On an unrelated thread, Philip Portelli wrote:


"To the Commander: I would be very interested to hear your views on M*A*S*H, McHale's Navy, and particularly Hogan's Heroes, given your service. I know that they were comedies but I would like to hear your views, if or when you want. Heck comment on CPO Sharkey for that matter!"


I'll try.


First, let me state that, with regard to military series, both dramatic and comedic, television imposes certain necessary restraints to accuracy.  I understand this.  J.A.G. demonstrated a few of these necessary bars to accuracy.  For ten years, the two stars served in the same billets at J.A.G. headquarters (except for occasional story arcs which temporarily shifted them around).  Normal tours in the military are eighteen months to three years, at the most, and usually are two years.  So, no way that would have happened in real life.  But I understand that a popular show just can't go retooling itself with new formats and new cast members every couple of years.  So I can accept that as a necessary fictional device.


Also, the two stars would not have reported to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy directly, as they did in the show.  There would be a Chief of Staff and other ACOS's in the hierarchy.  But then you're talking about the expense of additional cast members, so I can accept that as a necessary fictional device, as well.


Those kinds of things I grudgingly give a pass to.  Other things I do not.  Things which do not affect the budget, such as improper military protocol or errors in the uniform.  These things don't cost a cent to fix, and J.A.G. had the least excuse of all shows for such mistakes creeping in.  J.A.G. had a retired rear admiral on the payroll as an advisor.  He must have been asleep through many of the episodes, though, for all the uniform mistakes---and obvious ones to anybody in the Navy---to have gotten by.


And, sure, many military-related series, especially sitcoms, didn’t hire a military expert as an advisor.  But you can sure bet the shows received mail from vets who watched the show and called them on errors.  So when I see mistakes of this sort appear, my estimation of the show immediately drops.


Now, to military sitcoms.


I understand, in order to evoke humour, certain aspects of military life have to exaggerated or lampooned.  But the key here---from my standpoint as a military man---is to not go beyond my willing suspension of disbelief.  Granted, the bar is higher for me than it is for someone who has never served.  And there are lots more of career civilian television watchers than there are career military television watchers.  So, if a producer wants to play the numbers game, he can go as extreme as he wants.


On the other hand, television history has had several military-oriented sitcoms that were successful and never strayed across my line of believability.


Let’s start with the two military sitcoms that are remarkable in the fact that neither one of them ever---ever---committed an error in protocol, uniform wear, or general military practice.


The first was Hennesey (CBS, 1959-62), starring Jackie Cooper.  This show was so remarkable that it is tied, with Father Knows Best, as my favourite sitcom ever.  It tells of a newly minted Navy physician, Lieutenant Charles “Chick” Hennesey, stationed at the Naval Dispensary in San Diego.


It’s a show that takes it’s humour from the characters’ reactions to simple, yet logical twists and developments in Navy life.  While Hennesey and his nurse, Martha Hale, pretty much play it straight (though they are not beyond a witty line or two), there are some characters who are “characters”---Hennesey’s commanding officer, Captain (later, Rear Admiral) Shafer, and Chief Corpsman Bronsky.  Yet, they never get so broad as to be unbelievable and underlie their minor eccentricities with remarkable humanity.  It’s a show loaded with sentimental moments, but never saccharine ones, mostly because Hennesey is just a decent, likeable man, usually right but not always.


As I said, Hennesey never committed a single error in military protocol, not even a situation that bordered on being impossible to really happen.  I credit this to the fact that Jackie Cooper, who also produced the show, hired a great number of military veterans as staff and he himself was a Navy veteran.  The show was also distinctive in utilising techniques infrequently seen on television then, especially in sitcoms.  It relied strongly on overlapping dialogue.  And for most episodes, it eschewed an opening credit sequence.  The show would begin with a cold open and a minute or so into it, the dialogue track go silent and the theme would play, while the credits got “painted” over the scene, which would still be going on.  Even without the benefit of dialogue, the viewer could still follow the gist of the scene. 


Many episodes were done without a laugh track.  Particularly one tour-de-force episode which has only two cast members---Cooper, as Hennesey, and guest star Don Rickles as a chief petty officer.  The TV Guide entry for this episode probably read:  “Hennesey gives a C.P.O. a reënlistment physical.”  Because that’s all it was.  But the dialogue keeps you so riveted that you don’t realise that nothing else takes place.


