From the M*A*S*H Library 8: M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV’s Most Popular Show

What is it?

Reiss, David S. M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV’s Most Popular Show. Indianapolis: The Bobb-Merill Company, Inc., 1980.

Reiss, David S. M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV’s Most Popular Show. Indianapolis: The Bobb-Merill Company, Inc., 1983.

Why should M*A*S*H fans care?

This book, first released in 1980, was the first authorized book released about M*A*S*H. It was updated in 1983 to include information from the last three seasons. The book is great for a coffee table as it is full of photos and a full episode guide that makes for great reference material.

As a M*A*S*H fan, what part should I read?

All of it!

TL;DR Review

The fully authorized M*A*S*H book from the 1980s is filled with lots of information, photos (all black and white), interviews, actor profiles, and episode descriptions. Just be sure you pick up the 1983 edition so you get all 11 seasons of information.

Full Review

Last week, we looked a press release announcing the book M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV’s Most Popular Show, and the press materials made it seem like it was a an all new, fully authorized book about the series. However, I realized that I had a copy of this book from 1980. I did some research and discovered that the 1983 edition was a re-release of the original 1980 book. In the updated edition, they added episode plot lines from the last three seasons as well as award nominations and wins from the last three years of the series. The updates added eight (that’s right, 8!) pages to the book. Looking at the table of contents of both editions, the added pages are only in the last two sections. I cannot find any other changes besides that. Despite this, it is still a great book!

The book begins with a Foreward by Alan Alda. In it, he talks about the series and working with the cast. He is very complimentary about each of the cast members from the series, and it is exactly what we would expect from Alda. That is followed by a short history of the program. Titled, “In the Beginning,” it offers an overview of how the series came into being. It is the story we are all familiar with, but it serves as a good introduction to the book as you find out that the author, David S. Reiss, visited the M*A*S*H set as he was writing the book. He interviewed the cast members and producers while he was there, and those interviews led to the profiles and quotes throughout the book.

The next two sections of the book, “The Players” and “The Producers,” are unlike any other M*A*S*H bios that I have seen. Instead of primarily focusing on the character, it is the actor who brings the character to life. Most other books of this sort focus on the character, and profile the actor as a secondary device. But Reiss flips this script. We see childhood photos of the actors, information about their early careers, and we get great quotes about their work on M*A*S*H and how they relate to the character they are playing. It is very well written. I expected to read yet another profile of each character, but this was a pleasant surprise. There is a very well written biography of each actor with materials from the author’s interviews thrown in.

The same is true for the producers. Reiss profiles Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Burt Metcalfe, and in the process, we learn about how Gelbart and Reynolds adapted the movie to television and created some very important aspects of the series that would last eleven seasons. One of these inventions was the still in The Swamp. Gelbart quickly realized after M*A*S*H had been picked up for a full season in 1972 that they would have to take what they had from the novel and film and build upon that. And build they did. After he and Reynolds left the series, the evolution of M*A*S*H continued with Metcalfe at the helm. Each are profiled, and there are some great behind the scenes photos!

The next section of the book, “Plots and Players,” is an episode guide. Every episode (all eleven seasons in the 1983 edition, but only seasons one through eight in the 1980 edition) is detailed along with credit being given to the guest cast, writer, and director for each episode. This is a great resource for any M*A*S*H fan as it helps you find your favorite episode, and it also helped fans learn the episode titles which they would not have known from the episode itself. This was the first true episode guide that would have been available to the public. The last section of the book, “The winner – M*A*S*H,” is a list of awards for which M*A*S*H was nominated and won by year. The series wasn’t just a ratings success, it was also an award winner!

Finally, in between the the last two sections, there is a section devoted to us, the fans. Titled, “And now a word from the Viewers,” Reiss collected and annotated a series of fan letters written to the cast and producers of the show over the years. It is important to remember that this book was originally published in 1980, so these letters were written while the show was still producing new episodes. It is a fun read as you see fans picking up on things that we still love about the show today.

M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV’s Most Popular Show is a must have for any M*A*S*H fan. It is the only contemporary, authorized book about M*A*S*H. That makes it a valuable resource to all of us. The book is filled with stories, information about our favorite actors, and photos. There are so many great quotes in the book, and I am going to conclude with a quote from Gelbart. “[M*A*S*H] contained one of the best casts anywhere. That’s a pretty wonderful combination. It was different; it dared…It is a metaphor for life – the camp, the war. The public identifies with it. Not to be all rosy or glowy or sickly sweet, but M*A*S*H is an incredible confluence of a number of talents at the same time and the same place that really results in some superior work.”

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