Discuss: Do You Have a Favorite M*A*S*H Scriptwriter?


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 have a favorite M*A*S*H scriptwriter?

Gelbart, Marks, Alda, Levine, Hall, Prelutsky?

I’m very interested in reading responses to this week’s topic. I’ve never given much, if any, thought in the past to whether there are certain M*A*S*H scriptwriters whose episodes I enjoy more than others. With few exceptions, I don’t know off the top of my head who wrote specific episodes.

Most people have favorite singers or bands, favorite actors and actresses, maybe a favorite writer (fiction or non-fiction). Film enthusiasts no doubt have favorite screenwriters, directors, and composers. I know comic book fans who have favorite artists and writers. But I don’t think I know anyone who has a favorite television scriptwriter.

According to the Internet Movie Database, here’s a list of every scriptwriter who wrote or co-wrote (or wrote the teleplay or provided the story for) five or more episodes of M*A*S*H:

  • Larry Gelbart … 38 episodes, 1972-1976
  • Laurence Marks … 28 episodes, 1972-1978
  • James Fritzell … 24 episodes, 1974-1978
  • Everett Greenbaum … 24 episodes, 1974-1978
  • Alan Alda … 19 episodes, 1973-1983
  • Elias Davis … 18 episodes, 1980-1983
  • David Pollock … 18 episodes, 1980-1983
  • David Isaacs … 17 episodes, 1976-1979
  • Ken Levine … 17 episodes, 1976-1979
  • Dennis Koenig … 17 episodes, 1979-1983
  • Thad Mumford … 17 episodes, 1979-1983
  • Dan Wilcox … 17 episodes, 1979-1983
  • Gene Reynolds … 12 episodes, 1974-1980
  • John Rappaport … 10 episodes, 1979-1983
  • Karen Hall … 9 episodes, 1980-1983
  • Burt Prelutsky … 8 episodes, 1975-1977
  • Larry Balmagia … 8 episodes, 1978-1982
  • Simon Muntner … 7 episodes, 1975-1976
  • Ronny Graham … 7 episodes, 1978-1979
  • Robert Klane … 6 episodes, 1972-1975
  • Sid Dorfman … 5 episodes, 1973-1977)
  • Linda Bloodworth-Thomason … 5 episodes, 1973-1976
  • Gary Markowitz … 5 episodes, 1974-1979
  • Jay Folb … 5 episodes, 1975-1977

(I had to count up Larry Gelbart’s credits because the IMDb gives him a “creator” credit for all 251 episodes.)

How many of the names on this list do you recognize? If you’re a casual M*A*S*H fan, you may only recognize names like Larry Gelbart, Alan Alda, and Gene Reynolds. M*A*S*H fanatics are likely familiar with most or even all of these scriptwriters.

But can you name an episode written by James Fritzell or Elias Davis? Ken Levine or Karen Hall? Sid Dorfman or Jay Folb? Can you name two? Five or more?

More importantly, can you differentiate between an episode written by Larry Gelbart or Thad Mumford? Is a Ronny Graham episode dramatically different from a Burt Prelutsky episode? I have to be honest, I’m not sure I can. Maybe some viewers are able to identify an episode’s scriptwriter while watching, either because of the dialogue or the jokes or the pacing.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

8 Replies to “Discuss: Do You Have a Favorite M*A*S*H Scriptwriter?”

  1. Excellent discussion question! I look forward to reading the comments on this one.

    I would pick Laurence Marks. I have mentioned my preference for Seasons 1-4 multiple times on this site, so it is no surprise that I pick one of the notable writers from the early years.

    According to IMDB he was the writer of many of my favorite episodes. Here are some of the ones he wrote that I really enjoy (in no particular order): Big Mac, Adam’s Ribs, O.R., Officer of the Day, A Smattering of Intelligence, Mail Call, Crisis, Deal Me Out, the Incubator, Kim, Radar’s Report, 5 o’clock Charlie, Ceasefire, Henry Please Come Home.

    I don’t know that I could pick out a definite Laurence Mark “clue” where I know that he is the writer, but I do know I am always happy when his name appears in the opening credits.

