Over the decades, M*A*S*H has been available to own at home in various mediums. In the 1980s and 1990s, episodes of the series were released in collections, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that 20th Century Fox Television began releasing the complete series by season. I was one of the M*A*S*H fans in 2001-2006 collecting the M*A*S*H DVDs as the seasons were released. I then also purchased the “Martinis and Medicine Collection” that came out shortly after. Today, you can still buy M*A*S*H on DVD, but you can also find the series on iTunes and streaming on Hulu. Fans in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t have access to everything that we do today, so let’s take a look back at how M*A*S*H has been sold to home audiences over the last 40 years!
1980s: VHS and LaserDisc
Following the groundbreaking series finale, CBS Fox Video released “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” on VHS and LaserDisc. Since the finale was feature length, it received a feature release. While the VHS is really nothing too special since it only contained the series finale, the LaserDisc is interesting. In the late 1970s, media producers tried to convince the market to switch to LaserDisc. It was the first optical format offered for home movies. The LaserDisc is basically an early DVD, but it is the size of a 33 1/3 record. It required a special player, and neither the disc nor LaserDisc players were cheap. While they offered better quality than VHS, they never caught on in the market. There is a great YouTube video reviewing the history of the LaserDisc and its demise.
Other than the release of the LaserDisc and VHS of the finale, I cannot find any evidence of M*A*S*H being released in any other format in the 1980s. It really isn’t surprising though since the release of television shows on home media wasn’t really common at that time. You could catch the shows in re-runs, so why would you buy them? Plus, with VHS technology, the full run of M*A*S*H would have taken a decent amount of VHS tapes!
1990s: Columbia House VHS Collections
Speaking of VHS, the first time M*A*S*H episodes were released on home video was in the early 1990s. In 1992, Columbia House created and released a series of M*A*S*H collections on VHS. Collections of episodes were themed, and each tape contained three episodes. For example, a set of episodes titled “Operation Overload” featured the episodes “Sticky Wicket,” (01×21) “Carry On, Hawkeye,”(02×11) and “O.R.” (03×05). I am not sure how many total collections were released, but I have a fair number of them. But with only three episodes per VHS, it would take 84 VHS tapes for the whole series! I doubt they released the whole series in this way, instead, they focused on the more popular episodes and episodes that fit their themes.
In 1992, M*A*S*H turned 20 years old, so I suspect these were released partially to celebrate that but also reintroduce M*A*S*H to a new audience. Since the show was on in syndication across the country, this was one way for M*A*S*H fans to own their favorite episodes, provided they fit into one of Columbia House’s collections. Each VHS box has the same cover and a similar treatment on the back. The only differences between each collection’s box is the list of each episode and collection description. These VHSs comes up for sale often now, so I suspect they sold a decent number of them!
2000s: VHS and DVDs
The early 2000s is when M*A*S*H fans could start to buy full seasons of the show. Beginning in 2001, just before the show’s 30th anniversary, 20th Century Fox Television began releasing M*A*S*H in VHS and DVD collections by season. For the next several years, they released two seasons a year. I was one of the fans waiting for each new DVD set as they were released. I had been watching the series on FX, but I discovered that there were several episodes I had never seen before. I also like that the DVDs include the scenes cut for syndication, so there are a few scenes added back to each episode. This was when my interest in M*A*S*H really began to grow, so these early DVDs and VHSs hold a special place in my collection.
Once all 11 DVDs had been released, Fox released a full collection of the series called the “Martinis and Medicine Collection.” I wrote a post on some of the special features in this collection earlier this year. The collection came in a nice, canvas box and includes all 11 seasons, two discs of bonus features, the 20th and 30th anniversary specials, and the original Robert Altman film. I bought this collection as well! Fox then released a small box set only containing the series finale and bonus features for the fans who had spent several years collecting the season DVDs but didn’t want nor need to buy the full collection.
These M*A*S*H DVDs have some great features. Each episode can be dubbed in French or Spanish, and they can be subtitled in English or Spanish. Since these DVDs are for Region 1, these languages cover the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The best feature of the DVDs, in my opinion, is the option to turn off the laugh track for the English versions of the show. The dubbed episodes don’t have the laugh track, and it is widely known that the laugh track was not used for audiences in other parts of the world. So turning off the laugh track is my preferred way to watch M*A*S*H. There was no studio audience, so I don’t see the need for the laughter.
2010s to Today: DVDs and Digital
Since the original release of the seasons of M*A*S*H in the 2000s, several box sets have been released. A newer version of the “Martinis and Medicine Collection” was released, but it was not as nice as the original. The box wasn’t canvas and it didn’t have the booklet that the original included. The current set of DVDs available is the one that I have pictured above. You get all 11 seasons plus the Robert Altman film. There are no bonus features, however. And the discs are not in the best quality case. But for under $100, it is a great way to get the entire M*A*S*H collection on DVD.
We do live in a digital world, however, and there are a few ways to get M*A*S*H digitally. You can purchase the full series on iTunes for $99.99 in either HD or SD quality (more on M*A*S*H in HD in a moment). Seasons can be purchased on Amazon Prime Video. And M*A*S*H can also be streamed on Hulu. The full series is available, and if you already have a Hulu subscription, it is a good way to watch the series.
Unfortunately, M*A*S*H on Hulu and other digital platforms is in HD. You would think that is a good thing, and it is in some respects. The colors are more vibrant and the picture quality is better. However, M*A*S*H was not filmed in HD. It was filmed on, well, film. So it has a 4:3 aspect ratio. In order to make M*A*S*H full HD with a wide screen 16:9 aspect ratio, they’ve cropped the episodes at the top and bottom. While this may not hurt the story, I do think it hurts what you see on the screen. You get less of the background. Look at the screenshots I have included above. The first is from the DVD. It’s darker and more grainy, but look at the space above Hawkeye’s head and notice Trapper’s feet. Now, look at that second image from Hulu. The color is better, but look at the space above Hawkeye’s head again. There isn’t much there, and Trapper’s feet are gone! I do wish they had left the aspect ratio alone, but upgraded the quality. I would not be bothered by black bars on the left and right side of the screen.
BONUS: International M*A*S*H Releases
While M*A*S*H was an American show, it did have an international audience. The show was popular in the United Kingdom, and this DVD boxed set is from that region. It is interesting to see how differently, or similarly, M*A*S*H is presented in different parts of the world. For this box set for Region 2, the series is only available in English or dubbed in French. The same is true for the subtitles, only English and French. But that makes sense since this DVD set would likely only be available in the UK and France. Since this is a Region 2 set, you need a different DVD player or open source software, such as VLC, on your computer to play them.
What I find interesting about these DVDs is that they aren’t too different from the US versions. The biggest difference is that two seasons are grouped together rather than one season per DVD case. But once you put in the DVD, the menus and options are the same. And like in the United States, you can turn off the laugh track on the English version of the show.
M*A*S*H has been released to television audiences in several different formats over the last 40 years. As technology changed and viewing habits have changed, 20th Century Fox Television has adapted. From LaserDisc and VHS to DVD and digital, M*A*S*H has remained a popular show for nearly 50 years. Even as technology and viewing habits change, I believe M*A*S*H will continue to be around for many, many years to come.