Early last week Ben Cook offered up some lessons on blogging using the show M*A*S*H as a backdrop for those lessons. At the end of his post Ben asked the rest of us to continue the discussion and since M*A*S*H is one of my all time favorite shows I couldn’t resist. Here are some further lessons on blogging that come from one of tv’s most watched and most loved shows.
For those of you not familiar with Ben or his blog, Blogging Experiment, this isn’t the first time Ben has used a popular show as a backdrop for blogging lessons. I’m also sure it won’t be the last. A few others include lessons derived from
When talking about M*A*S*H, Ben is right that a tv show that lasts nearly 4 times as long as its subject and one with a season finale that becomes the most watched television show in American history is doing something right. So what are some of the things the show did right? Ben focused on the characters in the show for his lessons. I want to focus on the show as a whole for the lessons here.
Quality, Quality, Quality
First and foremost M*A*S*H produced quality shows. The writing was good, the acting was good, the direction was good. We’re talking about a series that won a number of emmys during its 11 year run. 14 emmys in total for 11 different categories. M*A*S*H was above all else a quality program. 25 years after the final episode the show is still in syndication around the world and likely will be for a long time to come.
Blogging Lesson: Work to improve the quality if your blog. It’s much easier to market something that people want than it is to market something they don’t want. No matter what else you do the quality of your content will be the foundation upon which your blog is built.
M*A*S*H Maintained a Strong Voice
The show had a very strong voice. Set during the Korean war it was originally seen and probably mean as an anti Vietnam War vehicle. The shows producers have always maintained it was about war in general, but either way the show’s voice is very clear. After watching an episode or two it wouldn’t be hard to guess what side would have to say on many other topics. If I asked you what M*A*S*H would think about corporate America, or Global Warming you’d likely know instantly even if the show never covered either specifically.
Within the show itself each character had a distinctive voice. As a show M*A*S*H clearly made points about war. Each character of the show, however, would hold a somewhat different view of war, even if they’d mostly agree in general that war left destruction in its wake. Hawkeye’s dislike of war was different from Margaret’s dislike of war as it was different from Charles’ dislike of war.
In many ways each character would agree, but each also brings their own unique voice into the overall voice of the show. Margaret would sooner see war as a destructive force in personal relationships, where Charles would see more the destruction of career. Of the three Hawkeye might soonest see the war as a destructive force in general and be more in tune with the philosophical issues around it.
Blogging Lesson: Develop a strong, authoritative blogging voice. Be creative with your voice in individual posts, but keep each post within the overall voice of your blog. Be about something. Stand for something.
M*A*S*H was Willing to Experiment and Grow
You might not believe it now, but the series was in danger of being canceled in its first season. M*A*S*H began life as a situation comedy based on the novel and movie of the same name. Had the show remained nothing more than a situational comedy we might not know it today and we certainly wouldn’t view the show as one of the best to ever come to the small screen.
Midway through the first season the episode “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” aired. The episode begins as many others had before it, but by the end the usual comedy is replaced by something more serious when Hawkeye is unable to save the life of a long time friend and is later seen crying outside of the operating room. The episode delivers a memorable quote from Henry:
Look, all I know is what they told 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.'”
After this episode M*A*S*H incorporated as much drama as it did comedy and created the dramedy genre. It’s the mix of comedy and drama as much as anything that led to the show’s popularity and success.
The most memorable moment in the entire series is also its saddest. When Radar walks into the operating room to inform everyone of Henry’s death. Not the usual fare for a situation comedy. I watched that episode air as a 10 year old and seeing it in syndication some 30+ years later still brings back the same emotion I felt watching it the first time.
With everyone in the O.R. after Henry has gone home Radar comes in and delivers:
“I have a message. Lieutenant Colonel… Henry Blake’s plane… was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors.”
The camera pans the operating room. The war goes on, but none of the characters or us is the same after. It’s a poignant moment and something not seen often in comedies of the era. At the same time it fits in very well with the overall theme of the show that war is destructive.
M*A*S*H was never afraid to experiment. The show continued to innovate and take chances through the run, most of the time with great success, such as an episode that was seen completely through the eyes of a patient at the 4077th or the two made to resemble actual wartime documentaries. The experimenting kept the show fresh for many years.
Blogging Lesson: Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Be willing to experiment and innovate. Strive to be unique and original and continue to grow as a blogger. Never be afraid to take a chance on something new and different.
M*A*S*H was Authentic and Self-Deprecating
Many episodes of M*A*S*H were based on the real stories of doctors during wartime. These stories lend an authenticity to the show that carries over into episodes not based on real life stories. The realness makes us believe we are in the operating room with the doctors and in some ways makes us believe we actually know something about what it would be like to be in a war even though we’ve never been and hopefully never will be.
No fictionalized version can ever impart the experience of actually being involved in war, but M*A*S*H does help impart what one aspect of war might be like. The show certainly bestows an image of war without the glory.
M*A*S*H was also very willing to make fun of itself. We’re all supposed to look up to Hawkeye, but in many episodes we are shown the weaknesses in his character. No person is perfect and no character on the show is perfect either. Each, while admirable, is flawed and the show doesn’t hide the flaws of its main characters. Instead it builds episodes around them to highlight their human frailty.
