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'm not a big fan of any of the shows discussed, but I am a HUGE fan of the Dick Van Dyke show and enjoyed the occasional flashbacks to his days in the military.  Any thoughts regarding the USO aspects that often were a major part of those, Commander?
Cavaliere said:
Sheldon may also have realized that having Daily in a "straight" role was a waste of a wonderful comic. I enjoy watching him both as Major Healey and as Howard Borden (The Bob Newhart Show).


I do, too. I remember the tip of the hat The Bob Newhart Show gave to him for both roles ...

As we well know, the long-running Bob Newhart Show featured Bob as Robert Hartley, a psychiatrist in Chicago. Subsequent to that, he had another long-running show, Newhart, in which he starred as Dick Loudon, proprietor of a country inn in Vermont.

In the series finale of Newhart (see here), Dick Loudon is conked on the head by a golf ball. The screen goes dark, and a light comes on ...

 

... and Bob, as Bob Hartley, turns on the bedroom light and says "Honey, you won't believe the dream I just had" to Suzanne Pleshette, as wife Emily from The Bob Newhart Show! in a pitch-perfect spoof of the St. Elsewhere finale and Dallas "Bobby in the shower" episode.

Years later, The Bob Newhart Show 20th 19th Anniversary Special (it hadn't been a full 20 years since the show's debut, but why let that prevent the gang from getting back together?) took the ball and ran with it. Partly clip show, partly new episode, it started with the scene from the Newhart finale, and followed that with Dr. Hartley going off to work, as usual, to his downtown Chicago office building, where he met the series regulars -- Jerry the dentist, Carol the receptionist, cranky patient Mr. Carlin and Howard Borden. He tells one and all about the odd dream he had of running an inn in Vermont, and Howard replies, "I had a dream like that once. I dreamed I was an astronaut in Florida for five seasons" as clips from I Dream of Jeannie were shown on screen! 

 

(The special ends with Bob seeing the three goofy guys from Newhart working on the elevator, and one says, "Hi. I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.")

Last night we watched “Peace on Us,” the second episode of the seventh season of M*A*S*H, the one in which the army’s “point system” comes into play. Tracy wanted to know more about the specifics and I asked her, “Do you want me to try to explain it or would you rather wait until tomorrow when I can hardcopy Adam Benson’s explanation?” (Guess which option she chose?) Now that the episode is fresh in my mind, I re-read the fruit of the Commander’s research, and guess what? *GASP* The television show doesn’t jibe with the facts. (I know... shocking, right?)

According to Commander Benson’s findings, the points required for officers to become eligible for rotation back home had been reduced in 1952 from 55 to 37; in the episode in question, the required number of points was raised from 36 to 45, prompting Hawkeye to steal a jeep and go AWOL in order to disrupt the peace talks being held at Panmunjon. I imagine the producers knew the facts, and I can understand why they went ahead with the story as aired. Number of required points increased = story; number of required points decreased = no story. (Besides… who would know?)

In any case, given a discrepancy between our own resident expert on military affairs and a television show, I know which source I’ll put my money on every time.

I multiple-checked my information on the point-system at work in Korea with four different resources, including a hard-cover memoir written in the mid-'50's by a veteran of the Korean War about his experiences.  The information I presented on the points awarded and total number of points required was identical in each source.  (There was some minor dissonance in just what kind of unit constituted a front line outfit or rear echelon; but the facts on the points themselves were consistent.)

 

I appreciate the faith in my information, Jeff.  That's why I work so hard to ensure it's correct.

It sounds like that M*A*S*H episode was cribbing a plot point from Catch-22....
Doc Beechler said:
I'm not a big fan of any of the shows discussed, but I am a HUGE fan of the Dick Van Dyke show and enjoyed the occasional flashbacks to his days in the military.  Any thoughts regarding the USO aspects that often were a major part of those, Commander?

I do have some thoughts on that, Doc---if you will forgive me taking the “great circle” route to get there.

