MASH and the Emotional Leap Indicator

mash-title-960x590MASH has always been one of my very favourite TV comedy programmes. You may have read in another post about how I used to record the programme back in the early seventies with my cassette tape recorder. Later when video tape recorders appeared I used to tape many episodes of the show and now, here in the DVD age I have a number of box sets of the series. One of the things I have always loved about the show was how they could take zany and surreal humour, not unlike that of the Monty Python guys, and set it down in a real place; Korea in the 1950s. Some of the lines that came from the mouths of the characters were not only zany and funny but also very witty and clever. Apart from that, the characters themselves, Hawkeye, Trapper John, Frank Burns, Hotlips, Colonel Blake and Radar were interesting and likeable and I, like most viewers, began a strong emotional attachment with the cast.
graph4Now, you might be wondering about that other part of this post’s title, the bit about the emotional indicator. Yes, I thought you might. It’s not so easy to explain but here goes. Most TV shows and movies have a sort of standard emotional indicator that stays pretty constant throughout the show. Take a look at the graph over to the left and let’s put some numbers up. Say a baseline of zero for a standard, calm emotional level. Now, when the show gets funny that level goes up to something like 15 for instance and I’d even say that in a movie like Police Academy that 15 or higher would be a constant throughout the film, well for me certainly. The original Police Academy movie is one of my favourites and I tend to start laughing round about the start of the film with the scene in the parking lot where Steve Guttenberg says the parking lot is full and then the guy comes in and says ‘park the car dirt bag!’ I usually stop laughing round about the end credits but on a normal film there’s a constant up and down: up when the film gets funny and down to nil when we get back to normal.

Now in MASH, where surreal humour is combined with drama, it’s a different ball game. Many times not only does the viewer hit a 20 or higher and then drop down to zero,  he also drops down further, perhaps down to a -10 or lower in the really sad moments. In the graph you can see a really funny moment that comes before a really sad moment. Here’s a prime example from my favourite ever MASH episode, it was called ‘Sometimes you Hear the Bullet.’

Hawkeye’s friend Tommy comes to visit the 4077th MASH. He’s a journalist who wants to write the story of the Korean War from the point of view of the soldier, not the journalist. So he’s not a correspondent, he’s a fully signed up member of a platoon. He stops in and visits with Hawkeye for a while and the usual zany humour ensues. Tommy then has to return to the war. A side story is one where a wounded young lad (played by future film director Ron Howard) admits he is under age but joined up to prove to his girl that he was a man. In one scene he tells Hawkeye that he is out to get him some ‘gooks’ and Hawkeye replies calmly that another word for gooks is people.

Hawkeye and Trapper plan to steal Major Frank Burns’ Purple Heart- he had an accident and because it happened in a war zone he is eligible for the award -and pass it on to the young lad so he can impress his girl back home. Anyway, later in the episode, Tommy the journalist returns to the MASH, only this time he is seriously wounded. He was planning on writing a book called ‘They Never Hear the Bullet’ but this time he heard the bullet. ‘Never mind’ says Hawkeye, ‘just change the name. Sometimes you hear the bullet, it’s a better title anyway.’ Tommy is anaesthetised and Hawkeye gets to work. Sadly, Tommy dies on the operating table. Colonel Blake has to remind Hawkeye about the queue of wounded and Hawkeye, tragedy etched on his face (an outstanding performance by Alan Alda) has to carry on with his next patient. Every time I watch that episode I sob my heart out, just as I did years ago when I first saw that episode on my Mum and Dad’s old black and white TV. Now I know why; because it wasn’t a case of just dropping down from 0 to minus 36 on the emotional scale, I was already up there on +45 so I had to drop way, way down. That’s why I love MASH: Humour, drama, and tragedy, all mixed into one.

MASH_TV_cast_1974Mash ran for 11 seasons and an incredible 256 episodes. Trapper, played by Wayne Rogers, was my favourite character after Hawkeye and he left the series after season three to be replaced by Mike Farrell playing new doctor B J Hunnicut. Colonel Blake (McLean Stevenson) also left at the end of season three. His character was discharged but right at the very end of the episode news came through to the MASH that the Colonel’s aircraft had crashed with no survivors. This episode prompted an outpouring of grief and resentment from fans at the death of the character. I could understand perhaps Colonel Blake dying part way through the episode and the second part showing the sadness and grief of the rest of the characters but it seemed to me that Colonel Blake’s death was almost an afterthought, just tagged on to the end of the episode. As time went on many of the other series regulars left including Gary Burghof (Radar) and Larry Linville (Frank Burns) and for me personally, the series was never the same.
The last ever episode was aired in 1983 and became the most watched TV episode ever in the USA at the time.

Keep an eye out for Sometimes You Hear The Bullet. It’s well worth watching!


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Sex and The City -What was your favourite season?

I do love Sex and the City. It’s one of my favourite shows and I’ve got the whole lot on DVD so when I come home after a late shift and fancy a glass of something and a DVD, Sex and the City invariably gets slipped onto the DVD player.

51WNVUght3LI have my favourites like everyone, particularly Mister Big, the coolest guy ever and my personal hero but I like all the characters, especially Carrie. What a life; living in New York City and working as a journalist and not in a nine to five way either; working from home writing about her friends and her life. Why can’t I get a job like that?

Recently I worked my way through the whole of season four, the very best season. Mr Big was involved with a movie superstar, Carrie had got back with Aiden whom I have probably more in common with than the super cool Mr Big. There was the whole Trey and Bunny saga involving Charlotte which was so good. Personally I thought Trey was great for Charlotte. He was quirky and interesting, if only they could have worked out their problems.

