Well, one of the AP's big headlines following the Super Bowl on Sunday was "Super Bowl is Most Watched TV Show Ever". I was startled as I realized that the Final Episode of M*A*S*H had been able to hold its own against the Super Bowl, sponsored so much by the Department of Defense's recruiting services to the tune of millions year-after-year for over 26 years. [That episode was called "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen".]
Let me explain for those of you who are too young to remember. M*A*S*H was an essentially irreverent anti-war, anti-military, anti-draft, anti-chain-of-command comedy that ran for over a full-decade from the early 1970s onwards on American TV (long before we had 500 channels to choose from on our TV dials). The final episode of M*A*S*H, shown in February 1983, was seen by the largest USA audience up to that time--even during the most expensive and largest peace time arms build-up in American history. This reveals, despite the rise of Americans' Super Power status, that many Americans identify themselves and their relationship to America's militarization in a peripheral and very critical way throughout the 20th Century. [This was not the image portrayed to non-Americans abroad by most USA media or foreign policy occupation in the second half of the 20th Century.]
M*A*S*H was the most successful television show inspired by a movie (in this case a movie of the exact same name).
Although that war comedy film, M*A*S*H, was set in one Asian war--namely the so-called Korean War or Korean Police Action, Director Robert Altman intentionally set out in creating the M*A*S*H movie to make certain that viewers would identify with troops in Vietnam--up-until-then-and now America's Longest War.
In short, most of the American veterans from the Korean War had already been forgotten about--so, HEY, let's make a movie that has allusions mostly to Vietnam. Let me add here that the U.S. had definitely not clearly won the Korean War, so those affected veterans had been discouraged from talking about their war days in public back in the USA in the 1950s, 1960s, and onwards.
So, in the midst of America's resistance [to war] rising in the USA in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Altman might certainly have asked: "Why not, after all in 1972, set this irreverent film, M*A*S*H, based on a book by a hardly remembered Korean Veteran in Korea--but with as many allusions as possible to what we see happening in the run-amok Vietnam and Southeast Asian debacle on our nation's TV and on the cover of newspapers and tabloids?" [Due to the growth in power of TV mass media in two decades, everyone was more conscious of the other losing battle or war: Vietnam. Otherwise, perhaps the Korean War might have had its own program a decade or so earlier.]
Larry Gelbart wrote and directed many of the M*A*S*H stories over the years. However, In order for the M*A*S*H series to run for 11 years, of course, it had to have a lot more writing contributors and room for ever-inspired growing creativity. M*A*S*H wasn't just a comedy or farce anymore. At times it was clearly a drama. Sometimes both. At times, the actors wrote and directed the shows themselves. Over five different U.S. presidencies the show, set in an unsuccessful Asian war, continued to be viewed and became very well syndicated world-wide.
"Many of the stories in the early seasons are based on real-life tales told by real MASH surgeons who were interviewed by the production team. Like the movie, the series was as much an allegory about the Vietnam War (still in progress when the series began) as about the Korean Conflict."
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