Tag: MASH

Day 999: Buh-Bye, So Long and Hallelujah

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It’s a completely valid question.

For the past 50 or so days I have been fielding one question more often than most: what am I going to do for Day 1000? Will the final kilograph reflect upon the 999 that came before, like some extended clip show of my greatest guffaws and most aww-rending moments? Will I spend my final entry in closing-credits mode, thanking those who have made this all possible and put up with my considerable dearth of free time over the last 2 years and almost 9 months?

In short… no. While my original intent was to meander down that self-serving footpath for my final article, I decided that I would only do so if I could cite the Wikipedia page that had been created about me – as it turns out, that doesn’t exist yet.

In order to figure out my final missive, I felt I should turn to the moulder of my wisdom, the sage oracle who has helped to shape my morality, my perception, and even my understanding of the world: television. I have experienced the highs and lows of series finales – certainly at least one of them could illuminate the road to a poignant, entertaining, and (most of all) worthy coda to this monstrous undertaking.

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My first option is the beloved trope of bringing back a classic character for the finale. In my case I could introduce a surprise cameo by Yoko Ono, Craig David, Mary Nissenson, or if I really want to stretch to my roots, Phineas Gage. I could style the entire piece in a blend of haiku, musical theatre and secret code (did anyone ever figure that one out?). It sounds trite and cliché, but that’s always a place to start, isn’t it? Read more…

Day 888: The Real Section-8-ness Of The Section-8

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On the 27th episode of M*A*S*H, only three shows into its second season, Corporal Max Klinger made his most serious and likely push for his dismissal from the US Army. It was a running gag throughout the first seven years of the show that Klinger would wrap himself in dresses, stoles and boas in an effort to acquire a sacred Section 8 – a discharge from the army due to a psychiatrically diagnosed case of nuttiness. But the gag should have been quashed after the episode in question – “Radar’s Report.”

In this episode, psychiatrist Dr. Milton Freedman (he’d be assigned the first name ‘Sidney’ in all subsequent appearances) tells Klinger he’ll give him the Section 8, but only by putting down in the official record that Klinger is a transvestite and a homosexual. Outraged, Klinger insists he’s none of those things – just crazy.

Beneath the surface of this punchline lies the real truth about the Section 8. This method of discharge was a frequent tool for commanding officers who wished to rid their platoon of “subversive” gays. It was a cold and calculated bayonet to the career of anyone whose preference in a mate – or even whose skin color – offended the sensibilities of a bigoted officer. Klinger could have taken Dr. Freedman up on his offer, but it would have come at a cost.

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In 1916 the US Army came up with a form of discharge that hovered in purgatory between “Honorable” and “Dishonorable”. It was printed on blue paper, and came to be known as the blue discharge or a blue ticket. It was originally used to send home kids who had enlisted to fight in World War I underage, though that act of teenage patriotism was eventually promoted to an honorable discharge. For gay troops though, the blue ticket was an easy get. Read more…

Day 771: On Tonight’s Show… History.

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Once the collective click of a few million TV sets shutting off had resonated throughout North America in the shadowy hours of February 9, 1964, the pentimento of American culture as it existed before that day was almost invisible. This is the news blurb that kids – and I include here many in my generation, those who played their opening number on this earthly stage some years after the 60’s had taken their bow – will gloss over and ignore. Precisely one half of a century has elapsed since the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Trying to rationalize the significance of this broadcast to my children is a fruitless endeavor. Even in my limited history, the only television “events” that embedded a rusty touchstone in our shared timeline were series finales (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld), sporting events or news stories. The first two would get us talking, but eventually they’d meander under the covers of the past. And while the scope of our world might have shifted after we all watched O.J. race through the arteries of Los Angeles in a Ford Bronco or after we saw the towers fall a few years later, television was merely the window through which we’d all observed a salient chapter in history. When the Beatles splashed down into 74 million pairs of eyeballs for the first time, it was culture announcing through its own mouthpiece that everything was about to change.

There had never been an equivalent in the world of popular music. And given the splintered state of our popular tastes and the three-block buffet of media options at our disposal, such a singular jarring of our culture is not likely to ever occur again.

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First of all, there is no parallel to Ed Sullivan today. Sullivan’s show was a weekly stage for performers to hurl their skills at a national audience in hopes the exposure will crank their success meter up to the next notch. You’d see plate-spinners and dog trainers, classically-trained actors and world-renowned singers. The late-night talk show circuit is the closest to an equivalent today, but Ed’s show was about showing off his guests, not interviewing them to hear pre-rehearsed stories about the time George Clooney pranked them in the studio commissary. Sunday nights were our culture’s window into the wider world. Read more…

Day 757: Best Care Anywhere – 23 Things I Didn’t Know About M*A*S*H

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Up until the recent spate of Platinum-Age television brilliance forced me to redefine the parameters of small-screen excellence, I had always placed M*A*S*H upon a mighty khaki pedestal. The show wasn’t perfect, but it blended riotous comedy with deeply human drama and did so often within the same scene. As recently as last week I found myself reminiscing with someone about the most unforgettable episodes – “Point of View”, “Dreams”, “The Interview” – and I realized I have yet to pen a piece in tribute to this eleven-season masterpiece.

