M*A*S*H was an American television series created by Larry Gelbart, inspired by the 1961 novel Catch-22, the 1968 Richard Hooker novel MASH and the 1970 film of the same name. It is the most well-known version of the M*A*S*H series.
The series was a medical drama/black comedy produced by 20th Century Fox for CBS. The show followed a team of doctors and support staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, Korea during the Korean War. M*A*S*H's title sequence featured an instrumental version of the song “Suicide Is Painless” which also appears in the original film.
The series premiered on September 17, 1972 and ended February 28, 1983, with the finale becoming the most-watched television episode in U.S. television history. The show is still broadcast in syndication on various television stations. The series spanned 251 episodes and lasted eleven seasons covering a three-year war. Many of the stories in the early seasons are based on real-life tales told by real MASH surgeons who were interviewed by the production team. Some said the series seemed to be an allegory for the Vietnam War (still in progress when the series began) rather than just about the Korean War, though the show's producers have said it was about war in general. The series has two spinoffs: the short-lived AfterMASH, which features several of the show's characters reunited in a midwestern hospital after the war, and an unpurchased television pilot, W*A*L*T*E*R, in which Walter "Radar" O'Reilly joins a police force. A court ruled that the more successful Trapper John, M.D., is actually a spinoff of the original film.
M*A*S*H was a weekly half-hour situation comedy, sometimes described as "black comedy" or a dramedy, due to the dramatic subject material often presented. The show was an ensemble piece revolving around key personnel in a United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH - the asterisks in the name are meaningless, introduced in the novel) in the Korean War (1950-1953). The 4077th MASH was just one of several surgical units in Korea. As the show developed, the writing took on more of a moralistic tone. Richard Hooker, who wrote the book on which the show (and the film version) was based, noted that Hawkeye was far more liberal in the show (in one of the sequel books, Hawkeye in fact makes reference to "kicking the bejesus out of lefties just to stay in shape"). While the show was mostly comedy, there were many outstanding, inventive episodes of a more serious tone. Stories were both plot- and character-driven. Most of the characters were draftees, with dramatic tension often occurring between them and "regular Army" characters either in the cast or guest-starring.
A letter to TV Guide written by a former MASH doctor in about 1973 stated that the most insane jokes and idiotic pranks on the show were the most true to life, including Klinger's crossdressing. The hellish reality of the MASH units encouraged this behavior out of a desperate need for something to laugh at. (Another former MASHer, though, pointed out later that an habitual crossdresser would not last long in such a place; real women were too scarce.)