Discuss: Do You Hate the Freeze Frame?

Monday M*A*S*H Discussions offers fans the opportunity to offer their opinions on a wide variety of topics relating to M*A*S*H. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. My hope is these discussion posts will continue to elicit comments in the weeks and months after they’re initially published. Have a suggestion about something you think might be worth discussing? Let me know and maybe it will become my next Monday M*A*S*H Discussion topic.

Today’s topic is: Do you hate the freeze frame?

Everything Changed with Season 6

When the sixth season of M*A*S*H kicked off with the hour-long “Fade Out, Fade In” in September 1977, viewers were in for some changes. The biggest change, of course, was the introduction of a new character: Charles Emerson Winchester, III (played by the late, great David Ogden Stiers). But there was another change, one small enough many viewers may not have noticed: the freeze frame ending. According to scriptwriter Ken Levine, the freeze frame was added to “accommodate credits,” not for creative reasons.

Here’s the first ever freeze frame on M*A*S*H:

Still of the freeze frame ending to the M*A*S*H episode Fade Out, Fade In.

The very first freeze frame on M*A*S*H, from “Fade Out, Fade In” (Season 6)

The addition of the freeze frame meant most, but not all, episodes from Seasons 6-11 end with a joke or a gag of some sort. Here are some other examples:

Still of the freeze frame ending to the M*A*S*H episode Dear Sis.

A serious freeze frame ending from “Dear Sis” (Season 7).

Still from the freeze frame ending to the M*A*S*H episode Life Time.

The freeze frame ending to “Life Time” (Season 8)

Still from the freeze frame ending to the M*A*S*H episode As Time Goes By.

The final freeze frame on M*A*S*H, from “As Time Goes By” (Season 11)

The only episode from Seasons 6-11 that doesn’t end with a freeze frame is “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which memorably fades out on a shot of Hawkeye’s chopper flying away.

Let’s Discuss

Personally, I hate the freeze frame. I think it cheapened M*A*S*H, forcing the writers to come up with endings that worked with characters in the middle of a joke. That doesn’t mean I hate very single freeze frame ending. The freeze frame at the end of “Dear Uncle Abdul” is hilarious, for example. More often than not the freeze frame is cringe worthy and I wish it had never been introduced on M*A*S*H.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

17 Comments

  • Doug says:

    Freeze frame…such a 70s thing. Yes, it is a little annoying. Notice that it is not in vogue today.

  • dhla says:

    It feels dated. It would be possible to check this on the DVDs, but I wonder if it coincided with a reduction in running time on MASH – CBS made a lot of money in a huge hit show, and perhaps they wanted to squeeze in an extra :30 commercial, reduced the running time, and the show’s response was to shorten the tag and necessitated, in their mind, the freeze frame.

  • 007 says:

    You know I’ve seen every single episode probably 10-20 times each, and have been watching for almost 20 years, and I never once noticed/thought about this. I seriously didn’t even know it was a thing.

    I do of course recall the freeze frame happening at the end of episodes, but I had no idea it started with season 6. I also don’t really see what the difference is compared to prior seasons where the show just fades to black at the end of the tag.

    Maybe if someone can explain to me what I’m missing, but how is the screen fading to black before showing the credits any different then just having the picture freeze? Why couldn’t characters finish their joke or dialogue before the freeze?

  • BDOR says:

    As Doug pointed out, this was becoming a thing in the 70s and lasted well into the 80s and even the 90s. Never bothered me a bit, and in fact, you have to admit, this saved episodes from Seasons 6-11 in syndication because of those credits flash, because there’s been many a Season 1-5 episode that had their closing tags completely removed altogether in syndication, and in many of those cases, left the episodes on cliffhangers. Many prominent examples include “To Market, To Market” (we don’t see that Charlie Lee held up his end of the deal), “Chief Surgeon Who?” (we don’t see Frank finally accepting Hawkeye as Chief Surgeon), “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” (we don’t see Wendell/Walter getting Frank’s Purple Heart), and those are just a few examples.

    And there’s actually one Season 1 episode that ended with a freeze frame, just without credits flashing: “Germ Warfare.” The end freezes frame just as Hawkeye and Trapper are getting whacked with the flowers they gave Frank.

    Interestingly, another show from the 60s began doing this in its later seasons: HOGAN’S HEROES did the same thing in its last two seasons by freezing frame at the end, and plastering a credit for their executive producer over it.

    • Larry P. says:

      I’ve thought that same thing myself: the freeze totally saved the endings of seasons 6-11 episodes in syndication. Seasons 1-5 usually aren’t so lucky (though it depends on the channel; MeTV keeps the ending tags, but there are obvious cuts elsewhere in a given episode that AREN’T present in other syndicated versions).

      While on the subject, I naturally feel the ending tag should always be present, but there are, in my opinion, two occurrences where the syndicated cutting of them actually BENEFITS the episode: “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” and “Margaret’s Marriage.” To me, both ending tags totally ruin what would otherwise have been powerful conclusions to the eps.

      • BDOR says:

        Agree about “Margaret’s Marriage” (that’s just cringeworthy), disagree about “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet.”

      • Larry P. says:

        “Margaret’s Marriage” is definitely cringeworthy. Not only because of the whole cold shower thing, but also because it dilutes what would have otherwise been our last image of Frank.

