Before the days of the internet and social media, production companies such as 20th Century-Fox Television didn’t communicate directly with the consumers of their television shows. They relied on publications such as TV Guide and local newspapers to run stories about new shows and the latest season of a series. For M*A*S*H, there is no shortage of press material, and I have a fairly substantial collection of items. For my first Press Pass post, I decided the best way to introduce press material was looking at the press kit for season 11, the final season of M*A*S*H.
The first thing you may ask is, what is a press kit? The answer to that question depends on the company. Press kits typically include plot summaries, information about the principal actors, cast photos, still photos from the show, and perhaps something with a logo on it to help grab the attention of the reporter. Today, a press kit may be entirely digital. But in 1982, the press kit for M*A*S*H was all on paper, and it even came in a fancy folder.
The season 11 press kit included:
- an 8×10 photo of the cast
- season 11 fact sheet
- season 11 production notes
- biographies of principal cast and producers (9)
The final season of M*A*S*H was a big deal for 20th Century-Fox Television and CBS. They wanted to make sure that it was clear M*A*S*H was coming to an end to boost ratings. The caption on the 8×10 photo of the cast begins, “LUCKY ELEVENTH! The M*A*S*H gang roars into its 11th (and final) season as one of the most watched and honored shows in television history.” The press material not only flexed M*A*S*H‘s ratings muscles but its award winning muscles as well. You cannot blame them either. Personally, I feel like that the cast photo they chose isn’t the greatest. It being in black and white makes sense so it will be easy to translate to newsprint, but the photo feels oddly generic and not celebratory given that the series was coming to an end.
On to the papers! The Fact Sheet is fairly straight forward and tells you a lot about the final season. It aired on Mondays at 9:00 PM (ET) on CBS. The cast is listed, as are the primary crew members including producers, consultants, cinematographer, casting director, and the production company. Overall, it is a pretty standard fact sheet, but one that would have been handy for reporters working on their article about the final season of the series.
Then, there’s the About the Production document. At four pages, it offers a summary of the series, actors, characters, and returning producers. The document opens by stating, “No television show in history has faced its ‘final curtain’ with the interest, regret, poignancy, and feeling that surrounds the last season of Twentieth Century-Fox Television’s M*A*S*H.” The release then goes on to boast about the series’ 99 Emmy award nominations and 14 wins as well as other awards such as Golden Globes, People’s Choice, Writers Guild, Actors Guild, Humanitas Awards, and The George Foster Peabody Award. Keep in mind, this is a press release, so bragging about the series accomplishments is key. There won’t be any mention of the rating from season 1 in this document!
The final part of the press kit are individual biographies of the cast and producers. The cast biographies include: Alan Alda, William Christopher, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, David Ogden Stiers, and Loretta Swit. Biographies of producers Burt Metcalfe and John Rappaport are also in the press kit. Each biography discusses their work on M*A*S*H; work on the small screen, big screen, and theater; and personal details such as spouse and children. Some of the biographies include “vital statistics” such as the person’s hair color, eye color, height, and weight. These are likely not details that would have been published, but could have been used by casting agents.
Press kits are an interesting window into a bygone world of printed promotional materials and an age where actors and directors were shielded from viewers by the public relations office of the studio. Today, an actor can pitch their latest movie directly to fans on Instagram or Twitter, but when the final season of M*A*S*H began in 1982, those who hoped for the series’ success needed national and local publications to publish stories about the series coming to an end. We all know how the series ended, and just how earth shattering the finale was, but in September 1982, that was still months away and no one was sure how the end of M*A*S*H would land.
That’s the first Press Pass post, and I hope you enjoyed it! As part of the first week of The M*A*S*H Historian, tomorrow will be the first From the M*A*S*H Library post. Come back as I review the book that started it all in 1968.
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