Episode Spotlight: The Interview

20 Comments

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“The Interview” (#96, 4×24)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 24th, 1976
Written by Larry Gelbart
Directed by Larry Gelbart

Capsule Summary: Reporter Clete Roberts interviews members of the 4077th to learn more about how MASH units work.

As M*A*S*H fans know, this was the last episode of the series that Larry Gelbart worked on. It wasn’t written the way regular episodes of television shows are written. It doesn’t feature any sort of plot or storylines. It is a masterpiece and one of the best episodes of M*A*S*H.

And yet, there’s very little I have to say about the episode. It’s too bad that Loretta Swit wasn’t in the episode because Margaret’s thoughts on the war would have been interesting to hear. As the story goes, “The Interview” was an extra episode ordered by CBS at the last minute and Swit had already been given permission to do a play in New York City. She was also absent from a few other late Season Four episodes.

Father Mulcahy and Colonel Potter are the best of the interviewees, in my opinion. Mulcahy’s story about the doctor’s warming themselves on the steam rising from the bodies of patients is the highlight of the episode. Hawkeye doesn’t come across that well due to the constant joking while Radar suffers from being slightly too immature to be realistic. Surprisingly, Frank manages to keep his crazy in check.

Father Mulcahy's tale of rising steam

Father Mulcahy’s tale of rising steam

I wonder how much footage was shot for “The Interview” and not used. Reportedly there was some improvisation on the part of the cast. During the last scene of the episode there are a few lines spoken in voiceover that I don’t believe appear earlier in the episode. Perhaps there were entire scenes that didn’t make the final cut.

The sequel to this episode, the hour-long “Our Finest Hour” from Season Seven, wasn’t quite as a good.

In February 2006, Larry Gelbart wrote brief “The Interview” interviews for Henry, Trapper and Colonel Flagg and posted them to the alt.tv.mash Usenet group:

Henry’s “The Interview” Interview (February 9th, 2006)
Trapper John’s “The Interview” Interview (February 10th, 2006)
Flagg’s “The Interview” Interview (February 13th, 2006)

As mentioned earlier, Margaret does not appear in this episode.

20 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Interview”

  1. I wasn’t aware that this episode was ordered at the last minute… I knew “A Night at Rosies” (7×24) was done practically at the last minute because Season Seven was going to end with a farewell episode for Radar and CBS decided to hold that over till the following season and make it a two-parter, so it fell upon Ken Levine & David Isaacs to write a new episode to fill the void.

    As I understand, there wasn’t just some improvisation done in this episode, it was mostly all improvised: as I understand it, Larry Gelbart wrote the questions for Clete Roberts to ask, and the actors gave their own answers, to see just how set in their characters they really were, then Larry put the final script together based on all of that.

    There’s one other thing you forgot to mention about this episode: CBS was apparently so horrified that the episode was in black-and-white that they feared viewers would think either their sets were broken, or they would change the channel, and insisted on Burt Metcalfe’s voice-over disclaimer at the beginning saying, “The following is in black-and-white.”

    1. I believe members of the cast were also asked additional questions during filming, ones they were not given beforehand, and allowed to improvise answers on the spot.

  2. I agree about this being a fantastic episode. For essentially improvising their monologues, every person got their characterization spot on. Mulcahy’s speech about doctors warming their hands with the steam emitting from their patients was so heartfelt and beautifully delivered.

    Great episode and Larry Gelbart’s crowning achievement on the show.

  3. A terrific, out-of-the-box episode. I agree that “Our Finest Hour,” while good, just doesn’t measure up to this ep. Fr. Mulcahy’s “warming their hands” story is a knockout, every single time.

    1. yes, Larry Gelbart & Bruce Metcalf actually went to Korea, and visited a real MASH unit where they interviewed the personnel and one of them said that “warming the hands” story.

  4. I don’t want to turn this into the “Our Finest Hour” discussion, but RJ, when you get to that episode, the interesting thing to note is that it was essentially produced by a completely different production team. I’m sure there is a story around that – did CBS want an “extra” episode or special one-hour episode but not want to pay a full license fee? Why did different producers work on that episode?

  5. I also thought Radars story about when Eleanor Roosevelt came through his hometown was funny! LOL

    Also when the reporter asks Frank if he wants to say HI to the people back home and Frank says “Oh no, I know how everyone feels about me.” LOL

  6. I loved the range of responses when Roberts gave the interviewees opportunity to say hello. They all personified each character to a TD.

    Hawkeye always has to wisecrack, saying hi to Bess Truman.

    Mulcahy, so deeply affected by all the death and devastation he’s seen, can only muster the wherewithal to say ‘hello’ to no one in particular.

    Radar’s innocence shined through in his greeting to mom and Uncle Ed.

    You could feel the depth of love from BJ to his wife and daughter.

    Klinger enthusiastically embraced it. It showed that, even through his efforts to get out, he for the most part is resigned to his fate.

    Best response of all was from Potter. Focused on maintaining his dignity and command presence, his answer was refreshingly straightforward.

    1. And, to add…Burns’ response just showed how obstinate and unaware his character was destined to become, especially after Margaret distanced herself from him.

  7. This episode could also be considered to be the beginning of a long term character arc for BJ: notably his distress and bitterness at being separated from his family. Following this episode, his bitterness only increases, exploding from time to time as a plot point in numerous episodes

  8. This is a very good episode, and way ahead of its time. I can’t believe the network would allow the bleeps to be aired in 1976, because you can tell what the words are.
    My main complaint is that Hawk gets the lion’s share of the interview time. Don’t get me wrong, Alda did a fine job here, but so did all of the others. BJ and Mulcahy and Potter should have been given more time.
    I wish Houlihan had been there, and that they had interviewed some of the minor characters.
    Finally, I didn’t like that they made Burns look like a complete joke. But that’s where he was headed anyway.
    Overall, a fine episode.

  9. I just watched this episode tonight. I am always moved by Father Mulcahy’s responses in this episode. The steam rising story always gets to me every time, and the way he quickly and evadingly tells his folks back home “hi” suggests to me that he isn’t close to his family except, of course, his sister, the sister.
    I’d either not seen or forgotten his remark about a woman being a source of comfort and hope. Hmmmm… regretting he can never have that sort of relationship, perhaps?
    All in all, a good episode, and some of William Christopher’s best work in the series, IMO.

  10. I like Frank’s saying he might write a book about his experiences at the 4077th, I wonder if the writers were doing some long distance thinking, considering the possibility of wrapping up the series implying that Frank is the Richard Hooker who wrote the original book. I suppose they still could have after Fade In Fade Out, if they wanted to.

  11. Father Mulcahy’s story about the steam rising off a patient and the doctor warming his hands over it is one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced watching television. It gives me the chills every time I see it. And William Christopher’s delivery and timing are spot on. An amazing moment in time.

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