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It's all in the theme song.

10.11.2011

I just finished watching the first season of M*A*S*H for the first time in broadcast order. If this isn't the best show of all time, I don't know what is. Seriously. Better than Doctor Who, better than Buffy, better than anything I've ever seen. Through all the gags and thinly veiled sexism there still beats the heart of the best balance of comedy and tragedy I think we'll ever see on our television sets.

Anyway, about halfway through the season (I think--wikipedia was a total failure on this subject) the theme song dramatically changed. It was still 'Song From M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)' but in a jazzy, goofy style. Here was the original from the beginning of the season:



But here's the bastard version that I DESPISED WITH ALL MY BEING (sorry about the low quality, it was the best I could find):



I can just picture some studio executive saying, "This intro is too depressing. People will switch channels if they hear this song! I want it to be fun and snappy, show the viewers that this program will make them laugh! I want it peppy and light, with lots of horns and drums! Let's have every family in America tapping their toes!"

Fortunately as I started the first episode on my season 2 disc 1, the original theme had returned. I like to think people complained. Or that some higher exec (or Alan Alda himself) called out the idiot executive who changed it, saying, "Do you see what's happening on the screen while you play your silly sitcom theme? Choppers are arriving full of wounded, dying soldiers. The doctors are sprinting out to them, checking their vitals, then loading them onto jeeps to take back to surgery. There isn't even a cast roll call! Why did you ever think we should jazz up a song with SUICIDE in the title? You're fired."

The original theme is a prince among songs. It was written by Johnny Mandel and the lyrics (not used in the TV theme, which I like) are by Michael Altman, son of Robert Altman, the film's director. He was 14 when he wrote them.

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