Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Brooks on Books: Two "MASH" books I read for the podcast

Let me clarify: I did not read all of Bear Manor Media's massive TV's MASH: The Ultimate Guide Book by Ed Solomonson and Mark O'Neill. Much of the book is its big epsidoe guide, and I am reading that as I watch the show. This is a great resource for fans of the show. It concentrates on trivia and production info rather than critical analysis of each episode, but the overviews of each season provide additional insight as to the direction of the series at a given point.

I made use of one of the many interesting appendices for yesterday's post: The authors have a "Missing in Action" section listing episodes in which selected key characters do not appear. There are also sections on awards, TV ratings, and many other valuable indexes and lists.

It's not just a book of facts, though; the authors feature interviews with cast members, producers, and writes like BOTNS favorite Ken Levine. Larry Gelbart provides a foreword in addition to an interview. The history of the series is summarized in the text but is also woven throughout the interviews and supplemental material. 

I bought the digital version and gained an immense appreciation for the book's scope and organization. This is a must-have for serious fans of the series.

David S. Reiss' MASH: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV's Most Popular Show is a different type of book. For one thing, it was published in 1980 as a semi-glossy trade paperback (at least my edition is) with extensive use of photos. It is more of a journalistic look at the series (then still on the air) than a reference.

There is an episode guide, but it is basic and it ends after the eighth season! The reason to pick this one up is to see what the series and working on the series was like at the time. The contemporary perspective is compelling, and Reiss uses his extraordinary access to produce a lot of good info. The chapters on the cast members read like magazine profiles. The pieces on Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Burt Metcalfe in the "Producers" section contain a lot of insight into how the show developed.

I picked this up at a great price years ago at a used book store, and I am glad I did. The comprehensive, more modern view of TV's MASH is essential, but you can pick up a lot from something published at the series' peak, like Reiss' work. It's a fun read and a cool trip back into the era.

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