Press Pass 5: Making M*A*S*H Documentary Previews

In 1981, PBS aired a documentary titled Making M*A*S*H. In the documentary, the process of creating an episode from start to finish is explored. It featured the writers, directors, cast, crew, and everyone it took to make M*A*S*H possible. I saw it several years ago on YouTube (it is now gone), and it is the best documentary I have ever seen about M*A*S*H. I would say it is even better than the anniversary specials as it was so more than recalling memories. The documentary went deep into how M*A*S*H worked, the relationships on set, and, ultimately, why M*A*S*H was still popular with television audiences after nearly ten years.

The documentary was produced by Michael Hirsh for PBS and narrated by sit-com legend Mary Tyler Moore. It was successful and achieved high ratings for PBS. I believe this documentary resonated with audiences because it provided more of M*A*S*H then they saw each week. For more about the content of the documentary, I recommend reading the detailed review on or listening to Episode 43 of M*A*S*H Matters on which they interviewed Hirsh.

In the lead up to the documentary airing, it was highly publicized. In the collection, I have two different press releases related to Making M*A*S*H that preview what the documentary was all about. They were not released by Twentieth Century Fox or PBS, but by Ben Kubasik Inc., which was a firm that focused on public relations. The two releases are four pages each and focus on different aspects of the documentary: Writing M*A*S*H and Acting in M*A*S*H. Let’s take a close look at each.

Both press releases describe the documentary as “a behind-the-scenes close-up of the people — actors, producers, directors, film editors, writers — who together create the series.” And that is exactly the focus: the people. In the Acting in M*A*S*H press release, we get a glimpse of what it is like working behind the scenes. The fact that the actors got along with each other and don’t hide in their dressing rooms between shots is something that Moore says did not occur on every set. Another unique characteristic of M*A*S*H was cast changes. There are hints of what it was like for someone to join a successful series. That certainly cannot be a simple task. The relationships are the focus because they were critical to what made M*A*S*H work. The set was a pleasant place to be, and that translates on screen through the actors. Read the full press release below.

In the Writing M*A*S*H release we learn that the series creator and principle writer, Larry Gelbart, returned for the documentary. He left the series at the end of season four, but his legacy remained. Loretta Swit says of Gelbart, “He left us in a position of being able to fend for ourselves. You know, our characters were really firmly established. The kind of pattern, the harmony, and the synchronization already were there, and we were able to carry on.” Gelbart’s writing set the show up, but the writers that came in continued the tradition and wrote great dialogue. The actors could get involved in the writing process and several would write episodes for the series. Writing M*A*S*H was directly tied to acting in the series in that the words on paper came to life on screen, and the documentary showed the relationship between the two. Read the full press release below.

Sadly, this documentary is not online nor has it every been included on any of the DVD sets. I feel like that is a lost opportunity since I haven’t seen another documentary like it. After reading the press releases, I really want to watch the documentary again and see what I learn from it. Unfortunately, it seems to be on a shelf somewhere. Hopefully PBS or Fox will pull this documentary out of the archive and re-release it because I think M*A*S*H fans, both young and old, would appreciate not only seeing how the series was made, but seeing the relationships of the cast and crew. Those relationships behind the scenes are what made M*A*S*H truly special on screen.


Making M*A*S*H.

Making M*A*S*H.

Making M*A*S*H with Michael Hirsh (Episode 43). M*A*S*H Matters Podcast.

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