‘M*A*S*H*’ turns 50 years old Saturday

The Emmy-winning series M*A*S*H debuted on CBS 50 years ago this Saturday. It first aired September 17, 1972.

Based on the 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, written by former Army surgeon Richard Hooker, M*A*S*H was an adaptation of the 1970 big-screen film of the same name. Though set in the Korean War, M*A*S*H was also an anti-Vietnam War allegory, following the doctors and nurses of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 4077.

The show starred Alan Alda as surgeon Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, Larry Linville as Maj. Frank Burns, Loretta Swit as head nurse, Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan and Jamie Farr as Cpl. Max Klinger, and it lasted on TV four times as long as the war in which it was set.

“Everybody on this show, all the writers and all the producers and directors and the actors were first class,” Farr told ABC Audio by phone. “They were just the top drawer.”

“They were the greatest bunch of people you could ever possibly work with. And we’re all honored to be a part of that series.”

M*A*S*H* earned 14 Emmy Awards in its 11-season run. TV executive and unofficial M*A*S*H* historian Dan Harrison explains the show broke the mold for television to come.

“It had … really form-busting episodes like ‘The Interview,’ which was shot in black and white and was done as a newsreel. There was an episode called ‘Lifetime,’ where it was done in real time trying to get an arterial graft done in 20 minutes …”

The result is “a show that feels a little bit more contemporary than today in 2022 than other shows that were produced 50 years ago,” Harrison says.

When M*A*S*H* ended on February 28, 1983, it broke the mold again, Harrison explains, when 105 million people tuned in. “While there are some Super Bowls due to population growth that have had more than 105 million viewers … that 60.2 rating is like Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak. It’s never going to be broken … by any show.”

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