In the history of television, there are countless series that don’t get renewed for a second season. In 1981, it was a major accomplishment that M*A*S*H was beginning its tenth season. As the season was about to begin in October 1981, Twentieth Century Fox Television and CBS sent out a press kit to hype the upcoming season. In the documents, Twentieth Century Fox Television says, “…in network series television, having a show on the air for a decade is a herculean feat that calls for great pride of accomplishment, dedication and acceptance — and a place in the media’s longevity record books.” Of course, M*A*S*H would continue for another season, but its tenth was a major milestone. Let’s explore how the tenth season of M*A*S*H was celebrated and promoted for the 1981 television audience.
The M*A*S*H tenth anniversary logo is one of my favorites! I love that it is featured prominently on the press folder and the header of each document. The simple green “10” with the lit candle behind the M*A*S*H logo is a simple yet elegant design. They used this letter head throughout the tenth season, so you might have seen other documents and letters written on the incredible letter head. The folder is very well printed. It is glossy white and has the logos on the inside flaps that hold the documents and cast photo.
Our first document is the Fact Sheet. It includes all of the vitals for the season including that M*A*S*H would air on Monday nights at 9pm (ET) in 1981. The fact sheet goes on to list the primary seven cast members and their characters. The remaining part of the page credits the incredible crew that kept the series running day after day. I find it interesting that the document still lists the “Concept” of the show as if after nine successful seasons, no one knew what M*A*S*H was about!
The next piece of the kit is a four-page document discussing the series. While the title says “Tenth Great Season,” there isn’t anything in this document about any of the episodes coming up in the season. Instead, you get more details for what is listed on the Fact Sheet. The series is described in more detail, each character is described, and key crew members are introduced. Again, I find it odd that after touting M*A*S*H‘s 90 Emmy nominations, the rest of the document introduces the series as if it is its first season, not its tenth.
My favorite document in the press kit is the six-page “Trivia Time.” There are some pretty simple questions on the first page, but the questions throw back to earlier seasons by asking about McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, and Wayne Rogers. One question also references the M*A*S*H spin-off, Trapper John, MD. In total, there are 58 questions. These would have been fun for newspapers or radio stations to use in trivia games, and I wonder if any local media took advantage of these questions in this way? I am sure Fox and CBS would have enjoyed the free publicity.
The final component of the press kit is an 8×10 glossy photo of the seven principle actors’ headshots along with the headshot of executive producer Burt Metcalfe. I am kind of let down by this photo montage. I would think that a nice cast photo would look better in print than just having one actor’s headshot. Then there’s the matter that only three of the actors’ headshots are scenes from M*A*S*H. The generic headshot feels like less of a tie-in with the series. I am surprised they didn’t use the photo of the cast together with the signpost.
Like the Season 11 Press Kit I wrote about in November, the information in this kit gave journalists what they needed to write about the upcoming season of M*A*S*H. Overall, I really like this press kit. It tells the story of how Fox and CBS had to advertise. I know I keep harping on the fact that these materials were created before social media, but social media really has changed how a series communicates directly with its audience. In 1981, they could only indirectly communicate through TV Guide, local newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. M*A*S*H‘s tenth season was special as there weren’t many shows in 1981 that had achieved that kind of influence and longevity, and that continues to today.