Alan Alda on America in Primetime

The fourth and final episode of PBS’s America in Primetime aired last night. The episode focused on “The Crusader” character from television. One of these crusaders was Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H and Alan Alda was among those discussing the character. You can watch the entire episode at the PBS website.

Some excerpts:

Alan Alda on heroic images of war:
“I was a boy during the Second World War and pretty much what you saw during the movies was the heroics. It simply would not be done: show an image of the day to day suffering that goes into it.”

Alda on Hawkeye’s conservatism:
“Some people think it he was very liberal. But he was also a traditional conservative. I mean, he wanted nothing more than to have people leave him alone so he could enjoy his martini, you know? The government should get out of his liquor cabinet.”

Alda on “Preventive Medicine:”
“Well, at the rehearsal for this, Mike Farrell said ‘I’m playing a doctor who takes this seriously and I will not operate on a patient who doesn’t need the operation. That’s mutilation.’ And we started an argument that lasted about an hour that day. And at a certain point we said, you know what? This is what we ought to be doing on camera because this is a serious conflict.”

Alda’s closing comment:
“We openly dealt with all the sides of war. And we were exploring things that were not neat. There was no right and there was no wrong. But it came out of passion and disgust and anger and upset at being where they were and going through what they were going through. And that’s, I think, more useful to know than to see what I saw as a kid, when they would shoot down an enemy plane and they’d would all laugh and cheer. There’s more interest, human interest, in looking at the real cause than there is in just skimming across the surface.”

Judd Apatow (executive producer, Freaks and Geeks) on watching M*A*S*H as a kid:
“On some level I knew, ‘Oh, this is someone who is speaking out against hypocrisy and that it’s wrong to hurt people.’ I assume it just wired my brain for almost a compassionate way of looking at the world that seems king of full of crap. But it is true. When you’re watching M*A*S*H two times a day from the time your like five years old for ten or twelve years you know what you’re soaking in is the humanity of Larry Gelbart and his way of looking at the world.”

Hugh Laurie (actor, House) on the laugh track:
“When the BBC showed M*A*S*H, they showed it without laughter. There was no laugh track on it. So, I suppose an English audience, we tended to look at it in a rather more dramatic way.”

Tom Fontana (executive producer, Homicide: Life on the Street), Linda Wallen (co-creator, Nurse Jackie) and Steven Bocho (co-creator, NYPD Blue) also share their thoughts on the character of Hawkeye and M*A*S*H.


  • Alan actually does have a point, it’s something that’s crossed my mind as to why Hogan’s Heroes was an inferior show to M*A*S*H: on M*A*S*H, anytime anyone was blown up, even if it was the enemy, it wasn’t cause for celebration; on Hogan, on the other hand, anytime the heroes would blow up an enemy train or bomb an enemy unit… laughs and cheers.

  • Scott Bigelow says:

    Where can I find a M*A*S*H calendar ????

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