Thursday, June 23, 2005

Blake vs. Potter (Click PODCAST)

Television has brought us many great debates and I'm not talking about the ones on C-SPAN. I am talking about private citizens gathered together to discuss important issues like:
Who was the better Darren on "Bewitched"? Dick York or Dick Sargent?

Who would you rather be with on "Gilligan's Island"? Ginger (Tina Louise) or Mary Ann (Dawn Wells)?

Who was the better Enterprise Captain? James T. Kirk (William Shatner on "Star Trek") or Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart on "Star Trek: The Next Generation").

These are the issues that men have dedicated countless hours (and beers) debating, and many times these debates ended in an impasse or last call. With many of these debates, I stand firm on my position, Dick York, Mary Ann and Capt. Kirk. Some of my positions are based solely on my opinion (Dick York and Capt. Kirk), while others (Mary Ann) are based on facts that I can present: Ginger represents the girls you have fun with, while Mary Ann represents the girls you marry. Inevitably I come up with a firm point of view except on one topic.

Who was the better commanding officer of the 4077 "M*A*S*H"? Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) or Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan)?

At this point I get a bad case of writers block. I don't have a simple answer to the question. I get up from my desk and pace. I then go to the kitchen and do the dishes. Then I make coffee for the tomorrow morning. Then I take out the garbage. My wife likes it when I have writer’s block because it is the only time she can get me to do any household chores. And I have just spent a whole paragraph avoiding the question.

So why can I not give a simple answer to the question? Now I keep hearing William Shatner saying, "It's just a TV show!" Let me break it down.

There is one school of thought that says that M*A*S*H* "Jumped The Shark" when Col. Blake died. That the show shifted from it's original premise set by the movie with Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould that shows Army doctors who need to go crazy in order to keep from going insane. This same school of thought feels that after Henry Blake died the show was no longer as funny as it was before and became more self-righteous and preachy. Some of these people may have been turned off by what they felt was Alan Alda's liberal agenda.

Another school of thought is that the show improved with age and that they were able to evolve from Army doctors who get drunk and pull practical jokes to experimenting with new and creative forms of storytelling.

When we look at 11 seasons and over 250 episodes, the most talked about episodes are the ones that show what we now call out of the box thinking. There was the black and white episode where the characters are being interviewed by reporter Clete Roberts, the episode shot from the point of view of a patient, or the episode that takes place over the course of a year. These episodes all took place after the death of Henry Blake.

At this point in my writing I start to look for any distraction and discus the issue with a friend, who subscribes to the first school of thought, and found out that our views are not that different. My fried feels that the show "Jumped the Shark" when Frank Burns (Larry Linville) left the show while I feel that the show "Jumped the Shark" shortly thereafter when Hawkeye and Hot Lips (Loretta Swit) did it (another one of the more talked about episodes). That period in the show's history marked the end of any internal conflict amongst the ensemble, an element that was an important staple in the show.

I tend to favor the second school of thought but I appreciate and respect what the first school of thought has to offer as well. I also don't think that we can simply link the shows paradigm shift with the change of command at the 4077. Although the movie and the TV series were set during the Korean conflict, the movie and the early seasons of the series served as a metaphor for the Vietnam War. This included jokes directed at then VP Richard Nixon. By the time Mike Farrell and Harry Morgan replaced Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson, the Vietnam war was over, Nixon was out of the White house and M*A*S*H* shifted their focus from doctors rebelling against the army to the challenges of practicing medicine in a war zone. Sadly Henry's death while reminding us that there is a war going on also signaled that the party was over. Some of the irreverence, that subscribers of the first school of thought loved about the show, may not have died with Henry but died around the same time as Henry.

Still I have not answered the question. Who do I think was the better commanding officer of the 4077 M*A*S*H*? Lt. Col. Henry Blake or Col. Sherman Potter? It's a cop out to simply say that M*A*S*H* became a different show after the change of command thus being able to end the debate in a tie. So the best way to answer the question is to say, that even though Col. Potter was a more competent Military leader, I would have rather served under Col. Blake. I also want to add that I am grateful that I have never had to serve under either type of leader in a war zone. I have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude to those who have. And I am sorry that there is nothing comparable to M*A*S*H* on the air today because we could certainly use it now.

To quote Lt. Col. Henry Blake, "Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war and rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is doctors can't change rule number one."

To quote Col. Sherman Potter, "There's a time to step in and a time to back off. Pull the reins too tight and the horse will buck. You had good people under you. You should of let them go through the paces. You know this is pretty good. Someone should be writing this down."
Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

PS: I prefer Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) over Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) on "Cheers", Curly Howard was a funnier stooge than Shemp Howard and "Underdog" can kick Mighty Mouse's Ass in a fight because he’s a dog for God sake.


Brent McKee said...

And then there's the school of thought that feels that M*A*S*H is vastly over-rated and that Green Acres is a better show by almost any measure.

If you read Hooker's original book of course you will find that the original Henry Blake was a regular army officer who happened to be a surgeon and a bit of a by the book guy who was probably where Hawkeye and the others were a war ago. Potter never was that guy, and the TV Henry was some poor schlub who probably should have been at best a Major. To my mind Potter is less of a comedic stereotype than the TV Henry, just as Charles is a far more three dimensional character than Frank Burns. Maybe that's the real change: M*A*S*H before Henry died was a comedy and M*A*S*H after he died was a different show entirely.

Sorry no answer from me (but you did give me an idea for a posting - thanks).

Ivan G. said...

Curly funnier than Shemp? Blasphemer!

Curly was funny, but it was a one-note funny--he could get pretty annoying without Moe to keep him in line. Let's face it--Curly wasn't ever going to be anything except Curly of the Three Stooges.

Shemp, on the other hand, had yards more versatililty--he's in (yes, I am exaggerating a tad) practically every movie made during the 30s and 40s as a first-rate character actor, and as a solo performer headlined his own series of two-reelers at both Warner Brothers/Vitaphone and Columbia.

BZTV said...

Very fun blog. And some real challenging questions: Blake v. Potter, wow... how to call it?

Thanks for putting the time into it, I enjoyed it.

Toby said...

Another classic "bar-gument" would be Samantha vs. Jeannie.

"My Mother The Car" vs. "Mr. Ed"...
eh, not so much.

My personal either/or is Laura Petrie vs. Mary Richards. I just can't make Sophie's Choice on that one. It's gotta be both!