As in many other Hennesey episodes, something pointed out early on comes back as the clincher in the end.  And for this episode, throw away any previous conceptions of Don Rickles.  He performs with nuance and subtlety.  And in the last shot, which shows him walking toward the camera, away from the examining room, he looks and moves like every thirty-year C.P.O. I ever met.


Personal Sidebar:  I was a tadpole when Hennesey aired and it was the first exposure to the Navy that I ever had, and from it, I got the idea that maybe the Navy wouldn’t be such a bad place to spend my life.


Fast-forward to 1999.  It was Christmas Eve, and I was in my stateroom, lying on my rack, on board the flagship Blue Ridge, in Yokosuka, Japan.  I had just been assigned to the staff of Commander, SEVENTH Fleet, and the Good Mrs. Benson, having a good job that neither of us wanted her to sacrifice, was back home in the States.  The ship was quiet, practically deserted, except for duty personnel, everybody else home with his wife and family.  And I started thinking about all the events that led me to that particular point, at that particular time.


I followed that thread all the way back to Hennesey, which I hadn’t thought about in years.   It was about mid-night, Christmas now, when I got an idea.  I was going to write Jackie Cooper a letter, telling him how his show had been my first inspiration to join the Navy and how much satisfaction my Naval career had brought me.


Right then, I went down to my office and wrote.  Getting his mailing address wasn’t difficult---Cooper was still famous enough and, hey, I worked for an admiral.  And I mailed it.


About three weeks later, there was something on my desk from mail call.  It was a letter from Jackie Cooper, written in his own hand.  He said that my letter was one of the nicest Christmas presents he had ever received.  He was glad that Hennesey had been such an inspiration to me.  And, to me, the most important thing he wrote was that “of all the things I’ve done as a producer, director, or actor, Hennesey is the thing of which I am proudest.”


(The same night I also wrote and sent a letter to his Hennesey co-star, Abby Dalton, that produced some interesting results.  But that’s another story, for another post.)




The other error-free military sitcom came much later in television’s history, but has many of the same qualities as Hennesey.  That was Major Dad (also CBS, 1989-93).  As Hennesey was for Jackie Cooper, Major Dad was obviously a labour of love for Gerald McRaney.  While the central premise was different---die-hard Marine Corps officer meets and marries a liberal-minded lady journalist with three daughters---it shared Hennesey’s impeccability in showing both the light side and the serious side of military life, including the grimness of combat, without diluting either.  Like Hennesey, some of the regular characters were slightly eccentric but never beyond feasibility and were always underlaid with professionalism and competence. 


Major Dad wasn’t a “quiet” sitcom, like Hennesey.  It played comedy a bit more broadly and cranked in the generational humour with the three daughters.  And it vested Major MacGillis with a Marine Warrior image that the plots both validated and poked fun at.  It also plumbed the sentimentality well a bit more deeply, along with adding the cuteness factor of pint-sized youngest daughter, Casey.


It’s telling that the then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Al Gray, appeared in a guest spot on the show.  The Marine Corps usually doesn’t go in for that kind of thing, unless they respect a show.


Since I’ve rambled on here, Philip, let’s make this “part one”, and I’ll get to some of the military sitcoms you specifically mentioned on the next go ‘round.

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...I thought that , even in the 1980s , recruits for the military didn't sign up and ship out the same day , but...........(Maybe in the immediate aftermath ~ in some cases ~ of Pearl Harbor .)

Alexandra Kitty said:

I watched that one when I was a kid: I do vaguely recall the show was less interesting with Brennan...

ClarkKent_DC said:

Reading back over this thread, I realize we never did discuss Private Benjamin, as was suggested. To rectify that oversight, I'll offer the following ...

Private Benjamin, the TV series, is, of course, based on the movie starring Goldie Hawn as a daddy's girl princess who has the misfortune of having her newlywed husband (played by Albert Brooks), die from a heart attack on their wedding night. (As I recall from the movie, it happened while the two of them were consummating their marriage in the bathroom of their hotel suite.) Heartbroken and despairing, our heroine hears a commercial on the radio touting a place where someone like her can get help, an institution that builds character and gives people fortitude and strength. So the next day, she goes to their offices, signs on the line that is dotted, and becomes one of Uncle Sam's nieces ... and, as they say, hilarity ensues. 

As for the TV series, it was on CBS for just two seasons, 1981-83. I only saw it a couple of times, but I recall an article in my local TV magazine that profiled one of the supporting actresses in the cast. I recall her complaining that she had auditioned for the lead role, because she felt she embodied the character -- young, Jewish, blonde, naive and confused about life -- but didn't get it because the producers were bent on getting a Goldie Hawn lookalike. Also in the cast were Hal Williams and Eileen Brennan, reprising their roles from the movie.

