Worldwide hit TV series M*A*S*H was first broadcast 40 years ago today. The show teetered on cancellation throughout its first season, but then grew into one of the most popular shows on television (like stablemate "All In The Family" which it was often paired with on CBS). The series finale "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" 11 years later was the most watched television broadcast at the time, with an audience of 125 million dewey-eyed fans.
There are so many lessons to learn from M*A*S*H, a show that somehow balanced heart-wrenching drama and bawdy comedy. One that has always resonated with me isn't so obvious. It's that maybe cancelling a promising idea after 2 episodes isn't always the best policy. If today's network hatchetmen were in power in the 70s, you'd never have seen M*A*S*H beyond the first season. Same with "All In The Family" (which had soft ratings until summer reruns made it a hit). Can you imagine if the only examples we had of 70s TV potential was Three's Company and The Gong Show?
Another lesson is that not every TV show is a rich vein of tie-in merchandise. Even M*A*S*H couldn't dodge the shrapnel of a lot of lousy cash-in crap. I don't mind lunchboxes and posters, and the like... but M*A*S*H action figures? What kid is supposed to enjoy these? I guess it's like playing with army men, except the more tragic side of the equation. The figures are of the main cast, with one variant; you can get Klinger in fatigues or in a dress. Tri-Star rolled out these figures in 1982. Klinger had stopped the "bucking for a section 8" drag routine years before, but even so... is this the first action figure depicting a cross-dresser?
Back in the early 80s, 20th Century Fox was raiding their licenses to cash in on the video game craze. They made some mighty odd choices. There's Alien, a Pac-Man clone based on an R-rated movie, and there's M*A*S*H - a mash-up (forgive me) of Defender and the classic board game Operation. Oh, and an even more depressing chip-tune rendition of the show's theme song "Suicide is Painless". This came out in 1983, the year that M*A*S*H went off the air, right in the thick of the video game industry crashing. You can suffer through this on either your Atari 2600 or Colecovision.
So we learn that even one of the best ideas in television history isn't immune to a constant barrage of really rotten ideas all around. I doubt that even Radar's strange pre-cognition could see these lousy concepts coming...