 

While pondering my next post on military sitcoms, something occurred to me.  The nomenclature situation comedy can be broken down in two ways, and there have been television shows which have been based on both versions of the phrase.

 

As I see it, you have “situation-comedy”:  here, while there is a situation that must be resolved, most of the humour of the show comes from the wit and dialogue of the performers.  The situation is almost secondary.  Most modern situation comedies fit this mould, but there were some Golden-Age shows which also apply.  Make Room for Daddy was a notable one.  Most of the humour came from the exchange of dialogue between Danny and the rest of the cast.  The Andy Griffith Show was another.

 

A good clue that a show is a “situation-comedy” is if it is funny in the scenes unrelated to the episode’s situation, such as at the dinner table or in the office.

 

The other way to take the phrase is as “situation comedy”, stressing the first word.  Here, it is the situation which is supposed to be funny, and the characters involved are not, except as they react to the situation.  The guideline for this is:  would you watch the show if the characters were just sitting around the living room and there was no whacky situation?  If the answer is no, probably not, then you have a “situation comedy”.

 

Many 1960’s sitcoms fell into this category:  Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Hazel, Hank, Dennis the Menace, Gidget, and others.

 

Obviously, there is a sliding scale at work here.  To some extent, a show that is “situation-comedy” still relies on the situation.  And the performers in a “situation comedy” show might occasionally get off a funny line.  Some shows straddle the line between the two, and some shows might go back and forth between the two styles.

 

And then there is the horse-race thing.  You might find I Dream of Jeannie to be the soul of wit, and find the humour of Make Room for Daddy falls flat.  (But, if you do, I don’t want to watch TV at your house.)

 

I found The Dick Van Dyke Show to fall into the “situation-comedy” category.  (It’s not a coïncidence that The Dick Van Dyke Show was produced by the same fellow who had other hit shows that fall into the “situation-comedy” slot---Sheldon Leonard.)  Certainly humour is derived from the various situations that arise on the show and there is quite a bit of physical comedy.  But the core of what makes the show funny is the dialogue.  Simple scenes unrelated to the episode’s situation, or only tangentally so---such as Rob and Buddy and Sally in the office---are often hilarious.

 

Another illustration of the “situation-comedy” quality of the show:  other shows, such as Gilligan’s Island, are recalled by the situation---“the episode where Gilligan finds the robot” or “the episode where Marcia gets hit in the nose by a football”.  Episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, however, are often recalled by a witty line of dialogue:

 

“I really need my pants to-day, Rob.  I’m having lunch with the sponsor.”

 

“No, your place is on national television!”

 

And, of course---“Hi, we’re Mr. and Mrs. Peters!”

 

As to the military aspect of The Dick Van Dyke Show, before I addressed that, I wanted to see if I could establish just when Rob Petrie was in the Army.  Specifically, because it appeared that Rob was in the peacetime Army.  I’m not a student of the show, so there may be some fact which helps pin down that time-frame more precisely; all I could do was make an educated guess.

 

We can safely presume that the show is contemporaneous with the time---an occasional reference to President Kennedy and so forth---and we know from the first episode that the Petries’ son, Richie, was five years old in 1961.  That means he was born in 1955 or ’56.  And we know from the episode “Where Did I Come From?”, that Rob was working as the head writer for The Alan Brady Show, in the current offices when Richie was born.

 

We also know that Rob married Laura while he was still in the Army.

 

The fuzzy part was how much time elapsed between Rob and Laura’s marriage and Richie’s birth.  We know that Rob was out of the Army when he was hired by Alan Brady, and we know that when he came to work for him, he and Buddy and Sally occupied different offices.  But I couldn’t find a specific benchmark to place when any of this happened in relation to Richie’s birth.  (There might be one; I just couldn’t find it.)