The only other noteworthy thing I remember was that, unfortunately, Eileen Brennan suffered severe injuries when she was run over in a hit-and-run accident, and was temporarily replaced by Polly Holliday, of Alice and Flo. The temporary change became permanent, as the show was canceled in its second season.

I can't find any reference to the Peanuts strip referring to Bob Crane. It presumably was reprinted in The Complete Peanuts, 1977-1978. If one of you has a copy of this book, maybe you could find the strip in question. Bob Crane died on June 29, 1978.

Maybe it was Snoopy going to Bill Mauldin's house? I seem to recall Snoopy wishing to quaff root beers with the creator of Willie and Joe while honoring Memorial Day/Veterans' Day. I can't imagine Charles Schulz including a Bob Crane joke in Peanuts. 
Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...I want to get into rerun/syndicaton " number of episodes " supposed rules , but I'll first post this subject , which I've long meant to bring up here ~ An " Inquiring minds " one and since somebody else revived this line , I don't have to , um , " consciously " seek it out !!!!!!!!!!! Which is , to wit:

  Regarding Hogan's Heroes or anything else Bob Crane did ~ Is anybody here's reaction to Bob Crane , when seen to-day , colored by the now-widely-known bizarrely tabloidsome circumstances of his death , and what is known to have happened before and after ???????

  I am now on a computer with Net Nanny put on it , no less (Frizzen fratten ricken rackin...) , so I won't go into detail...But you know what I mean . Even extending to , I read , some years back his son putting up a website offering (On a pay-per-view basis ???) watching " those " videos which Crane made before his untimely demise !!!!!!!!! When Crane's murder occurred , IIRC , the PEANUTS strip of that day had a gag where Snoopy was " going to Bob Crane's house " ! I happened to see two different newspapers which ran Peanuts that day, either the New York Daily News (a morning paper) or New York Post (afternoon) for one , and the Westchester County (afternoon) newspaper we had delivered to our house for two , and I guess it was the afternoon WC paper which (Especially since NYC papers sent to upper-ish Westchester would tend to be really early pressings/editions) relettered the strip to change the Crane reference...I had a letter mentioning this published in Don & Maggie's BEAUTIFUL BALLOONS column in TBG/ (FCF) then !!!!!!!!!!!

Peter Rohtul said:

Maybe it was Snoopy going to Bill Mauldin's house? I seem to recall Snoopy wishing to quaff root beers with the creator of Willie and Joe while honoring Memorial Day/Veterans' Day. I can't imagine Charles Schulz including a Bob Crane joke in Peanuts. 

Yeah, I remember Snoopy going to visit Bill Mauldin's house to quaff a few root beers every year on Memorial Day; I can't imagine Charles Schulz including a Bob Crane joke in Peanuts, either. 

Here's a website with several of the Snoopy/Bill Mauldin strips:


The Hollywood Reporter looks back on M*A*S*H:  "Memories of 'M*A*S*H': Inside Stories of the Most Famous Episodes ...

I made a point of rereading this entire thread. Woof! A few of the comments I was going to make are ones I already made, but here are some more if anyone wants to kick them around.

I watched a number of first-run episodes of Sgt, Bilko as a kid. Never was too crazy about it and never bought the DC comics. I haven't watched many episodes of McHale's Navy. It's OK, but Captain Binghamton was a little too over-the-top for me. I don't think I've seen any episodes of Major Dad, but may have to correct that one day. Currently we are catching episodes of Hogan's Heroes and Gomer Pyle USMC on ME-TV. They have their own charm.

I have never missed any of the NCIS shows. Regarding the JAG show (let's combine Tom Cruise's Top Gun and A Few Good Men characters into one guy!) it had a turnover in female side-kicks a couple of times. The debut of Mark Harmon's Leroy Jethro Gibbs on JAG almost turned me off NCIS because he was watching blatant un-American torture without batting an eye. It has been pointed out that the members of NCIS are civilian employees of the Navy, so they don't get reassigned to other places.

The worst case of military characters staying together too long was in the movie The Presidio. The hero, coincidentally also played by Mark Harmon, left the Army Military Police and became a police detective in nearby San Francisco. They don't say how much time has elapsed but he couldn't have risen through police ranks in a year. When he comes back to investigate a murder he apparently knows everybody, so nobody was sent on the new assignments, which was very unlikely.