Showing the bad with the good makes every character more real to us, makes them more likable, and makes their message resonate more.
Blogging Lesson: Make your posts authentic. Research facts, present details, and use real-life examples Be transparent. Don’t be afraid to share the mistakes you’ve made. Those mistakes make you more real, they make you more human, and they will only help to endear your audience to you. No one is perfect, including you. We bond more with people when they share how they’ve gone wrong and reveal flaws.
M*A*S*H is Still Remarkable
M*A*S*H was a remarkable series for many reasons. Ben looked at the individual characters and I’ve looked at the show as a whole. Neither of us has said all that could be said about the show. Both of us have barely scratched the surface of what can be said. 25 years after the series finale people are still talking about M*A*S*H.
When people are still talking about you long after you’ve stopped producing new content you know you did a lot right.
Blogging Lesson: Be remarkable. Develop content that has other people talking about you. Become part of the conversation and start your own conversations. Create something that other people have no choice, but to comment on.
What other lessons can you take from M*A*S*H? There are many more that what’s here or what’s in Ben’s post. How can M*A*S*H teach you to be a better blogger?
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.
M*A*S*H is one of my favorite shows too. I cried like a baby when the series finale aired. It was great television.
I think one of the biggest lessons about blogging that I would take from this series is one that you mentioned a bit, don’t be afraid to mix humor and drama. Even the most tragic moment can have something funny in it, and the most humorous moment can have an element of the tragic. I think the best television shows, and blogs, are the ones that can show you both elements at the same time.
I also think another thing M*A*S*H* can teach bloggers is to never settle. That show did consistently good, and groundbreaking work for a number of years. The characters grew, the stories grew, and we all learned a lot as a result. As bloggers we all grow and change, and we shouldn’t be afraid to share that with our readers.
I still remember watching that last episode and feeling like something special was going away. That’s a good point about mixing humor and drama. I only touched on it in the sense of mixing those two elements, but you’re right that both can be present at the same time.
Groundbreaking is a great way to describe the show. I didn’t mention it at all, but even the camera work was new in many ways. I think there’s a lot of television conventions that first came about though M*A*S*H.
So for an impossible question, which episode is your favorite?
Fantastic post! I agree, even after two posts about the lessons M*A*S*H taught, we still haven’t come close to covering it all. Maybe I’m a bit biased but I think this would be a great meme! Actually… that’s not a bad idea… My next Lessons on Blogging post is going to have a bit of a twist!
Thanks Ben. I agree there’s so much that can be covered looking at M*A*S*H like a comparison between the the technical production of the show (camera shots, lighting, scenery, etc) to some of the presentation details of a blog post. A meme might not be a bad idea. The show should be well known enough.
Now you’ve got me curious about your next lessons on blogging post. I think the series has been great. The posts work even if you’re not all that familiar with some of the shows.
I have a lot of favorite episodes. One that always stood out to me was the one where Col. Potter gets a bottle of either whiskey or brandy that he and some friends had stashed during WWII. The last one left of the group was supposed to drink a toast to the others. He’s the last one left, and he starts acting weird and everyone thinks he’s ill. There was some great acting in that episode.
I was a huge fan of the show, so there are many episodes I really loved. Some because they were funny and some because they were so touching.
I remember that episode and agree it was a good one. I don’t think I can pick one. I think the one where Hawkeye and Radar go to pick up B.J. was a good introduction for him to the show. Henry’s last episode is pretty memorable, mostly for the one scene at the end.
I think the show really hit its stride a few seasons in, but some of my favorite shows all come from the original cast in those first few years. I’m not sure why though.
Did you ever see the movie?
I think I’ve seen parts of the original movie. I did read the book on which the movie and the series were based.
I think the series is my favorite version.
The movie is somewhat different than the series, but it’s still pretty good. I’ve seen it a few times and bought a copy on DVD a couple of years ago. It’s a little weird seeing different people playing the characters with the exception of Gary Burghoff.
I never read the book and didn’t know there was one until recently. Is the book good?
It was written by Richard Hooker. It’s kind of in the style of Joseph Heller. It was o.k., but I read the book after I’d seen the television series, so I think that had some bearing on what I thought of the book.
I guess it was considered quite subversive when it first came out. That was, I believe, in 1968.
I’ll probably like it then, I enjoyed Catch 22 and I generally like subversive works that are making anti-war statements. I can understand how seeing the show first would affect how you viewed the book. I’m assuming the characters are the same and you’d naturally picture the actors from the series regardless of any physical description given.
20 years have come and gone since we last touched base. Hope all is well. – Raul
Mash insights to blogging
1. Use humor (Hawkeye)
2. Sex sells (Hot lips)
3. Be just a little crazy (Klinger)
4. Be an authority (Winchester)
5. Focus – Herd the cats. (Col. Potter)
Great insights. I only wish I’d thought of them when I was writing this post. 🙂
i balled my eyes out when henry died when radar left and the show finale. but over all the best show in my life funny crazy but it has a meaning and that is family can never be broken no mater what
I felt the same way when Henry died. I was just a kid when that episode originally aired, but I remember watching it live and feeling shocked like most everyone else watching that night.
M*A*S*H was probably my favorite show of all time. I think it still holds up all these years later.