    On a side note, I had the pleasure of meeting writer Karen Hall some years ago. She was the owner of Black Bear Books in Boone NC (the store has since closed). She had retired to that area. I happened to be in the store and noticed a large signed photo of the M*A*S*H cast on the wall. Little did I know when I asked about the picture that I was talking to Ms. Hall! She was very kind in discussing her work on the series. She said it was quite enjoyable and she was sorry when it ended.

  2. I like the scripts that Ronnie Graham contributed to on the show. As Ken Levine noted on his blog, Ronnie was really out there and a total gas. He came up with some ridiculous ideas but terrific dialogue. My favorite is probably from ‘The Winchester Tapes.’ As Ken noted, there had to be a denouement to the prank on Charles about his weight. The writers were stumped on how to end that…..so in came Ronnie with this genius quip – ‘Starting tomorrow, he gets taller.’

    I also love ‘Bug Out’ written by Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum just for one single piece of dialogue they gave to Klinger – ‘A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores.’ Fantastic fantastic writing.

  3. Like RJ, I never really distinguish episodes based on their writing, which is funny because one of the biggest problems I have with some of the major productions of today is the writing. Things like that The Last Jedi, or Season 8 of Game of Thrones where just about everything, cinematography, set design, acting, directing, etc. are all spot on, but the writing/plot are just AWFUL, completely ruins the show/movie because ultimately as an adult, writing/plot are the most important part to me.

    With M*A*S*H I’ve always gravitated heavily towards the earlier seasons, and completely disliked just about everything from season 8 and on. I always knew a big reason for that was the writing, but honestly never really looked into the actual people behind that.

    Definitely recognize the vast majority of those names on the list though, but in pulling up the list of episodes alongside the writer, the clear winners for me are Larry Gelbart, Laurence Marks, and the writing team of Jim Fritzell/Everett Greenbaum. The writing team of Ken Levine/David Isaacs gets an honorable mention too. Funny enough, every single one of them was gone after Season 6 except for Ken/David who carried season 7, and then did a one time in Season 8 for Goodbye Radar before disappearing. Besides Larry, I’m not sure if all of them left on their own, or were eliminated by Alda, but it really shines a light on why season 7 started to go downhill fast, and then season 8 and on were just terrible. The only episode I think I truly enjoy in season 8+ is “No Sweat” although there are a couple others here and there that are decent.

    Like Crabapple Cove, I don’t think I could sit down to an episode written by one of the above, and be able to identify the writer based on something in the episode. The same goes for all the other shows I like too, which I guess in itself could be a mark of good writing. I don’t know that we should be able to say “this episode was clearly written by such and such”. What we should be able to say is that this was a good episode that had strong dialogue, an interesting/well thought out plot, and was true to the characters.

  4. It seems like a majority of my favorite episodes, or just episodes that I particularly enjoy in general, are all coincidentally written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs, so I guess I’m inclined to say they are my favorite scriptwriters.

    I think I would also have to give an honorable mention to Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum. They were Andy Griffith and Don Knotts’s personal favorite writers on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, and I’ve noticed the episodes they’ve written for M*A*S*H (such as the majority of Season 4) have kind of a simple, homey feel to them (again, particularly what they’ve written for Season 4), which is kind of a nice pace for the show.

  5. Larry Gelbart is my favorite writer. His amazing wit is what impressed me most when I first watched M*A*S*H starting with season 3. That’s my favorite aspect of the show as the early days are my favorite era (1-3, overall 1-7). Besides his written/co-written episodes displaying lots of that wit, and often satire, learning from the Usenet days that he also added some jokes, uncredited, to other writers’ scripts adds to my appreciation.

    Honorable mention to Fritzell/Greenbaum for being the masters of the transition episodes, most of which were written by them. Those were always excellently done.

  6. For awhile I considered Dennis Koenig my favorite for having written “April Fools” and thinking he wrote “Morale Victory”, but later I found that John Rappaport wrote the latter. The Winchester subplot of that one is my favorite Winchester plot, if not plot overall, of the series. Levine/Isaacs also wrote some good episodes, especially “Point of View”. On his blog, Ken Levine gives a lot of the credit for “Point of View” deservedly to its director, Charles S. Dubin, who had to pull off their vision through the eyes of a soldier.

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