M.A.S.H. was ranked as the 25th best show of all time by the United States T.V. Guide. It has screened on New Zealand television multiple times and is a very popular show with the older generation. But what is it?

M.A.S.H. is the story of army doctors in the ‘theatre’ of the Korean War. The series ran from 1972 to 1983 and featured Alan Alda (West Wing’s Senator Arnold Vinick) as the prank-pulling doctor Hawkeye Pierce, the central character. However, it followed an ensemble cast through eleven seasons.

The acronym stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. The show aired at the time of the Vietnam War and was therefore topical for the generation watching it at the time. It was based on a film directed by Robert Altman which featured Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye. This film in turn was based on a series of books published from 1968 onwards.

The show was a black comedy, showing people dealing with death in a darkly comic fashion in order to stay sane. The fact that rehabilitated soldiers from the army hospital would go out to fight and be injured again or possibly die was a dramatic irony.

Alan Alda’s influence over the character Hawkeye saw him transformed from a goofball to a social conscience, an unpopular transformation in the eyes of many viewers.

It was the highest rating series of all time in America, achieving viewing figures of 60.2% of households, or 50.15 million viewers. It won eight golden globes, 38 other prizes and was nominated for a further 110 awards.

Other important characters in the series include “Hot Lips” Houlihan (head nurse and victim of many of Hawkeye’s pranks), “Trapper” McIntyre (thoracic surgeon and class clown), Father Mulcahy (resourceful chaplain), and Radar O’Reilly (farm boy turned clerk, famous for his teddy bear).