M*A*S*H (TV series)

From ArticleWorld

M*A*S*H was the hugely successful American comedy series based around a group Army Surgeons during the Korean War. Centered around the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the show took both a light-hearted as well as an often serious perspective on not only the Korean conflict, but war in general.


M*A*S*H on Television

The television incarnation of M*A*S*H followed on from the success of the book by Richard Hooker and the film directed by Robert Altman (1970), which all carried the same name. Whilst maintaining the same basic story line and core characters, the shorter episodes did not lend themselves to the more complicated subtle humor. The series adopted a far more overt television friendly style, with punch lines and catchphrases becoming the more popular form of comedy. Both Altman and Hooker were disparaging about the series style, claiming the lack and subtlety and the loss of a sense of insanity to maintain the sanity in the backdrop of war made the series far weaker.


Despite protestations by the original creative force behind M*A*S*H, the series became as big if not bigger than both the book and the film. Running from 1972 until 1983 the show maintained a vast audience, culminating in the largest ever audience for an American television show, receiving nigh on 106 million viewers on it’s last episode in the US alone. This unprecedented popularity consumed 77% of the nights viewers and cemented the legacy of M*A*S*H in the record books.

The Characters

The characters remain constant throughout the book, movie and the television series. The actors may change but the characteristics and the basic elements of each character, friends, enemies and humor remain the same. The pivotal character is the Martini drinking sharp-witted Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce, better known as Hawkeye, played in the series by Alan Alda. Supporting Alda is the team of misfits and officials like ‘Radar’, ‘Trapper John’ and Major Margeret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan.

Change in Tone

The show had a distinct shift in ideological stance during its decade long run on television. The goofy slapstick comedy was slowly replaced with a more thoughtful and issue based style. The show was constantly questioned about it’s true motives whether they were actually basing the scripts on the Korean war or attempting to make statements about the Vietnam conflict, which was still in operation at the shows inception. The truth was that it was a satirical slant on war in general, rather than exposing or ridiculing any particular conflict. The shift in ideologies and style is largely down to the increased influence of star Alan Alda. The actor who plays Hawkeye began to influence writing and direction, in order to incorporate a more profound serious side to the show, making a statement about the futility of war rather than a simple half hour comedy show. The change in direction split fans, but by the conclusion of the series and under the direction of Alda, the show came to a glorious finale with the largest television audience of all time.