M*A*S*H, The Waltons, and the Defining of an Era
August 29, 2012
Fall…that special time of year. It’s what some of us have waited for! I’m not talking about my love for the big yellow bus whisking teenagers away to give us six hours of solitude every morning at 6:38 a.m. I am talking about the television season premieres! During the summer TV hiatus burning questions have plagued us, or some of us…ok, me. For example, how can Glee function in different cities? What will Puck do now that he has lost the title of the oldest High School Student ever? Will Booth find Brennan in time to save her? Will Esposito forgive Ryan and save their bromance? How will Elena maintain her tan now that she’s a vampire? Who will Chin Ho save, Kono or Melia? Is Ducky DEAD and if he lives, will those sand stains come out of his tuxedo? Inquiring minds want to know, people, and coming up in a few weeks, we’ll have our answers. It’s time for the networks to tempt us back to our couches with new if not improved chapters in the television series we have come to love.
Maybe a more burning question is…40 years from now, will these shows be remembered? It takes a lot for a series to become so popular that decades later its quality, value, and impact are still discussed. For some of us, there are shows we love that become part of the cultural fabric, even moments that are truly pivotal points of societal discourse. "Who shot J.R.?" was so iconic and remains such a beloved memory for people that a successful reboot of Dallas popped up last year on TNT.
It’s astonishing for me, and I suspect for a lot of you, that September 2012 marks the 40th anniversaries of the premieres of two such shows, both of which aired on CBS. M*A*S*H and The Waltons both made their first visits to our living rooms 40 years ago this month. Very hard for me to believe, since I was 11 at the time and am now 39. It’s a new kind of math, people. Focus. Both series were based on previous presentations. M*A*S*H was a toned-down version of the highly successful 1970 Academy Award-nominated film, and The Waltons was based on the folksy charm of a 1963 movie called Spencer’s Mountain and was a 1971 Christmas movie that scored highly in the ratings.
Forty years ago, the Vietnam conflict was drawing to a close, and both shows answered a need that the public had to laugh, lament on, and romanticize eras gone by. M*A*S*H supplied humor amidst pathos found in the dark setting of a war that Americans did not support. Waltons took us to Walton’s Mountain, where Daddy sipped from a jug, Mama dispensed discipline and love in equal measures, and Granddaddy ruled with a benevolent twinkle in his eye and one overall strap always unfastened. Both shows settled in for the long haul and made household names of Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John, John-Boy, and Mary Ellen. This was a time where American soldiers were returning home to an unwelcoming public from a different unpopular conflict and finding themselves cast adrift in the land they had served so well and for so long. The ability to mock the machinery of government at wartime and to reminisce about days gone by helped to settle a disenchanted society. They are both shows that set standards and remain for a lot of us as a benchmark of memories of our childhood.
MCPL carries both series on DVD, so come on in and check out some good memories. Say goodnight, John-Boy. That is all.
North Independence Branch