What else was there? Miranda’s Mum died; what a great episode, and later Steve, her ex gets testicular cancer so she sleeps with him to cheer him up and gets pregnant. Anyway, loads of good episodes but I loved it when Big and Aiden met and Big came down to Aiden’s country cabin for a chat with Carrie. Aiden, naturally I thought, was not happy so eventually he and Big have a fight and later become friends, of a sort.

Finally, Carrie splits with Aiden in a really bitter sweet episode and Mr Big moves to Napa in California. Like Charlotte and Trey I wished Aiden and Carrie could have worked things out. In a lot of ways they were more suited than Carrie and Mister Big. Anyway, you can see how much involvement I have tied up in this show. I really felt that in season four the show came of age. Serious relationships, serious problems, some fabulous characters, some humour and some moving stuff especially right at the very end when Carrie is too late to meet up with Mister Big. He has gone to California but left behind his Moon River album for Carrie. Great stuff.

Pity about those Sex and the City movies! Sometimes you just have to step away, and I guess that’s the same even for TV production companies! You made a great TV show but now it’s over! Step away!

So,what was your favourite season?

 

Dynamic People and the Movie Business.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI always used to the think the TV and movie business was full of creative people. It isn’t. Sure, there are creative people, people who write and direct and act but for the main part, the industry is full of dynamic people, people who get things done, people who make things happen.

I am many things, some good, some bad, but not by any stretch of the imagination can I be called dynamic.

A long time ago, fresh from my encounter with channel four (read about my Taxi project here) I was determined to break into film and TV. I had a friend called John (once again, names may have been changed to protect the innocent) who was interested in video and we made some video movies together on a pretty amateur level. We lost contact for a while but we both saw an advert in the ‘Manchester Evening News’ advertising Manchester’s new film office. Neither of us knew what the film office was so we both went down to see what it was, to see if we could maybe get a job there or make some contacts or even if we could get someone to listen to us for a few minutes. It turned out the film office was just that, an office for film makers who wanted to film on the streets of Manchester and the office would facilitate that. Anyway, because of that we met up again and John  and I started to chat about our ambitions. John had found a comedy script written by an old friend and wanted to make it into a comedy TV show. It was about a Yorkshire yokel and the silly things that happened to him so we put together a ‘treatment’ as they say in the business and took it to channel 4.

“Great,” they said, “we like it!”

“Great,” we answered, “can we have the money to make a pilot?”

“No,” they said, but if we made one they’d look at it. Well that was it I thought but John went away and came back to me a few days later. He had placed adverts in the press looking for actors and needed me to help him with the first rehearsal!

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I have to say I was surprised and a little and shocked but I looked at John, dynamic John, with new found awe and respect. Numerous people turned up at John’s place and John gave out parts and we had our first read through. Afterwards John cooked a meal; basic stuff, beans, toast and so on, but he cooked a meal for the assembled company. Most of them were students so perhaps John thought that was a good way to keep them coming back! The one problem was that our star actor, and here my memory has failed me a little, I can’t remember if the star actor was a friend of John’s or the writer or John’s mate’s friend or whatever but the star actor lived in Huddersfield. He played the leading part but he was too busy to come over to Greater Manchester and mix with his fellow TV actors and crew. In fact he felt we should all go over to Huddersfield!

Anyway, rehearsals continued without our lead and we chose an actor from our new troupe to stand in for the lead. The lead’s mother was played by a lady from Stockport amateur rep and she seemed to feel that perhaps we were more amateur than her and resigned. Her place was taken by a young black girl who did a great Yorkshire accent and generally played the part pretty well.

A week later she astounded us by playing the part in a Caribbean accent.

“What are you doing?” I asked, and she explained that her mother was a Caribbean immigrant and therefore a black woman of that age in Yorkshire must have been an immigrant also. Her logic was clear and she was playing a good part, bringing her own background and experience to the role so we said, “great. Carry on.”

A few weeks later the guy playing the yokel’s father left and our Caribbean girl suggested a replacement. It was another black actor so we gave him a shot and he worked well with the ‘mother’, also playing things from a Caribbean perspective. Now about this time I was concentrating on the video side and I was busy trying to get Panasonic to lend me a broadcast standard video camera so we could shoot our pilot. When I returned to our ‘set’ a few weeks later we had lost control of the shoot. Our Yorkshire yokel project had become a sort of Afro-Caribbean meets Yorkshire project and on top of that, John, and it is probably an understatement to describe him here as a fellow who liked the ladies,  John had lost no time in using his new ‘producer’ status to attract more young ladies. Various females appeared ‘on set’ and he took pictures of them or videoed them reading from the script. They were clearly thankful to their producer for giving them this chance!

One day we were shooting out in Didsbury when a girl I had never seen before called out “CUT! Set up for retake!”

“Who are you?” I asked only for John to shoot over and calm me down.

“Can’t we give her just a bit of a chance at being director?” he asked. John, like many a producer before and since had lost his soul to the power of the movie business.

Anyway, I thought the time had come to return the project to its humble beginnings. It wasn’t a show about Caribbean immigrants. It had morphed into something I didn’t know anything at all about but John felt things had evolved naturally and it was important to follow that course to the end. Sadly, John and I went our separate ways. I went back to bus driving for a short while then I later became a cigarette salesman and today, apart from being an amateur writer and blogger I work for the Highways Agency.

And John? Did I mention what John does? No?

He’s a film producer.

Anyway, not to worry, has he got a blog as good as this one? Doubt it but if you enjoyed this post you might want to read my book. Click the icon below!