The most successful and arguably best black-comedy in television history.
The MASH series finale is still, as of 2010, the highest rated drama episode ever, despite there being exponentially less viewers in 1983.
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Premise MASH was adapted from the popular 1970 eponymous film to tv in the fall of 1972. Originally intended to be a farce in a similar vein of the movie, MASH soon evolved into a entity that brought viewers a vision of the horrors of war, despite rarely showing actual scenes of violence. "MASH" refers to a mobile army hospital set up near battlefields in the Korean War that provided emergency surgery to wounded American soldiers, North Korean enemies, and South Korean civilians. The protagonist, Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda, is the chief surgeon of the MASH unit and along with Trapper John and later BJ Hunnicutt, played by Mike Farell, the resident pranksters of the unit. While their antics annoy the antagonistic Frank Burns and later the snooty Charles Winchester, it becomes evident that Hawkeye's pranks serve as an escape from the living hell each member of the unit suffer daily.
Each episode of MASH, as mandated by Alan Alda's contract, has a scene where the doctors enact surgery on casualties; a common arc throughout the series is that the doctors are over-worked, often doing risky surgery for 16- hour shifts with little time to rest in between. Despite that, the 4077 MASH unit hold the distinction of having a 97% survival rate, the highest in Korea. While it employs a laugh-track, MASH took the bold steps of choosing not to use it during many of the scenes involving surgeries and for some shows, abandoning it all together.
Relationships in MASH play an important role in the show; due to its backdrop. All the characters display deep bonds with each other, the unity they must create in order to survive the stresses of war. Traditional archetypes don't hold much weight; the antagonists of MASH, Frank Burns and Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, evolve into fully realized, 3-D characters whom the viewers can emphathize with. The true antagonists are the military officials whose ill-advised and dangerous tactics are fully displayed, developing MASH's strong anti-war theme. Shot in the midst of anger at the Vietnam War, it is this message of "War is Hell" and the display of the human cost of doing war that made MASH into one of the most successful and lauded comedies in television history.
MASH was shot in California in a studio an hour away from civilization. The sets themselves were not well-built, causing many members of the cast discomfort; there was not a function bathroom anywhere on the set and required people to go to the main studio by jeep to use the restroom.
MASH premiered to frail ratings. Much of the first season was spent under the threat of cancellation; in fact, its rumored that MASH survived its first season because the CBS studio head's wife was enthralled with MASH and wanted it to stay on air. It was the episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" that would mark a turn-around for MASH. Most of the first season was spent trying to mimic the humor presented in the movie, yet it was the MASH unit's first patient death, and that patient being Hawkeye's friend from home, that would resonate with viewers. This blend of humor with the dark reality of war would begin to propel MASH to its success as well as set the show's tone for the future.