In 1968 Dr. Richard Hornberger and W.C. Heinz published MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors under the name Richard Hooker (no relation to TJ Hooker), detailing the live’s of surgeons during the Korean War. When not operating on injured soldiers, the characters alleviated their extreme boredom through pranks and hijinks that would have landed them in jail if they weren’t all such talented doctors.
In 1970, a feature film adaptation of the book came out, directed by Robert Altman and starring Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould. The movie was a unique comedic experience, lacking the lighthearted tone of most comedies from the prior decade but still packing in a ton of laughs. This was best characterized in the graphic operating room scenes, which still kept the jokes coming, but didn’t shy away from the bloody nature of the job.
1972 saw the premiere of M*A*S*H on CBS. This half-hour sitcom was unlike anything else on television. Like its predecessors, it tickled the funny bone to no end while never forgetting that it took place in a war zone. The series was a massive success and ran for 11 seasons. The show solidified its legacy with the series finale, which drew in a staggering audience of more than a hundred million people.
MASH, in any one of its forms and use of punctuation, continues to attract new generations of fans with its unique brand of humor. As more and more people comb over its contents and history, they find several things that don’t quite add up. Presented below for amusement are ten things about the franchise that don’t make sense.
10Three Year Take Place Over Eleven Seasons
The Korean war raged from June 1950 to July 1953. The television show lasted eleven years and 256 episodes. While it is theoretically possible to have this many episodes’ worth of content in a three-year time span, it doesn’t quite fit M*A*S*H. Some episodes take place over the course of several days, and the actors age over the course the show, but their characters are only three years older by the time it ends. Alan Alda was already thirty-five when the show started, and about forty-six when it ended.
When the movie became a television show, almost the entire cast was changed except for Radar O’Reilly, played by Gary Burghoff. Why does everybody look different except for Radar, and why does the character never acknowledge this? Anybody else would be scared out of their bones if this happened to them. MASH was Gary’s film debut, so the actor probably appreciated the chance to come back to the role for a steady gig on a TV show.
The series is chock full of anachronisms, from Radar reading an Avenger’s comic more than a decade before its first issue to referencing songs that didn’t come out until the war ended. Back in the 70s, it was harder to keep track of these things since people couldn’t just look up release dates on the internet.
Some argue these were left in on purpose to make it less Korean war focused and more about the universal experience, but the more likely answer is that the writers and producers cared more about making a good story and jokes rather than avoiding time errors. Either that or they had a time travel episode that never panned out.
7Characters Keep Changing Their Families
Characters often had every changing stories about their families or had parents they previously said died writing letters to them. Why did they lie to their comrades? Did the fog of war muddy up their memory? The likely answer is writers not being able to keep track of these facts between seasons.
In the pilot, George Morgan plays Father Mulcahy. In every episode going forward, William Christopher steps into the priest’s shoes. How is this humanly possible? Changing from the movie to the show is excusable, but a character becoming an entirely different person in the same series? Inconceivable!
The television show started out as a screwball comedy, but slowly got more dour as time went on. It was always anti-war and dark, but the later seasons really drove this point home. This is fine, but the weird thing is how it also changes the characters. People change over time, but this didn’t feel natural in the show.
The show, like most sitcoms from the era, had a laugh track in every scene but the operating room segments. In canon, the laugh track makes no sense. Do a group of doctors sit out of frame and watch the characters interact with each other, laughing at their antics? The show’s producers didn’t want a laugh track at all, and the show would have been better without it.
3Robert Altman’s Son Made More Money Than Him From The Movie
Robert Altman’s son wrote the lyrics for “Suicide is Painless,” the iconic theme song that plays during the movie and over the show’s opening credits. For penning the melodramatic text, the fourteen-year-old ended up making way more money than his father. In what way does making more money for writing a few lyrics versus months of directorial duties make sense?
Hawkeye Pierce is a womanizer, troublemaker, loudmouth, prankster, and one heck of a doctor. In the TV show, all of these traits except the doctor part slowly fade away as the seasons go by. By the end of the show, he is socially conscious and progressive, especially for a man from the 50s. People change, of course, but Hawkeye by the end of the series resembles the original character in name only.
1Whatever Trapper John, M.D. Was
The show launched several spin-offs, none of which came even to close to the original’s success. Trapper John, M.D. hit the airwaves in 1979 and confused audiences as to whether the character was the Trapper John from the 1972 show or not. One could argue the show was a spin-off of the book, and therefore unrelated, but it is clear they sought to capitalize on the television show’s popularity. Trapper John, M.D. lasted seven seasons, an impressive number for a show which nobody remembers.