- MASH’s UK broadcast of the popular TV series removed the laugh track, which was a controversial element in the US version.
- The decision to remove the laugh track in the UK made the show better, as it allowed the audience to fully appreciate the comedy-drama’s balance without unnecessary forced laughter.
- Over time, MASH shifted from comedy to more serious narratives, making the laugh track even more intrusive and out of place, so removing it was ultimately a smart move.
The UK’s MASH broadcast iteration was better than its American counterpart because of one particular reason. Following a successful movie adaptation in 1970, Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors was eventually adapted into a TV series on CBS. Spearheaded by Alan Alda’s Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce, MASH premiered in 1972 and ran for 11 successful seasons until it wrapped up with a super-sized finale in 1983. The show follows Pierce and the rest of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, South Korea, as they work near the front lines during the Korean War.
Decades before streamers became a thing, network TV shows could still have an international reach thanks to broadcasting arrangements with other media companies outside the country. For MASH, that included airing in the UK just a year after it debuted on CBS. Knowing the show’s struggles during its first few years, exporting it that early seemed like a bold move. This helped the medical comedy/drama expand its fan base beyond the borders of the United States. Despite having the same episodes, there’s one big difference between the projects, and that made the UK’s iteration of MASH on the BBC better.
MASH’s UK Broadcast Removed The US Version’s Infamous Laugh Track
When MASH debuted in 1973 in the UK, it didn’t feature a laugh track, unlike the original version of the series airing in the US. It’s uncertain why the UK decided to remove the controversial element, but it was definitely for the better. For context, MASH co-creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds had always been clear about being against using a laugh track. However, it was the norm for comedies at that time, so CBS pushed back and insisted that it is included in the series. Eventually, both parties arrived at a compromise: MASH would have a laugh track, but it would be omitted during the operating room scenes.
Regardless of the reason, being able to watch MASH in its entirety without its laugh track is so much better. Granted that the earlier years of the sitcom were definitely more comedic than its subsequent years, the show had always been tiptoeing the line between comedy and drama due to its premise. Utilizing a laugh track worked for more traditional comedies from that same era like All In The Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show because they filmed in front of a live studio audience. Meanwhile, MASH shot in different locations,
Why MASH’s Laugh Track Was So Unpopular
Ultimately, MASH‘s laugh track was totally removed in season 11. Despite Gelbart and Reynolds compromising on its use in the show’s first few years, they started phasing it out in season 6. By this time, the series had already started embracing more serious narratives and leaning more on its dramatic elements rather than just being focused on its comedy. In hindsight, however, it would have still been better if MASH wasn’t forced to use the canned laugh as it tended to be intrusive. Somehow, there’s also something conflicting about watching a project about the war with a manufactured laugh.