I LOVE LUCY
DICK VAN DYKE
MARY TYLER MOORE
ALL IN THE FAMILY
The Classic Sitcoms Guide to...
Season One: 1972-73
1972-73: THE FIRST SEASON
Year-End Rating: 17.5 (46th place)
In their first season behind the lines of the Korean War, Hawkeye
and Trapper John spend considerably more time chasing skirts than patching
wounds in the operating room. But by the end of the year, producer Gene
Reynolds and co-creator Larry Gelbart have evolved the bawdy and irreverent
world of the 4077th mobile army surgical hospital into television's
first true black comedy--a simultaneously grim and hilarious vision
of war where laughter is the most potent weapon of defense.
In addition to executive story consultant Larry Gelbart's contributions,
first-year scripts from Laurence Marks, Carl Kleinschmitt, and Sid Dorfman
all help shape the series's early viewpoint. Burt Metcalfe is associate
producer of the first four seasons, and William Jurgensen the director
of photography for the first five. Stanford Tischler and Fred W. Berger
are the show's regular editors for the first four years.
1 M*A*S*H Pilot First Aired: September
Iconoclastic Army surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre
throw a drunken bash to raise money to send their Korean houseboy to
a U.S. college.
A remarkable episode that established the show's major characters
in a black comedy of absurd proportions. In one fell blow, the barracks
buffoonery of Sergeant Bilko and Gomer Pyle was rendered hopelessly
and shamefully irrelevant.
Karen Philipp appeared--briefly--as Lieutenant Dish, one of the characters
from the film who failed to survive the transition to the small screen.
Timothy Brown's Spearchucker Jones, the 4077th's black surgeon, was
another prominent movie hold-over in early episodes; he even bunked
with Hawkeye and Trapper John before he was quietly shipped out midway
through the season. Writer Larry Gelbart maintains that the black doctor
was dropped after research revealed that there simplyweren't any
black surgeons in Korea. But whatever the reason for Spearchucker's
demise, it's clear that the show's writers had no idea where to go with
the blandly written character from the very start.
Hawkeye hopes to replenish dwindling medical supplies when by trading
Henry's antique desk for a shipment of black-market hydrocortisone.
Jack Soo plays a Korean black-marketeer here, though the late character
actor would be better remembered as Japanese detective Nick Yemena on
Trapper John is sorely mismatched when he faces a massive opponent
in an intercamp boxing tournament.
Hawkeye and Trapper John both vie for the attention of Nurse Margie
Cutler, whose tour of duty at the 4077th barely outlasts the first season.
Jealous when Hawkeye is appointed chief surgeon, Frank summons a flabbergasted
general to look in on the unorthodox leisure activities of the new head
There's a gag in this episode about a GI so desperate for a psychiatric
discharge that he wears women's clothes--inspired, according to Larry
Gelbart, by Lenny Bruce, who attempted a similar gambit to get thrown
out of the Navy. The sight gag would eventually blossom into financial
security for bit player Jamie Farr, but it very nearly got left on the
cutting-room floor. In director E.W. Swackhamer's first cut, he had
Farr play the transvestite as an effeminate swish--a cliché that
sent the producers scrambling for a retake. Reynolds did reshoot it.
The second time the actors played it straight, the bit was much funnier,
and in no time at all, Corporal Max Klinger was a fixture on the series.
Incensed when a GI arrives with a Korean teenager he bought as a slave,
Hawkeye conspires to emancipate the girl and restore her self-respect.
The writers often drew stories from actual historical detail, such
as this one, in which a Korean family's practice of arcane indentured
servitude rituals spurs the characters to action. The unstinting research
paid off: Letters commending or correcting the show's accuracy began
to pour in from veteran MASH doctors, most of whom were anxious to share
their own wartime experiences. Over the years, these rich and detailed
first-hand accounts of war would form the basis for some of the show's
The doctors rebel when they discover that the Army plans to make a
propaganda film glorifying the depressing conditions of war.
Hawkeye acts even crazier than usual after he's denied a weekend pass
The 4077th copes with a shell-shocked helicopter pilot who turns to
violence after Henry denies his discharge back to the States.
Don Weis, one of the first-season directors of The Andy Griffith
Show, would continue as a M*A*S*H director for four of the
first six seasons.
When Colonel Blake's transfer to Tokyo leaves Frank Burns in command,
Hawkeye and Trapper wage a campaign to get their beloved--and tolerant--commanding
officer back in the fold.
Hawkeye decides to play detective when he becomes the chief suspect
in a rash of petty thefts.