 

I thought maybe I could use Dick Van Dyke’s real age as sort of a guidepost.  He was thirty-six when the show debuted in 1961.  If we use that as Robert Petrie’s age, that made him eighteen at the height of the United States’ involvement in World War II.  We also know that Rob went to college.  The question is:  did Rob join the Army before or after he attended college?  Either one would fit the flashbacks of Rob Petrie in a peacetime Army.  More likely, though, he went to college after his Army service, probably on the G.I. Bill.  Here’s why I think that.

 

If Rob had entered the Army after obtaining his college degree, he very probably would have gotten a commission.  But Rob was not an officer; he was an enlisted man---a sergeant.  But that is also telling.  Because he had attained the rank of sergeant, it means that Rob had been in the Army for some time, at least a couple of years, before he met Laura.  If we take that into account, it fits very nicely.

 

When he is eighteen, Rob enters the Army, in 1943.  He is either sent overseas or is one of the many servicemen who never left the country during that period.  Even if he did go overseas, the war was over within two years---that would give Rob time to attain the rank of sergeant.

 

With the war over, Rob is reassigned to Camp Crowder, Missouri, and attached to Special Services.  He would be twenty-one, or close to it, when he meets Laura.  Figure a year’s courtship and that makes him twenty-two when he marries seventeen-year-old Laura Meeker/Meehan (“Laura’s Little White Lie”).  This puts the year at 1947, give or take a month or two.

 

The episode “Honeymoons Are for the Lucky” flashes back to Rob and Laura’s honeymoon and makes a reference to the post war housing shortage.  So that fits with the year 1947.  We can also figure that Rob reaches the end of his enlistment later in ’47.  Rob then goes to college, graduating in 1951.  He starts working for Alan Brady not too long after that, maybe a year later.  And Richie is born in 1955 or '56.  It all fits.

 

All of which was a very, very longwinded way of determining whether or not it made sense for Rob to be in the peacetime Army.  It appears he plausibly could have been.  That was my only question about the Army flashbacks.  Other than that question, nothing I saw in viewing the episodes with Rob in the Army radically contradicted genuine military life.  In fact, “Honeymoons Are for the Lucky” was based, in part, on a true-to-life military condition at the time.

 

As far as the U.S.O. aspect, Sergeant Petrie was assigned to Special Services, which was essentially the film and entertainment section of the Army.  So the episode in which he met Laura, a U.S.O. performer, “Oh, How We Met the Night that We Danced”, was completely in keeping with Rob’s place in the Army.

 

And, yes, those Army flashbacks are among the funniest episodes of the show.  In fact, every time I check the fluid level in my car’s radiator, I remember the scene in which Rob, already late for his wedding, can’t start his jeep.  And holding the keys in his teeth, decides to check the water-level in the radiator.  He removes the radiator cap, peers in, and blurts, “Aha!”---dropping the keys into the radiator.

 

If you’ve hung with me, Doc, through all of my blather, I hope that answered your question.

Yes, thank you very much.  I love the thought you put into that timeline for Rob.
Here's a question for you to answer in a future post. I know you're working on an analysis of Gomer Pyle, USMC for an upcomining post. I have a guide to prime time TV shows which states that Gomer joined the peacetime Marines. Does that term mean something other that what I think it means (i.e., during a time of peace)? Gomer Pyle was on TV from 1964-69, smack dab in the Viet Nam era. Why wasn't Gomer deployed? Does the reference to the "peacetime" Marines mean that the TV show was supposed to have taken place in some alternate reality (perhaps one created by Barnabas Collins) in the the United States was not involved in the war in Viet Nam? In your post above you mention servicemen who might not be sent overseas, even during times of war. Is it realistic that Gomer is one of those?
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Here's a question for you to answer in a future post. I know you're working on an analysis of Gomer Pyle, USMC for an upcomining post. I have a guide to prime time TV shows which states that Gomer joined the peacetime Marines. Does that term mean something other that what I think it means (i.e., during a time of peace)? Gomer Pyle was on TV from 1964-69, smack dab in the Viet Nam era. Why wasn't Gomer deployed? Does the reference to the "peacetime" Marines mean that the TV show was supposed to have taken place in some alternate reality (perhaps one created by Barnabas Collins) in the the United States was not involved in the war in Viet Nam? In your post above you mention servicemen who might not be sent overseas, even during times of war. Is it realistic that Gomer is one of those?

