Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blogging is Painless

I have never not loved M*A*S*H.

debuted on CBS on September 17, 1972, a little more than a year after I was born. Growing up, I remember the show being on regularly, and by the time I was old enough to understand what I was watching, Hawkeye, B.J., and the rest were as familiar to me as Batman, Scooby-Doo, and Captain Kirk--other TV stars from my formative years.

I remember watching the final episode the night it aired (26 years ago today)--I was allowed to stay up late to see the whole thing--and like most of the country, it felt like I was losing friends.

Not too long after the (still!)record-breaking final episode aired, one of my local TV stations, WTAF (Channel 29 as I called it), started airing reruns of the show twice a night, from 7-8pm. It was here that I completely fell for the show, and caught up on all the ones I had missed.

I was entranced by the show's characters, its humor, its compassion, and its setting--to a kid growing up in the 80s, the Korean War of the 1950s might as well have been Ancient Egypt. But it began a fascination with the era of the 1940s and 50s that continues to this day.

Since Channel 29 went through two episodes a day, I could watch the entire show's run in about a half a year. Over time, after seeing the episodes over and over (and over) again, I began to know the dialog by heart, to the point where some of the show's best moments sound like music when I hear them.

After we got a VCR, I started recording the shows, so I could watch them at my convenience, and not be held to Channel 29's infuriating out-of-order sequencing. In not too long a time, I had almost all the shows squeezed onto about a dozen cassettes.

I took every chance I had to work my love of the show into what I was doing--when I had to spend time in the school library to work on papers, I would devote a little time to digging through old magazines, looking for articles in the show, and making copies of them on the school's Xerox machine on the sly:
I had these pinned to the bulletin board in my room for years. I still have them today.

M*A*S*H was also an artistic inspiration as, well. I spent most of 1988 preparing portfolio-grade material to try and get into art school, and even though I cringe at this piece when I look at it now:
...I still smile at sheer level of effort I put into it. Like the articles, this piece has managed to always stay with me, tucked away in a folder somewhere, all the time.

sgI got accepted, then went away to art school. No local station was airing the show, and I began to really miss seeing it. So during trips home, I decided to take on a massively obsessive task--using 2 VCRs, I would re-tape all the shows, this time in broadcast order!

Using author Suzy Kalter's appropriately-titled The Complete Book of M*A*S*H, I was able to organize all the episodes into seasons, and then the specific order within each season. I was also able to find out which episodes I didn't yet have taped, so I haunted our local TV listings to be aware of when they aired.

Many people would suggest this was an odd way to spend my time--don't most nineteen-year-olds want to be out drinking and carousing, instead of staying indoors staying up late hunched over two VCRs and making lists like this?:
...what can I say? I was an odd kid, and since once I got back to art school I knew I would be spending a lot of time at the drawing board. And I wanted to spend that time with the gang from the 4077th.

After art school, I knocked around for a while trying to score work. To pay the bills I took a job at a video store, and it was there I met someone who would become a dear friend and who loved the show as much as me. We loved it so much that on Sundays, instead of running the standard movies over the store's closed-circuit TVs, we ran my M*A*S*H tapes.

For a few years afterward, I moved around a lot (mostly up and down the Garden State) and I lost touch with the show. It was no longer airing on any local syndicates, and I became enamored with other shows that filled my normal TV viewing hours. My tapes sat, dusty and worn, in an old box somewhere at my parents' house.

Eventually, though, two random events occurred at nearly the same time--I became a full-time freelance artist, and DVDs were introduced. As soon as Fox released the first season on DVD, I snapped it up, wondering how the show would hold up. The answer, of course, was spectacularly.

But that wasn't all--not only was it great to see these shows with crystal clear picture and sound, but they were uncut. You see, local TV stations like Channel 29 had to cut material out of each show to make room for more commercials. And since that was how I was seeing most of the shows, the DVDs provided me with M*A*S*H moments I had never seen before.

It was like seeing the show for the first time all over again--2-3 "new" material per show x 251 shows is a lot of new stuff to digest! In some cases, the edits changed the tone of entire scenes, making me reevaluate moments I thought I knew by heart.

In 2003, I met my girlfriend, who on my blogs I have come to call Darlin' Tracy. Luckily, Tracy loved the show as much as I, so when Fox released their Martinis & Medicine boxed set, she bought it for me for my birthday.

Since I work from home, I burn through a lot of movies, TV, and music as I sit at my computer and/or art table. Since we purchased the set, M*A*S*H is pretty much on permanent rotation in our house. And while there are other shows we enjoy together (The Office, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty), we always want to have M*A*S*H on. It's on as I write this.

I started blogging in 2006, and really fell in love with the process. Since comic books have been and remain my #1 interest since I was a kid, my blogs to this date have been comic book based. When I started, I had no idea that I would come to love doing them so much, meet so many wonderful people, and get such marvelous support for my efforts.

A friend of mine, named Siskoid, runs a blog and part of its regular content is a chronological history of Star Trek, starting with the original series and moving forward from there. I was always impressed with the level of dedication that took, how much love you have to have for the show to want to take on that task.

And then one night, I realized, why couldn't I do that for M*A*S*H?

For a show so successful and long-running, M*A*S*H is woefully under-represented on the web. There is one site--Best Care Anywhere.Net--devoted the show, but that's about it. And that's just wrong!
So starting tomorrow, we're going to talk about every episode of M*A*S*H, in broadcast order, starting with "M*A*S*H The Pilot." Along the way, I hope to do right by the show, giving each episode the due diligence they deserve.

I also plan to talk about M*A*S*H's presence in the popular culture--magazine articles, parodies, even the very unusual line(s) of toys the show inspired.
And like I have for my other blogs, I hope to have a talk or two with some of the fine folks that actually made the show. Via the web, I've befriended some of the show's writers, which is a thrill in and of itself.

Hopefully, maybe, over time, word of my efforts here will grow, and we'll get to hear from other people who spent time at the 4077th, whether they be cast members, directors, producers, set decorators...we'll see.

And while discussing politics is a dicey proposition, it can't be ignored when talking about a show like M*A*S*H. Its a very different world than the one the show first appeared in, and I think it'll be illustrative to pay attention to that aspect.

I am convinced that, if M*A*S*H aired today, each week's episode would be vivisected by people like Bill O'Reilly (who is closer to a real-life Frank Burns than I could possibly have ever imagined there being) and Rush Limbaugh for being treasonous liberal dogma. And yet the show airs nightly on the family-centric TV Land network, and its final episode remains the single highest-rated TV show of all time.

One final note, regarding why this blog is titled the way it is--first, every obvious name for a M*A*S*H blog (,, etc.) was already taken, leaving me not a lot of alternatives.

Once I settled upon the name the blog has, I realized that there was an additional meaning to it, one that is very important to the point of view of the blog--many of M*A*S*H's episodes play very differently now than they did when they first aired, and its that perspective that I think will give me and anyone who stops by thios blog a new appreciation for the show.

I also hope that fans of the show will leave comments, and this blog can be a place for lively discussion about any element of the show people wish to discuss.

I have been very fortunate that over at my Aquaman Shrine blog, there's always a healthy amount of discussion going on over any given post, and quite a little community (bedecked in orange and green) has developed. Its one of--if not the--of my favorite elements of writing a blog about something I love--getting to talk to people who share the same passions I have.

So I hope you'll all join me tomorrow as we wind the clock back, to September 17, 1972, when America first got to visit the 4077th!

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