Hy Averback started out as a radio announcer before he distinguished
himself as one of the most prolific television directors of the 1950s
and 1960s. He would be the only early M*A*S*H director to continue
with the show throughout its run.
The producers weren't as happy with some of the other first-year directors,
most of whom had made their reputations directing a mixed bag of one-camera
sitcoms during the 1960s. After a few run-ins with unsympathetic--or
just plain confused--directors, Gelbart, and later Reynolds and Alda,
added directing to their other duties. Together they would nurture the
show through its first fledgling seasons, along with a handful of returning
first-year directors, including Averback, Don Weis, William Wiard, and
Frank is the unwitting donor in an emergency blood transfusion when
Hawkeye extracts a pint from the major while he sleeps.
During a lull in surgery, Hawkeye composes a Christmas letter to his
dad describing the simple joys and endless dread of daily life in a
In one of his earliest attempts to stretch the narrative boundaries
of situation comedy, Gelbart allowed the audience to look at life through
the surgeon's eyes, as Hawkeye narrates the episode as a letter he's
written to his dad. The script was more influential than anyone guessed
at the time; it established Hawkeye as the show's empathetic voice,
just as Gelbart was discovering his own voice in the character.
The nurses band together to find a date for an accident-prone nurse.
Trapper and Hawkeye offer Radar a crash course in music and literature
when they fix him up with a nurse who's culturally inclined.
Though few were aware of it at the time, four years earlier guest
star Kelly Jean Peters had originated the role of Gloria in the earliest
pilot for the series that would become All in the Family.
The medics create a fictitious captain so that they can donate his
Army salary to an orphanage.
Trapper and Hawkeye conspire to have an overzealous commander shipped
back home to protect the troops from his military enthusiasm.
Director Jackie Cooper was a former child actor who had grown up to
star in two successful sitcoms of the 1950s, The People's Choice
and Hennesey, which he also produced. It was on the latter series
that the actor gave Gene Reynolds--himself a retired child actor--an
opportunity to direct. Reynolds returned the favor on M*A*S*H,
where Cooper would eventually direct the majority of episodes in the
series's second year.
Hawkeye mourns the sudden death of an old friend on his operating table.
Alan Alda cited this episode as the series's first real groundbreaker.
"It was the first time on our show that a sympathetic and charming character
had died," the actor wrote in TV Guide. It was a breakthrough
that was largely lost on the confused executives at CBS, most of whom
were unaccustomed to having death sprung on them between the toothpaste
commercials of a half-hour situation comedy. The producers held their
ground by insisting that a soldier's sudden and unexpected death was
an entirely appropriate subject for a comedy set in war. When the episode
finally aired, it drove yet another nail into the coffin of the superfluous
situation comedy of the 1960s.
A decade earlier, writer Carl Kleinschmitt had been a prolific contributor
to the original Dick Van Dyke Show.
In another letter home, Hawkeye explains how he survives the perverse
insanity of war by staying just one step ahead of the butterfly net.
A coveted pair of long-johns arrive during a Korean cold spell and
find their way into more than one M*A*S*H footlocker before day's
A handful of TV actors had directed episodes of their own series before,
and a few had even written scripts that could actually be filmed; but
Alan Alda is probably the only actor ever to simultaneously direct,
write, and star in a long-running television series. Not surprisingly,
his early scripts reflect Gelbart's strong influence, though Alda would
quickly develop his own voice, both as a writer and as a director.
The medics' enjoyment of the radio broadcast of the Army-Navy game
is seriously compromised when an undetonated bomb lands in the middle
Hawkeye accuses Frank of incompetent surgery, only to discover that
one of his own patients has suffered a mysterious relapse.
Frank is about to ship out of the 4077th, but Hawkeye and Trapper John
trick him into staying on after they discover that his transfer doubles
The producers hadn't yet quite got their bearings, as this uncharacteristic
episode proves. The script violates the basic premise of the characters
in an inconsequential plot that veers dangerously into stock sitcom
territory. Larry Gelbart would be so embarrassed by this episode that
in later years he would remember it as simply "the worst."
The 4077th makes premature plans to dismantle the camp when they hear
rumors of a ceasefire.
The producers always kept an eye on the headlines as they fashioned
their Vietnam allegory, so it's not entirely coincidental that this
episode aired the same week that the United States began withdrawing
troops from Vietnam. Surprisingly, the end of the fighting in Southeast
Asia had very little effect on the show. The ceasefire might have dulled
the show's urgency, but it didn't blunt its message. As Hawkeye observed
in a Gelbart script aired two years later, "Wars don't last forever,
only war does."
A song-and-dance man performs a USO comedy show in stark counterpoint
to the bleak goings on in the operating room.