Some of you older readers out there that consider themselves television buffs may recognize the title of my blog. I took it from the finale of M.A.S.H. which aired in a little over 18 years ago on February 28, 1983. I thought it was appropriate, because this will be my last regular blog here at the Working Stiffs. Lately I’ve found that life is getting in the way and something has to give. While I will try to stop by on a regular basis, I won’t be contributing on a schedule, but hopefully I’ll be able to come back from time to time and add a little testosterone to this place. Sometimes the estrogen level is off the charts. I really appreciate sharing this little piece of cyberspace with my friends.
Even though I’ve only met a couple of my fellow Stiffs in person (and even then very briefly), I feel I’ve gotten to know them fairly well through their writing. While I will not reveal who is who, I have my little nicknames for some of the Stiffs. Let’s see if you can guess.
The Dedicated One
The Trend Breaker
Miss Easy Going
By the way those are going to the grave with me.
So, why did I bring up M.A.S.H.? Well, beyond it being one of my favorite series of all time, it taught me a lot about writing without me even realizing it. Without a doubt, the writers had a knack for creating intriguing characters. Think about how many character came and went and the show never missed a beat.
First Henry Blake. Lovable, bumbling, carefree. When he pissed off the network executives, and told them he was leaving, they shipped him out in the most dramatic fashion. When McLean Stevenson left the show at the end of the third season, his character was scripted to be discharged and sent home. In the final scene of his last episode, it was reported that Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan and that he had been killed. The script pages with the scene were handed over by the producers only a few minutes before filming that final scene, so none of the cast knew about that development until a few minutes before Radar was told to go in and report that Blake had died. Up until then, as far as anyone knew, they were going to get a message that Blake had arrived safely home. This was deliberately planned so that the emotions shown by the actors during that scene would be as real as possible, and it worked well. I don't think I'll ever forget that scene. Radar O'Reilly looked like he was going to puke as he spoke the words, "Lt. Col. Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. There were no survivors."
Trapper John also left after the 3rd season and I remember thinking that the show was dead. Well, that’s where the great writing took over. In comes Sherman Potter. Regular Army. Henry Blake’s antithesis. And it worked. We watched with trepidation and we wanted to hate Potter, but the writing took over and he won us over. We kind of forgot about Blake and embraced Col. Potter. Then B.J. Hunnicutt came in for Trapper as Hawkeye’s best friend and sidekick and we forgot about Trapper. Brilliant character development and writing.
Over 11 seasons, more came and went. Frank Burns, a.k.a. Ferret Face, leaves and in comes Charles Emerson Winchester. Again, they couldn’t have been more different. Frank a completely inept and despicable self-promoter and Charles a completely arrogant SOB. Yet both found a way to make it work. Radar left after 8 seasons (and the original movie) and his spot was filled by Klinger. That was probably the shakiest of the transitions. I still missed Radar and Klinger just left me wanting more.
A few characters stayed the entire 11 seasons; Hot Lips Houlihan, Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce and Father Mulcahy. I loved them all.
How many shows had so many interchangeable parts? Charlie’s Angels tried and pulled it off to some extent, but not as seamless as M.A.S.H. Others tired to keep the characters, but change the actors. How many Darrens did we go through on Bewitched? I never liked that option, because different actors portray differ characteristics and the characters change.
The lesson here is to create great characters that we can fall in love with. If you can pull that off, you’re on your way to great writing. I think a really great plot can substitute for a great characters in one story,
but if you're going to write a series, you'd better develop those characters.
Now to steal a scene from the finale of my favorite show.
And as my parting gift, the final 10 minutes of the finale. It will give you an idea of how great these characters were.
So Long, Farewell & Amen and keep writing.