I have been reading lately how it is bad for the mind to watch TV and that the world’s wealthiest people generally don’t waste their time on the boob tube. For similar reasons I don’t get cable TV. However, I still get the digital TV stations through the air and do turn on the idiot box from time to time. There’s one channel that shows old shows from the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, and every now and again I travel back to memories of these characters that I mostly watched in syndication even back then as a kid.
The other evening an episode of M*A*S*H came on. Now that’s a great show. Here’s why I like it.
Evil as its Own Character
M*A*S*H takes place in a mobile military hospital within the backdrop of the Korean War. The characters deal with death and war in every episode. What this does is free up the writers of the show so that they don’t have to make an one of the main characters the bad guy. Yes, there are selfish characters like Major Winchester and neurotic doctors like Frank Burns, but neither one of those characters has to play the role of evil. Relative to the war going on, you can still see that these medical doctors are doing good and that there is good to be found in everybody, except for maybe an occasional nameless Korean soldier or the unstoppable momentum of U.S. military bureaucracy.
Here is probably the only example of a priest, as a regular character on a TV series, shown in a positive light. Father Francis Mulcahy, played by William Christopher, is the hospital chaplain who is respected by the other characters for his humility and faithful works among all of the horrors of war.
Can you think of one character on a contemporary TV show who is Christian and put in a positive light? I think it would be the smartest thing any TV producer could do today. There would be a huge built-in fan base breathing a sigh of relief that the entire entertainment industry isn’t the evil I mentioned above.
Sparing Use of the Laugh Track
Do you hate the television laugh track as much as I do? It is an insidious device that makes people think they should be laughing, even when something is not funny. There is a social element to laughing that the TV laugh track abuses, deadening any sense of subtlety or real listening by the audience. Try watching an episode of Two and a Half Men, Friends, or Seinfeld asking yourself, “Was that really funny? Why the canned laughter? Or are they trying to persuade me to laugh at the lazy bad writing? ” Sometimes more than 50% of the 30-minute show is fake laughter.
Some newer shows, like The Office, don’t use the laugh track at all, but they substitute the same effect visually by cutting to a character’s sarcastic or dumbfounded look.
M*A*S*H does use the laugh track during some of the comedic scenes, but it is not throughout the whole show. According to Wikipedia:
“Series creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds wanted M*A*S*H broadcast without a laugh track (“Just like the actual Korean War”, Gelbart remarked dryly), but CBS rejected the idea. By season two, a compromise had been reached, whereby the producers were allowed to omit the laugh track during operating room scenes if they wished.”
The compromise worked out well. Since there is so much contrast between this humorous scenes and the scenes that deal with life and death in this “dramedy,” helping the audience along to tell them it is OK to laugh seems appropriate.
Are There Any Shows You Think Are Better?
I challenge you to name one in the comments section below along with your reasoning.