Script Spotlight 20: “Check-Up”

As we roll into May, I was struggling to find an episode to review this week. The first one that came to mind was “Springtime” (03×05), but I don’t have a script for it. However, I do have the script for the next episode, “Check-Up” (03×06), so I pulled it out to look through. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found in this script! It is full of handwritten notes, revisions, and directions. This is also a great episode, so I was looking forward to rewatching it, making my notes comparing the episode to the script, and deciphering some of the notes. I am really intrigued by the script, so let’s take a look at “Check-Up.”

The Script

This episode was written by Laurence Marks and is dated July 31, 1974. The cover indicates that it is a “Revised Final” draft, but I have some questions about the cover and the contents of this script. We’ll get there though. This episode was directed by Don Weiss, and his name is written on the Set List page. Looking at the cover, there is a faded name on it. It looks like it says “Roberta,” who was in wardrobe in the early seasons. But as we start to dig into the text of the script, there are a lot more markings than only wardrobe which makes wonder whether this cover belongs with the script pages.

This script does not have any production documents (Shooting Schedule, Call Sheet, etc.), but it makes up for that with the revisions and handwritten notes. There aren’t any revised pages either, but while the script pages are typically blue, there are some white pages mixed in. These white pages are filled with line changes and revisions and are likely working copies. For example, on page 3, we see that lines have been marked out, added, and moved. Whose handwriting is this? Marks? Larry Gelbart? I don’t think Roberta would be making line changes. Then, there are more markings added to the page. There are notes written in pencil that give direction. Objects and wardrobe are circled in red ink. Then, at the top right corner, the filming day is written in blue. There is a lot going on in this script!

There are other interesting markings on the backs of the pages as well. On the back of one page, we see scene numbers and the length of each scene in minutes and seconds. This would be important to know so they could decided what they needed to adjust or cut. The handwritten notes in pencil are notes to the actors giving directions such as when to sit down, stand up, walk to left, etc. So who used this script? Was it Roberta in wardrobe as the cover might suggest? Was it Gelbart? Was it Weiss? I am not 100% sure, but I have had this script in my collection since 2007, and I believe that it belonged to Weiss because of the pencil written direction notes. I think I can illustrate why I believe this by looking at one page.

Page 36 is for the tag of the episode. The scene as written is different from the final episode actually, but let’s ignore that for now and focus on what is written on the page. There are specific instructions for the actors to do as they are saying or after they finish their lines. Toward the middle of the page, for example, Hawkeye delivers his line, then there is a note that says “puts bottle down.” This would likely be something the director would focus on as the scene was being rehearsed and then filmed.

This script has always been a mystery to me due to the disconnect between what the cover seems to indicate and what the handwritten notes inside would suggest. While I would argue this script was used by Weiss, I could very well be wrong. Regardless, this is a fascinating script because we see the amount of detail that was needed to film an episode. A script is more than just what an actor says, but it also included what they do. After all, television is a visual medium. To ensure that what we see on the screen and the dialogue made sense, it took a director to successfully put the two together.

The Final Episode

This is a classic early season episode with a great mix of comedy and some drama. It is time for everyone’s annual physical check-up, and we learn that Trapper has an ulcer. Hawkeye sees this as Trapper’s ticket home. However, the Army has different ideas, and he finds out that he will not be going home as the camp throws him a big going away party. Meanwhile, Klinger uses the check-up as an opportunity to try just about everything to get a medical discharge. Margaret is upset when during her check-up when Hawkeye mentions she could lose some weight. This is the only storyline in this episode that I have always had an issue with. The scenes between Hawkeye and Margaret are funny up to that point, but then it just feels off the rest of the episode as she talks to Frank about being “fat.”

Since this appears to be a working copy of the script, there are several changes between the script the and what was in the final episode. In fact, there were minor changes on just about every page, but some pages had some major changes. For example, there is an extended scene between Klinger and Trapper during his check-up (pages 4-5), a few additional funny lines between Radar and Henry about Radar’s ears (page 12), a full scene between Hawkeye and Trapper discussing Trapper’s ulcer (page 18), another scene between Hawkeye and Trapper while Trapper is packing (page 24), and a cut scene between Margaret and Frank discussing her weight (page 27). Most of these scenes were likely cut for time as the script was 36 pages, so it was running a little longer than most scripts.

This is a very unique script as it allows us to see the rewrites in progress. I like seeing the marked out lines because we can see what was there before the change was made. I also really like seeing all of the direction notes throughout the script as it really puts into perspective just how much planning and thought goes into creating an episode. Especially on a single camera series. “Check-Up” is one of the highlights of season three as it has a great mix of comedy and it was produced as M*A*S*H had really become a hit. It is great to have scripts from these early seasons to get a peek behind the scenes and better understand what it took to bring M*A*S*H to audiences each week.

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