“M*A*S*H” was a show about the Korean War that aired during the height of the Vietnam War. It struck a chord with American audiences at a time when the country was fiercely divided between supporters and opponents of the war. But the show’s antiwar message could arguably even resonate today, with American troops still mired in conflicts in the Middle East.
At least, that’s what The Hollywood Reporter set out to prove in one part of its “M*A*S*H” untold history project. The publication spoke to series creators Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart and stars Alan Alda and Loretta Swit, as well as executive producer Burt Metcalfe and writers David Isaacs and Ken Levine.
Some of the “M*A*S*H” cast and crew told THR that the show’s antiwar message is still relevant today, both because it hit on universal themes and because war remains a part of America’s political landscape. Others felt that “M*A*S*H” belonged to a particular moment in history and wouldn’t go over well today.
‘M*A*S*H’ Still Resonates Today
Could a show like “M*A*S*H” exist today?, THR wondered. Or was it a product of a particular moment in time that will never be duplicated?
“It could if intelligently and carefully done without being too silly or morose,” Reynolds said. “But you have to get a guy like Alan [Alda], someone that has star quality and can be a comedian.”
His colleagues added that war is, unfortunately, still a relevant topic in America more than 40 years after the Vietnam War ended.
“I’d like M*A*S*H to be remembered for its statement about war, though sadly we’ve learned nothing,” Metcalfe said. “It’s life. It’s not all perfect and hopefully never all that sad. That we could portray that is very gratifying.”
The writers agreed that it could. They said the episodes they wrote explored universal themes – sometimes ones that TV tends to shy away from, but quintessential human tropes nonetheless.
“I think it’s the most profound sitcom ever made,” Isaacs said. “A lot of sitcoms deal with fear of embarrassment, shame, change or disclosure. Hardly any deal with fear of death and madness.”
“Everything about M*A*S*H is universal,” Levine said. “The issues characters go through, the quest for humanity in the middle of this world of brutality. I think it’s something we as a culture will respond to forever.”
The Show Belonged to That Moment in History
Still others of the “M*A*S*H” cast and crew doubted that the show could be replicated today. They argued that American culture has changed, for better or worse, and the nature of war has changed. And arguably the end of the draft and the creation of professional soldiers has changed how broadly war affects Americans.
“I think that’s almost an impossible question to answer,” Alda told THR. “We were doing the show in a certain moment in time. The country is in some ways as divided now as it was then, but there were different currents in the culture then.”
“Years ago, someone commented on how M*A*S*H couldn’t be put together and sold today,” Swit agreed. “So much has changed; TV, the whole concept of reality shows and the number of channels. We weren’t a military show and I don’t think I’d want to watch one about behind the lines in Afghanistan.”
Whether or not that’s a good thing, the actors at least agreed with their colleagues that “M*A*S*H” evoked universal human emotions and explored broader themes. And that may help explain the show’s enduring cultural relevance.