Hell, I’ve already written about Golden Girls; how have I not written about this show yet? I’m going with the ‘things I didn’t know’ format, since there’s simply too much interesting trivia to cram into a proper narrative kilograph. Also, I’ve got an extremely tight deadline.

Some of these I did know before today, but I learned them after the show’s initial run (which wrapped up when I was 8 – thank goodness for syndication).

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–       The TV show was based on MASH, an elegantly twisted 1970 film by Robert Altman. The film was based on MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, which was written by Richard Hooker.

–       Richard Hooker doesn’t exist. He’s an amalgam of writer W.C. Heinz and former US Army doctor H. Richard Hornberger, who served as a military surgeon in the 8055 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

–       Many of the stories in the first few seasons of the show were based on actual tales from former army doctors. Hornberger’s quarters in Korea were actually nicknamed ‘The Swamp.’ Read more…

Day 740: You Bring The Gags, Charley Will Bring The Laughs

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It was once so commonplace, so natural, so subconsciously integral to the very essence of comedy that we hardly noticed it. The laugh track came with the medium; it was swept in as part of the original package, like the wheels on the first car or the door on the first refrigerator. It was the oily black fingerprint of television comedy, first by tradition then by mandate. If you didn’t hear laughs, you weren’t meant to laugh. Bing Crosby’s team brought the technology to radio in the 40’s when they had to jazz up the flaccid responses to some flat jokes. It seeped into  the realm of TV with ease.

In the early 1990’s, the state of small-screen comedy began to transform, and with this came a subtle erosion of the dominance of the laugh track. Those shows with the broadest base appeal – by which I mean the ratings hogs that comedy connoisseurs and critics tend to loathe… yes, Two And A Half Men, I’m talking about you – still make use of laughter prompts. But for the most part, as an audience we’ve decided we don’t need them.

Good for us, not so much for the fleet of companies that made their mint by plopping requisite ha-has into prime time programming over the past half-century. Except there is no fleet. Most of the laughter beamed into our homes all those years ago came from the fingertips of one man.

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That’s Charley Douglass, who was a sound engineer in the nascent days of television at CBS. Back then, many comedies were broadcast live from the stage to the screen. Those that weren’t live were shot with a single camera, with scenes re-staged several times to capture different angles. Studio audiences were used, but they couldn’t be counted upon to deliver the chortles when the writers wanted them to, particularly on the third or fourth take. Charley came up with a process to ‘sweeten’ the laughter. It was brilliant and effective, and when Charley was ready to leave CBS in 1953, the network claimed it was their intellectual property. Read more…

Day 719: The Nine Titans Of Little Rock

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Every so often I like to remind my readers that we used to live in a world that was, by all modern standards of logic and sanity, ridiculous. Perhaps it’s my subversive way of suggesting that some of the issues we face today will be looked upon as ludicrous and/or moronic by the next generation. Or maybe I’m not quite that crafty. I suppose it depends on my mood.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States dropped the checkered flag on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, the landmark ruling that declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional and backwards. But the transition from ignorance to stable integration was about as murky and clumsy as you’d expect. Racism was alive and thriving, particularly in some parts of the country which have spent generations making obliviousness into an entrenched lifestyle.

Amid the thick, almost tactile fog of racial disgruntlement in Little Rock, Arkansas, a group of nine unfathomably brave young men and women volunteered to honor the Supreme Court’s ruling by marching unblinkingly into the den of hate. These nine kids were to be the first black students at Little Rock’s Central High School, and there was no way the white folk were going to make it easy on them. They are the Little Rock Nine, and a greater display of teenage badassery you will likely never find.

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Virgil Blossom, Little Rock’s superintendent, had a plan to gradually unravel the segregated school system. The NAACP was, not surprisingly, displeased with this idea, as it was so vague and open-ended, the schools might still be partially segregated a decade down the road. Led by Daisy Bates, they orchestrated a search for a handful of bold youths who were willing to kick off the 1957 school year in uncharted territory.

They found the Little Rock Nine. Read more…

Day 651: When The Whole World’s Watching

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A couple Sundays ago, over the course of 75 minutes that some of us are still trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to wash out of our brains, Breaking Bad aired its series-concluding episode. 10.3 million people tuned in, scoring a 5.2 share – a phenomenal success, considering the previous season’s finale (the unforgettable Face Off episode that wrapped up the Walter White vs. Gus Fring conflict) only drew in 1.9 million viewers.

