When I first saw Swit on Match Game, I was just struck. A tomboyish yet attractive mature lady from a show I never thought of watching guests on a genre that I was addicted to such as game shows, as I was a game show freak in the 70s watching almost every game show that came out during the day, guests on the Match Game by filling in the blanks asked by star Gene Rayburn, and that stunt made me want to check out her show M*A*S*H on prime time. Sure enough, I discovered that this show was so oddball in nature, unlike anything that I saw in a sitcom before, that I kept on watching wondering what would come next. It could be funny at times, but at the same time, had a serious theme where the normal surgeons and nurses dealt with being in an abnornal environment such as being situated three miles from a war zone in a country across the Pacific.
If there was perfect casting as a lead, it had to be Alan Alda, who could be serious and funny from one second to the next, even doing Groucho for humor, but can give dramatic performances that sometimes make you forget that he can do comedy.
These game show guest appearrance worked and it made me discover the series that left others like the Brady Bunch and Zoom in the dust as I had outgrown them anyway. This was some of the most versatile writing and mood swinging scripting that I ever encountered. This started out as a sitcom like Hogan's Heroes or F-Troop were, and there's nothing wrong with those two shows, but the show wanted to go in a different direction and morphed into a dramedy as the time went on and the show began to take shape where the characters were portrayed as believable people on a tour of duty in a time not so long ago in a place not so far away: Korea 1950.
Like many other new shows in the 70s, the bubblegum and silly sitcom wave of the 60s gave way to more socially concious programming such as "All in the Family," "Mary Tyler Moore," "The Jeffersons," "Maude," and others. "M*A*S*H" debut on CBS on September 17, 1972 two years after the theatrical movie of the same name "M*A*S*H" was released to low ratings because the viewers just didn't understand the odd format of the show. It wasn't a sitcom. It wasn't a drama. It was a dramedy, which is a mixture of both humor and sorrow whenever the mood of the script dictates it to be.
Only two other TV incarnations of theatrical movies were successful as five seasons or more. One was "The Odd Couple" from 1968 starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, which became a series in 1970 starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. The other was the 1992 movie "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" starring Kristy Swanson, which became a dramedy series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead in 1997. Very few memorable movies became successful TV series.
Larry Gelbart, a comedy writer famous for "Your Show of Shows" in the 1950s, developed Robert Altman's 1970 movie for television with many of the feel of the movie left intact.
The first 24 shows for the first season were bumpy and still trying to work the bugs out as it tried to remain true to the original premise of the movie.
Some of the episodes that stand out in the first season include "The Pilot," which establishes the characters in broad strokes; "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet," in which a friend of Hawkeye's (Alan Alda) dies on the operating table (look for "Ronny" Howard as an underage soldier); "Cowboy," in which someone is trying to kill clueless commander Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson); and the pivotal "Dear Dad," the first of what would be a series of multistory episodes in which Hawkeye writes to his father about life at the 4077th.
During the first season, several film characters made early exits from the series, including Timothy Brown's Spearchucker and Karen Philipp's Lt. Dish. George Morgan was the frist actor who played Father Mulcahy in the pilot, but the role was recast to William Christopher as a recurring character a few episodes later. Klinger (Jamie Farr), bucking for his Section 8 discharge, doesn't appear until the fifth episode, "Chief Surgeon Who?" Gary Burghoff's character Radar is a much more wily and savvy partner in crime to the "Yankee Doodle Doctors" Hawkeye and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) than in later seasons.
In its 11-season run, M*A*S*H won 14 Emmy Awards, and it remains one of TV's most beloved series alongside "I Love Lucy" and "The Andy Griffith Show" as being among the most durable reruns in the history of televison.
In the late 70s, CBS reran the series uncut Thursdays from 11:30pm until 12:05am as part of the late night umbrella title "The CBS Late Movie", which was not a movie but a collection of reruns of prime-time fare. CBS ran the series in daytime in 1978 and it moved to syndication a few years later where it runs today on the free broadcast channels as well as several cable channels.
The movie and series were set in Korea, 1950. The unit was called a M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital), which means that whenever warranted, the unit could be moved to another area, but during the entire 11 season run, it was stationed three miles from the war front. Incoming helicopters full of wounded brought the horrors of war to them daily and sometimes bullets flew right outside the operating room door. To break up the drama, there was some occasional humor to keep the hard working doctors sane in an insane world.
M*A*S*H debut in 1972 as we said, and at that time, America was still involved in the unpopular war taking place not too far from Korea, but Vietnam, both in the eastern part of Asia. During the time people were protesting the war, there came this show that people could tell others to watch and really see what the pro-war people are not telling us: how ugly war can be with incoming wounded and bleeding soldiers arriving via helicopter into the M*A*S*H unit for surgery and treatment. I guess that it was because of the anti-war sentiment that this series slowly began to take off, and might have influenced the President of the United States to take our troops out of Vietnam.
The first season's episodes were mostly authored by Laurence Marks, who had been one of the chief writers on "Hogan's Heroes," and there is a sense in which many of these early episodes have the feel of some World War II era sit-com set than "M*A*S*H" in its prime (the show was known as "Hawkeye's Heroes" in some quarters during that first season).
Unlike the movie, the TV version had to tone down the blood and the sex, but we still get a sense of it in the show.
"M*A*S*H" is one of my 25 best TV shows of all time, along the likes of the aformentioned "I Love Lucy", "Married...With Children", "The Odd Couple", "Seinfeld, "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", "The Simpsons", "South Park", "WKRP in Cincinnatti", and "Gilligan's Island" believe it or not on its own merits.
In the fall of 1972, M*A*S*H aired on Sunday nights at 8:00pm ET/PT in between "Anna and the King" and "The Sandy Duncan Show." Hard to believe that this was one of the shows that were a successor of the time slot long occupied by "The Ed Sullivan Show" until 1971 when CBS cancelled the series, and there were more since then such as "Cher", "Murder, She Wrote", "Archie Bunker's Place", and "Touched By An Angel." The show struggled for a year until somebody at CBS decided to move the show for the fall of 1973 to Saturdays at 8:30pm ET, right after the popular "All in the Family" socially awareness sitcom. It bounced around the schedule to Tuesdays at 8:30, then Tuesdays at 9:00, then in early 1978, CBS moved it to Mondays at 9:00 where it stayed until the series ended in 1983. Some of the notable shows that became hits after the show include "One Day at a Time" Tuesdays at 9:30, "WKRP in Cincinnatti" Mondays at 9:30, and "House Calls" Mondays at 9:30.
This series was loosely based on real-life MASH unit 8055. Life at the 4077th unit revolved around the daily routines of Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce, Captain "Trapper" McIntyre, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, Major Margaret Houlihan, Major Franklin Burns and Corporal "Radar" O’Reilly. Through these characters, viewers traveled beyond the long hours and the horrors of the operating room to a place where friendships were forged, laughter was found and drinks were served.