A couple of things fall into play here, Jeff.

 

First, there is the “guide to prime-time TV shows” which you referenced.  I have nearly all of them that came out in the pre-Internet days, and many of them are rife with errors.  That creates a problem in that, if one finds mistakes in the shows he knows, how can he be certain of the details the book provides about the shows he doesn’t know?

 

The best reference book of that nature that I’ve seen on the market has been The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows; 1946—Present, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh.  I bought the first three editions, as they came out.  The first edition was not error-free, but I noticed that Brooks and Marsh scrubbed their work and, in the second edition, corrected the mistakes.  That tells me two things:  first, that they make a dedicated effort to ensure what they put out is impeccable; and second, that they just don’t spit back half-remembered information gleaned from another source.

 

As I mentioned in a post not too far above this one, too many hard-cover and on-line references display errors because the authors simply passed along something they half-remembered or took from another source that was in error.  “Misinformation begats misinformation.”  There’s a fellow who maintains an excellent site on television; however, while reviewing his site, I discovered that he had committed a couple of small errors.  To his credit, he repaired most of them; however, we went around and around for awhile over the fact that he reported the sign-off of the old Burns and Allen show was George saying “Say good-night, Gracie,” and Gracie responding “Good-night, Gracie.”

 

Uh uh.  Never happened.  Not in their radio show; not in their television show.  George Burns stated such once in an interview.  He remarked that it never happened because, frankly, they never thought of it.

 

The fellow finally saw enough re-runs of the show himself to learn that I was right and he altered the information on his site to reflect that the “Good-night, Gracie” thing was a factoid.

 

My point is:  any information taken from a reference on television, no matter how evidently accurate it is, should be considered cautiously and cross-checked against another reference or more.

 

That said, the remark you cited---that Gomer Pyle joined the peacetime Marines---may not be a factual error so much as an interpretation.  Technically, yes, we had soldiers and Marines fighting in Viet Nam, but in ’64, when the show started, the war hadn’t really ramped up, yet.  That would start when LBJ increased the troop deployments to Indo-China in ’65.  So there really wasn’t a feeling, at the time, that the U.S. was at war.  Just what constitutes being at war is something that can be debated.  There is an argument that any time we have troops in harm’s way, no matter how brief the engagement, then we are at war.  I can’t dispute that viewpoint.  I’m just saying that, in 1964, it didn’t feel like the country was at war, not in the same way it did during WWII and Korea.

 

However, that doesn’t explain the fact that Gomer Pyle and his buddies never seemed destined to head to Viet Nam, even after the ’65-and-after ramp-ups.  Oh, there were episodes in which they were involved in training or war games, but there was never a serious mention of Gomer and his platoon being deployed.

 

It seems pretty obvious why.  No doubt producers Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas merely wanted to present a light-hearted situation comedy.  It was meant to be escapist fare, and they didn’t want to cast a pall over it by mentioning an on-going war, particularly after it started making the nightly news.

 

But, factually, it’s a real leap.   Certainly, even during WWII, every serviceman didn’t get sent overseas to do the fighting.  There are still crucial jobs to be performed over here---training, procurement, logistic support, weapons construction.  Not only do you need officers to oversee all of that, but there needs to be support personnel----clerks, motor-pool mechanics, aviation mechanics, medical people, supply people.  So every enlisted man doesn’t go over and get shot at, either.

 

But here’s the thing:  Gomer Pyle wasn’t a clerk or a supply orderly or a mechanic (though that’s probably what he should have been doing).  Pyle’s military occupation specialty (MOS) was infantryman.  And there’s only one job for infantrymen---to go out and fight the enemy.  Certainly there would be a training pipeline, but it wouldn’t take the five years that the show ran to get him to Viet Nam.