For those who spend a much more logical amount of time thinking about television than yours truly, that 5.2 share means that 5.2% of running televisions during that time-chunk were tuned into AMC’s broadcast. In 2013, that’s pretty impressive, especially for a cable series. When The Sopranos clocked out with a cut-to-black curtain in 2007 the numbers were only slightly better, with 11.9 million fans watching. Somehow they can tweak the numbers to account for PVR recordings, but of course the ratings-counters can’t keep track of illegal downloads, a very real player in how a lot of people catch up on their favorite shows. But still… 10.3 million? I feel like that number should be higher.

The fact is, we live in a world filled with gazillions of channels – undoubtedly it was hard for some viewers to turn away from 12-year-old reruns of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on the Game Show Network to catch some fresh drama. We’ll probably never hit the big numbers that have defined our most shared TV experiences again.

Sometimes you just can't beat some classic Regis.

Sometimes you just can’t beat some classic Regis.

Any list of the most watched shows around the world is bound to be suspicious. FIFA would have us believe that their World Cup broadcasts – inarguably the most beloved sporting event across the globe – bring in billions of viewers. But even they have admitted that some of their figures are exaggerated while others are an outright guess. Read more…

Day 601: The Thousand-Word Fortune Cookie

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The reaction to yesterday’s article, which outlined future planetary events over the next couple centuries, was overwhelming. “It changed the way I see the world,” said one fan that I made up. “So much information in such a callipygian space!” said another, who clearly doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘callipygian’ (it means well-proportioned buttocks).

But the question that was asked most often – I’d like to say by curious fans, but truthfully just by myself during the commercials of a M*A*S*H rerun last night – was what about our lives? Sure, maybe Venus will eclipse Jupiter in 2123, but certainly there must me more I can find out about life on this planet during the short window I’ll get to see.

Well, good news. With 400 articles yet to be slapped upon the giant refrigerator of this project, I have grabbed my next magnet and selected a good mix of forecasts about life on earth to form the basis of today’s entry. Let’s see what we can expect over the next fifty or so years.

I hope it’s all good news.

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For starters, there are going to be a lot of us. We just passed the post of seven billion souls (and a handful of soulless folks) on this planet, and in the next 12-13 years we’ll hit eight. Nine billion in the early 40’s, and the United Nations is confident we’ll be bursting at the seams with ten billion people by 2083. I suppose the upswing to global warming is that the toastier temperatures should make the real estate in Greenland a lot more valuable – that’ll take some of the crowd-burden off the rest of us. Read more…

Day 590: I’d Like To Call Our Lord And Savior To The Stand

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A few words about the great state of Tennessee before I begin. It’s a lovely state, full of history, and it features Nashville, one of the bedrock states of American music. I feel I need to preface with this, as Tennessee has taken a few hits in the media lately. This is the state where, in 2011, legislators passed a bill that would make it illegal for educators to even make reference to the fact that some people in the world are gay. As geographically removed from the deep south as Tennessee may be, their leaders have fought hard to appear as intolerant and backwards as possible.

And this is hardly a new development. One of the first ‘trials of the century’ took place in a Tennessee courtroom, and while it had nothing to do with homosexual rights, it focused the blinding media spotlight onto the state’s educational system, and revealed it to be ludicrously outmoded.

They called it the Scopes Monkey Trial. But in reality, it wasn’t the monkeys who needed defending. It was science.

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It all started when a downhome folksy Tennessee farmer-turned-lawmaker named John W. Butler introduced a bill that would make it illegal for any teacher in any school in the state to teach evolution. Evolution was a bitch-slap in the face to the science of the Bible. Teachers were not – under the threat of a hefty fine – allowed to deny the origins of mankind as taught in holy scripture. Read more…

Day 412: Spun-Off & Spun-Out (Part 2)

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Some topics are simply too large to be contained within a single article. A month ago I marveled at some of television’s more obscure spin-offs, but I only scratched the surface. Television networks have a habit of trying to stretch their audience’s limit of how much of a good thing is good enough.

We should be relieved The Sopranos didn’t drop a three-camera sitcom called It’s Janice! after it cut to black. Or that Lost wasn’t rebooted in more mystery-heaping confusion with After-Lost. And thankfully Seinfeld did not beget The Babu & Puddy Variety Hour. Actually, I might have watched that one.

Anyway, here are a few more from the pile:

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Sure, maybe you have seen all 110 episodes of Charlie’s Angels. But did you ever see Toni’s Boys? Actually, yes. If you devoted 110 hours of your life to Charlie and his girls, then you saw the episode in which a lady named Toni employed a stable of strapping young hunks for essentially the same purpose as Charlie kept his Angels. This was a ‘backdoor pilot’, meaning it aired as an episode of its parent series, in hopes there would be enough interest for the network to order a few episodes. Read more…