As for being close to the bottom of classes, according to Wikipedia John McCain was 894th out of 899 graduates in his Annapolis class. Ulysses Grant was ranked 21st out of 39 West Point graduates.

Regarding M*A*S*H:

I saw the movie when it first came out. Frank Burns goes home mentally unbalanced there, too, but much quicker. The movie holds up well until they go with the sqeaky clean football game.

We recently binge-watched the its entire run. There were a handful of episodes we saw for the first time.

The first time Hawkeye mentioned Crab Apple Cove, Maine, he wasn't from there. He said that he and his father (and mother?) would go there on vacations. In later episodes he said that he was from there.

It was foolish of them to post specific dates on any of the episodes. It added nothing to the stories. As was pointed out, there were many anachronisms regarding movies and comic books, and the always grating represetation of comic books as proving immaturity or stupidity.

The husband of one of my wife's cousins was put through medical school by the Army. They even trained him in cardiology. When he was still in the Army he was involved in Lyndon Johnson's post-presidency heart operation.

I tend to enjoy the earlier episodes more, before McLean Stevenson told the producers he was leaving and Wayne Rogers just up and left. They didn't know Rogers was leaving until they wrapped season 3, so "Trapper went home" was unplanned. I agree about Saint Hawkeye.

Nurse Able and Nurse Baker were names used for more than single characters. I believe this was the Korean War military way of saying "Nurse A" and "Nurse B," which is somewhat demeaning.

.. As for a Bob Crane - Or, I guess, HOGAN'S HEROES - reference in PEANUTS, there was a joke in at least one 70s Peanuts of Spike watching TV with a word balloon indicating that he was watching HH - that got relettered to be a STAR TREK wb in an initial publication when it reached print shortly after Crane"s murder. I was even able to let Nat Gertler"s AAAUGH blog know about my then-observation of the NYC-Westchester papers' split on this at the time!!!

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

.. As for a Bob Crane - Or, I guess, HOGAN'S HEROES - reference in PEANUTS, there was a joke in at least one 70s Peanuts of Spike watching TV with a word balloon indicating that he was watching HH - that got relettered to be a STAR TREK wb in an initial publication when it reached print shortly after Crane"s murder. I was even able to let Nat Gertler"s AAAUGH blog know about my then-observation of the NYC-Westchester papers' split on this at the time!!!

Here are the two blog pages regarding this:



The July 21 and 31, 1978, cartoons shown on the blog have the original "Colonel Hogan" text on the GoComics website. I don't think it was just respect that caused the change. It is believed by most, disputed by few, that Bob Crane was a sex-addict who finally picked up the wrong person, who murdered him.

...Yes, Richard, but I think it would have taken some time for the NOW well-known specifics of Crane"s life just before his murder to be generally known then, and most simply, I daresay Schulz and the syndicate simply sent out the strips with the HH joke, which had been established as a joke in Peanuts already, then, and then had real life step on them when Crane's murder occured before the strips had been published! So an attempt was made to hurriedly substitute another joke, about Star Trek, to not create the impression that Sparky had joked about a dead man. Some newspapers were able to substitute the Trek reference, some were not. Richard (Imagine Paul Harvey saying this), I am the

Aaugh reader quoted there! A moment of glory:-). (Since I'm mentioned, I'lI again say that if anyone is interested, my actual birthday certificate name is Walter Lilly, in California, if anybody new cares to find me on Facebook.) BTW, Richard, I also don't"t think the behavior, even then, that likely led to Crane"s would have caused a public 180 degree change to disgrace on the level of Harvey Weinstein or Gary Glitter or Bill Cosby or (to some) O.J. Simpson. This leads to another comment about how the culture and the press have changed in the past 40 years that I think almost all, at least, of the posters here have actively lived through - I'll put it in my "Nice " line!

You're right, of course. I think that when celebrities have "feet of clay" a lot of people hold it against them.  I don't think he ever hurt anybody and that's more significant to me.

The way I've heard it, Bob Crane loved sex and (for whatever reason) he loved recording himself having sex.
Even if the ladies were unaware of the recordings (and Crane is reported to have never blackmailed or threaten anyone with his "work", he just liked having a private/personalized porn stash) all were willing participants and everyone involved was a legal adult.
Some might have been married, but if the women didn't want to have sex, they didn't have to be there.
The only other thing I've ever heard on the subject was that Crane had a thing for blondes.
Now if all of the above makes Crane a bad man by today's standards, so be it. I won't argue that point since he appears to have been a sexaholic.
But it is still a shame that his killer has yet to be caught.

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