        My issue with “Sometimes…” is sort of the same thing. We’ve got this powerful moment with someone hating Hawkeye, even if it’s for his own good, and then it’s tossed in favor of having a happy ending.

  • penguinphysics says:

    I don’t *hate* the freeze frame, but I don’t like the idea that it necessitates a final joke. Some of my favorites are the “sad” or “contemplative” ones like “Dear Sis” or “Follies Of The Living, Concerns Of The Dead” because they give the audience a chance to think about the episode. I also like the ending of “The Red/White Blues” where a bit of historical context is given. I wish they had done so much more with those

  • Larry P. says:

    I never hated the freeze frame. In fact, when I first discovered the show, in reruns, years ago, I came in during those latter seasons, so the freeze was (and is) just “part of it” for me.

    In fact, while I understand the viewpoint that freezing can make for a forced, abrupt ending, it can also provide a powerful conclusion when utilized correctly. Obviously when it showed up in what was strictly a sitcom (i.e., THE ODD COUPLE), it was going to be for laughs, but dramas of the period especially benefited from the freeze. (M*A*S*H, by the time it started using the device, was of course straddling both lines.)

    HAWAII FIVE-O, starting all the way back in 1968, made good use of the freeze, often having episodes end almost immediately after a case was resolved, by gun play or otherwise, and that freeze could and very often did make an already powerful conclusion even stronger; a final, thought-provoking punctuation. MIAMI VICE later turned the device into an art form, proving a good freeze can not only be powerful, but literally spine-tingling! (MAGNUM, P.I. also occasionally had a strong final freeze, “Did You See the Sunrise?” being the most famous example.)

    So anyway, while I see it as more of a dramatic device than a comedic one (even though plenty of sitcoms used it, from THE ODD COUPLE to NIGHT COURT to SEINFELD), I’ve got no problem with M*A*S*H freeze framing a final scene. Sometimes it was awkward (“The Yalu Brick Road”), but generally it was inoffensive to me, and occasionally even terrific (“Dear Sis,” “Follies of the Living – Concerns of the Dead”).

    This is a random, fun topic!

    • Larry P. says:

      (An addition: I’d say that the freeze frames may have made an ending gag or bit more ‘visible’ – for lack of a better descriptive term – but they didn’t really introduce the concept to the series. Aside from certain instances, such as the distraught look on Radar’s face at the end of “Some 38th Parallels,” episodes generally ended on a joke or lighter note prior to the freeze.)

    • Doug says:

      If you remember Police Squad, the Zucker Brothers made fun of the freeze frame by having the actors freeze, but the action was still going on– leading to escaping prisoners and other hi-jinks! And that one at the end of Magnum, PI (“Did you see the sun rise this morning?”…”Yes.” Gunshot [freeze]) was probably the best one ever done that I saw. But it was particularly popular in sitcoms.

  • Jon says:

    I like the freeze frame myself. I don’t mind having it to allow more credits, and as others have pointed out, it usually allows for a joke at the end. As I thought MASH became much too serious in its later years, at least the show usually ended on a joke of some sort.

    I also like any element which prevents tag elimination. Another sitcom, THREE’S COMPANY, before Nick aired reruns of it, always just cut out the tag of every episode, leaving several of these episodes unresolved at their end, so by retaining the tags, MASH kept a lot of its plot ends intact. Another episode, ‘The General Flipped at Dawn”, had its final resolution of Gen. Steele’s fate in its tag, so if you watch the syndicated version now, at least that on TV Land, you see the episode end with Gen. Steele’s silly request for a “number”.

  • RJ says:

    You know what? I’m not sure I noticed the freeze frame endings until I started rewatching the entire show for my Episode Spotlight reviews. I’m sure there are quite a few that aren’t cringe worthy but its the awkward freeze frames with a corny joke are that stick out most in my mind.

  • UglyJohn says:

    Freeze frames were just a production device for video editors and producers. You had a certain amount of time to fill the show and a certain amount of time to roll credits.

    By today’s standards, the freeze looks corny and antiquated but then again, so do a lot of MASH scenes and dialogue. In this short attention span 21st century we judge the show by our today vs yesterday’s world.

    In some respects the freeze recapped certain scenes for us and used that to help us summarize the episode.

  • Jon says:

    You chose 3 freeze-frames where I can remember the final line before them:

    #1: Charles: “Please gentlemen, Mozart!”

    #2: Hawkeye: “When he wakes up, he won’t know whether to be brave, generous, or pompous!”

    #3: Charles: [something like] “I have a feeling a table will be opening up for us in no time.”

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    I never really gave much thought to the freeze-frames. Another introspective freeze-frame was at the end of “Yessir, That’s Our Baby” when they’re in the OR and Hawkeye opines about the child they left at the monastery and her impact on their lives. That’s my favorite freeze-frame. Conversely, I hated the freeze-frame at the end of “The Life You Save” when Hawkeye and Klinger saluted the Army in what I believe was a facetious manner.
    My favorite last line before the freeze was in “Bottle Fatigue” when BJ angrily asks “Isn’t there someplace in this camp where I can get a decent night’s sleep?”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.