Thirty-nine years ago tonight, television viewers tuned into watch the series premiere of the series M*A*S*H. The series was based off Twentieth Century Fox’s film and Richard Hooker’s novel. The show failed miserably in the ratings during its first season and was sure to be canceled. The story goes that the wife of CBS’s president loved the show and it was renewed for a second season. The show remained in the top 15 in the ratings for the next ten years.
There are very few TV series that last beyond seven years, but shows that go through cast changes tend to have more difficulty. M*A*S*H successfully replaced three cast members, killing off one. As a series about war, the show’s writers felt it was important to have the right mix of comedy and drama. M*A*S*H was the first of these s0-called “dramadies” and has been called “television’s serious sitcom.” The series has always been my favorite for this reason. I have researched M*A*S*H units during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the series’ creators did their research, including conducting interviews with doctors and nurses and even visiting an operational M*A*S*H unit that remained in Korea. Many of the stories presented week-after-week on M*A*S*H were true stories told in one of the interviews. While M*A*S*H’s characters are fictional, the backdrop is very real. This contributed to the series’ success and explains why the series is still popular today.