayefsky used to do extensive research and so does James L. Brooks (although Brooks got it from Gene Reynolds as did we) so you know there's value in it. 

Over the last 15 ½ years of this blog I might have mentioned once, twice at the most, that we wrote the Tom Hanks/John Candy movie VOLUNTEERS. If I didn’t mention it, now you know. The bulk of the film was set in Thailand in 1962. Tom’s character joins the Peace Corps to avoid a gambling debt. So we wanted to know about the Thai culture – what their lives were like, their food, their homes, customs, religion, concerns, etc.

Our producer, Walter, said he knew someone from Thailand who was living out here now. We arranged a dinner with him.

The gentleman, whose name was At (that’s a name we used in the movie) selected the meeting place – the most expensive Thai restaurant in Los Angeles if not the world.

At apparently was a relative of the royal family. He ordered for us. Every dish was scrumptious, but hugely rich. Lobster sauce, and filet mignon, and exotic noodle dishes. We asked what the common folks ate. “This,” At answered. “Really?” I said, “Jungle Curry Pork Ribs, Ginger Whole Seabass, and Crab Meat Noodles?” Yep, he insisted. That’s how the peasants ate.

Except, according to At, there were no peasants. Everyone in Thailand lived in nice homes. I guess the real unfortunate ones didn’t have a view.

We asked how the general population in outlying areas filled their days. Working in rice fields? Taking shelter from the monsoons?   Oh no. They played a lot of sports.

We of course used none of this nonsense in the film but stayed late into the evening asking more questions because we were highly entertained.  Had we used his stuff our movie would have become REAL HOUSEWIVES OF THAILAND.
I’d like to think he was bullshitting us and didn’t actually believe any of the balloon juice he expounded. According to At -- there were no communists or warlords. Many huts had TV (in 1962). Recreational opium was the perfect nightcap after a feast of Lamb with Spicy Lime or Roast Duck with Mint Leaves.

Research is great… as long as its valid. I don’t know whatever happened to At. I do hope he wrote the Thailand page on Wikipedia.



Nico said...

Have you ever written on the blog about the real stories that had to be toned down for MASH?

VincentP said...

One of the many things I love about the series "Bob [Hearts] Abishola" is that it uses actual Nigerian actors and writers, thus giving the show a verisimilitude that makes it feel genuine within a sitcom context. Kudos to Chuck Lorre for his work on this salute to the immigrant experience. (Are his only remaining series this and "Young Sheldon"? I don't know if he'll have any new shows on the air this fall, as he appears to have lost favor at CBS.)

Bob Paris said...

Ken: After reading the names of the various Thai dishes, in my mind I just had the best meal of my life! Thank you.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

@VincentP: the Nigerian co-creator of Bob Hearts Abishola is the British-Nigerian comedian Gina Yashere. Great story I read somewhere: her agent called and said Chuck Lorre wanted to talk to her -he'd seen her work on YouTube. "Who's Chuck Lorre?" Agent told her to do an online search and call back. Lorre's intention was apparently to hire her as a consultant, but brought her on as co-creator within a day. Once in the writers' room, she kept insisting that Abishola needed a wacky sidekick. Which role (Kemi) she auditioned for and got, once it was created. Smart woman.

I can't find the interview within the time I'm willing to spend, but here's a more recent one that doesn't tell that story but is nonetheless interesting:


Gary said...

I had R&R in Bangkok in 1967. Tho much of my time was spent in absolute avoidance of sobriety, I did see enough to assert that At was full of more than a plate of Khao Pad.

MikeN said...

Why did you need all this research? Suits did just fine with no research and writers just making up legal procedure- I think at one point I saw a death penalty appeal has the guy who is to be executed testifying before the appeals board.

Cowboy Surfer said...

His twitter account is @at

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Ken, I really enjoyed this post, thank you! I hope this and other gems are in your next book.

@VincentP, Gina Yashere who writes and acts in Bob Hearts Abishola was recently promoted to co-showrunner (Deadline news).

In interviews Yashere said that Lorre wanted a Nigerian comedy writer to work on the show and found her by googling "Nigerian comedy writer."

I love the show too, thought it bogged down in season 3 with underwritten, dull plots with Bob's family but then it got better.

I miss Mom, can't get into Young Sheldon.

Mark said...

NYPD Blue got so much material from their technical consultant, retired NYPD detective Bill Clark, that after the first season they started giving him a story credit for every episode.

And while we're on the subject, check out who the technical adviser on the Phil Silvers Show was.

DBenson said...

This raises the broader question of fakers. Hollywood was (and is) famously a magnet for the full spectrum: experts and academics with dodgy credentials; exiles claiming Noble Blood; "insiders" bragging about (but never demonstrating) access to celebrities and power; old wrecks who insist they were part of whatever 60s band you just mentioned; etc.

Did you have to deal with such in your career(s)? A fraudulent authority who impressed executives? A supposed pro, on or behind the camera/stage/press booth, who clearly didn't understand the simplest basics? A big shot who wasn't?

If you have an anecdote that provokes outrage, be aware that's powerful clickbait. Even more so if there's seeming karma to cap it.

powers said...

I wish that the creators of science fiction television shows would do such research in getting the science as correct as possible on their series. Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) did consult with science professionals in order to present realistic science for his stories.

Irwin Allen (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost In Space) never gave a hoot about scientific accuracy, so he never it important on any of his shows. Although his TV shows are science fiction, they are so wild that you can consider them fantasy.

Many SF creators, movie & TV studios, think that the audiences will be too ignorant to pick up on any inaccurate science in their productions. The old adage never let reality get in the way of a good story applies to them.

Al in PDX said...

Always happy to see pictures of Tom Tuttle from Tacoma. Go Cougs.

DBenson said...

In the original movie "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" the Van Allen Radiation Belt catches on fire, and they put it out with a nuclear missile. Also, chunks of ice break off under the polar ice cap and SINK. And the submarine surfaces at a 45 degree angle but is full of unsecured furniture and an open-top shark tank with a narrow walkway over it. Oh, and the admiral smokes cigars.

After his string of disaster movies began to fade, he did this in 1978:
And this makes it look more intelligent than it is.

Anonymous said...

As good as "M*A*S*H" was, the one thing I could never understand was how the doctors could drink having little or no warning when casualties would arrive.

The show addressed the issue occasionally, most notably in "Fallen Idol" in the sixth season when Hawkeye is so hungover, he has to leave the OR in the middle of surgery to throw up outside, much to Radar's disillusionment.

I certainly understand the need to unwind in that setting, yet that's an element of "M*A*S*H" I could never reconsile.

ScarletNumber said...


Yes, Chuck Lorre is down to two shows next year. I wonder if there is any relation between Lorre and the author of this blog, as Lorre was born Charles Levine.


I won't spoil it for the others, but it's amazing that an Academy Award winning actor first served 16 years in the army and broke-in to Hollywood by being a technical advisor on The Phil Silvers Show.

DyHrdMET said...

How are things like characters/actors smoking handled in a script or in production? For example, I'm watching a show, and one of the characters is chain smoking in one scene. Is something like that cleared with the actor(s) of the scene ahead of time? If it's a show with a studio audience, and say it's a cigar (with that smoke and smell). Does the audience have to acknowledge before entering the studio that they'll be subjected to that hazard?

Dana King said...


Never mind about posting a link. I figured it out.


Mitch said...

Why didn't you check with actual PC volunteers? Boy, can we tell you stories. Would of only cost you a couple of beers and a bowl of rice

of course, good rice, since I'm not a robot

Betty said...

You coulda asked me! I lived in Thailand 1961-1962. Sure, I was only 6 at the time, but I remember lots!