The Massive Hit of M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H, based on the movie of the same name (Director Robert Altman, 1970), aired on CBS from 1972-1983 and has become one of the most celebrated television series in the history of the medium. During its initial season, however, M*A*S*H was in danger of being canceled due to low ratings. The show reached the top ten program list the following year, and never fell out of the top twenty rated programs during the remainder of its run. The final episode of M*A*S*H was a two and one half hour special that attracted the largest audience to ever view a single television program episode.


In many was the series set the standard for some of the best programming to appear later. The show used multiple plotlines in a half-hour episodes, usually with at least one story in the comedic vein and another dramatic. Some later versions of this form, e.g. Hooperman (ABC 1987-1989) and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (NBC 1987-1989), would be known as the dramady, half-hour programs incorporating elements of both comedy and drama. Other comedies would forego the more serious aspects of M*A*S*H, but maintain its focus on character and motive. And some dramatic programming, such as St. Elsewhere and Moonlighting, would draw on the mixture of elements to distinguish themselves from more conventional television.


M*A*S*H was set in South Korea, near Seoul, during the Korean War. The series focused on the group of doctors and nurses whose job was to heal the wounded who arrived at this "Mobile Army Surgical Hospital" by helicopter, ambulance or bus. The hospital compound was isolated from the rest of the world. One road ran through the camp; a mountain blocked one perimeter and a minefield the other. Here the wounded were patched up and sent home--or back to the front. Here, too, the loyal audience came to know and respond to an exceptional ensemble cast of characters.

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