In 1979, college students studied what made M*A*S*H a success

There is no doubt about it — M*A*S*H was a smash — 500 college students even said so.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

There was something special about M*A*S*H. During its 11 seasons on-air, M*A*S*H generated around 100 Emmy nominations, won the praise of critics and gathered a large fanbase that completely dedicated themselves to the 4077th each week.

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.

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4 Comments

John 1 month ago
But too much is just too much.
2hrs a day of MASH is simply overload.
The early episodes with Maclean Stevenson were the best.
When Farrell replaced Trapper it turned into the Hekyle and Jekyle show with the magpies Bj and Pierce. Of course Alda's ego is larger than an Irish girls ass.
You're ruining your network with the MASH overload. Enough already!
Lillyrose 1 month ago
My favorite MASH light hearted episode was "The Trial of Henry Blake." Absolutely hilarious! Honorable mention: "Too Many Cooks," in which Ed Begley Jr. plays a soldier who cooks for the 4077th, and they all love the food."
My favorite serious moment in MASH was when Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester the Third ( I love that name!) helped a wounded musician, play the piano again in "Morale Victory." Very moving. Honorable mention: When Charles helped a man that stuttered in "Run for the Money." MASH can make you laugh and cry.

MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
I don’t feel like reading it again and I know it was an extension program, but for what? What would I be studying that learning about MASH would be helpful? 🤔
Pacificsun 1 month ago
The reason the producers permitted and welcomed the students' opinion / analysis was for the same reason they were all searching. Namely, that everyone cared in the first place. And in a special way, not for the paycheck, not for the reviews. But sheer pride and legacy.

I'm not an addicted kind of fan for the reason that too much of anything, dilutes it's impact. But sample it along the way so the really outstanding episodes shine brightly. For all fan favorite Series, you'll see these qualities and that's what makes the circumstance so rare.

Great story, thank you writers for bringing that fact to our attention.
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