Clearly, M*A*S*H was a smash, but why?
In 1979, a large group of college students at the University of California curated a list of hard-hitting questions to ask the M*A*S*H cast and crew. With the series consistently being among the top-rated TV shows, according to Nielsen (and the show’s fans), M*A*S*H captured the attention of the nation.
The extension program of the University of California gathered 500 students to examine what made M*A*S*H so popular. According to a interview with The Daily Register, what developed was an inside look at the creative project that allowed free rein to its cast members.
The fans prepared a panel of interview questions and searched for the underlying effectiveness of the series that other upcoming series could take inspiration from.
Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye Pierce in the series, answered their questions while also reflecting on his own role within the series.
“M*A*S*H allows its actors and writers to come up with the very best they can,” Alda said. “Most programs on television are done so hurriedly that maybe the actors don’t care. How deep can you get when a detective’s screeching tires are the basis of the show? We’re encouraged to participate.”
The series revolved around the life and times of a mobile U.S. Army surgical unit during the Korean War. It combined comedy with tragedy. Alda wanted to show the horrors of war while also giving the series a light-hearted feeling.
“What made it begin to work is that we began to take risks,” Alda said. “We didn’t rely on conventional solutions. There is an antic quality to the show, but it is nevertheless infused with humanity.”
There is no doubt about it — M*A*S*H was a smash — 500 college students even said so. And so did everyone who loved Hawkeye, Klinger and the rest of the M*A*S*H crew.