 

So, no, it wasn’t realistic.  Then, lots of things about Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. didn’t reflect the true culture of the Marine Corps.  But not sending Gomer to Viet Nam was probably the biggest deviation from the truth.




Commander Benson said:
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Here's a question for you to answer in a future post. I know you're working on an analysis of Gomer Pyle, USMC for an upcomining post. I have a guide to prime time TV shows which states that Gomer joined the peacetime Marines. Does that term mean something other that what I think it means (i.e., during a time of peace)? Gomer Pyle was on TV from 1964-69, smack dab in the Viet Nam era. Why wasn't Gomer deployed? Does the reference to the "peacetime" Marines mean that the TV show was supposed to have taken place in some alternate reality (perhaps one created by Barnabas Collins) in the the United States was not involved in the war in Viet Nam? In your post above you mention servicemen who might not be sent overseas, even during times of war. Is it realistic that Gomer is one of those?

A couple of things fall into play here, Jeff.

 

First, there is the “guide to prime-time TV shows” which you referenced.  I have nearly all of them that came out in the pre-Internet days, and many of them are rife with errors.  That creates a problem in that, if one finds mistakes in the shows he knows, how can he be certain of the details the book provides about the shows he doesn’t know?

 

The best reference book of that nature that I’ve seen on the market has been The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows; 1946—Present, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh.  I bought the first three editions, as they came out.  The first edition was not error-free, but I noticed that Brooks and Marsh scrubbed their work and, in the second edition, corrected the mistakes.  That tells me two things:  first, that they make a dedicated effort to ensure what they put out is impeccable; and second, that they just don’t spit back half-remembered information gleaned from another source.

 

As I mentioned in a post not too far above this one, too many hard-cover and on-line references display errors because the authors simply passed along something they half-remembered or took from another source that was in error.  “Misinformation begats misinformation.”  There’s a fellow who maintains an excellent site on television; however, while reviewing his site, I discovered that he had committed a couple of small errors.  To his credit, he repaired most of them; however, we went around and around for awhile over the fact that he reported the sign-off of the old Burns and Allen show was George saying “Say good-night, Gracie,” and Gracie responding “Good-night, Gracie.”

 

Uh uh.  Never happened.  Not in their radio show; not in their television show.  George Burns stated such once in an interview.  He remarked that it never happened because, frankly, they never thought of it.

 

The fellow finally saw enough re-runs of the show himself to learn that I was right and he altered the information on his site to reflect that the “Good-night, Gracie” thing was a factoid.

 

My point is:  any information taken from a reference on television, no matter how evidently accurate it is, should be considered cautiously and cross-checked against another reference or more.

 

That said, the remark you cited---that Gomer Pyle joined the peacetime Marines---may not be a factual error so much as an interpretation.  Technically, yes, we had soldiers and Marines fighting in Viet Nam, but in ’64, when the show started, the war hadn’t really ramped up, yet.  That would start when LBJ increased the troop deployments to Indo-China in ’65.  So there really wasn’t a feeling, at the time, that the U.S. was at war.  Just what constitutes being at war is something that can be debated.  There is an argument that any time we have troops in harm’s way, no matter how brief the engagement, then we are at war.  I can’t dispute that viewpoint.  I’m just saying that, in 1964, it didn’t feel like the country was at war, not in the same way it did during WWII and Korea.

 

However, that doesn’t explain the fact that Gomer Pyle and his buddies never seemed destined to head to Viet Nam, even after the ’65-and-after ramp-ups.  Oh, there were episodes in which they were involved in training or war games, but there was never a serious mention of Gomer and his platoon being deployed.

 

It seems pretty obvious why.  No doubt producers Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas merely wanted to present a light-hearted situation comedy.  It was meant to be escapist fare, and they didn’t want to cast a pall over it by mentioning an on-going war, particularly after it started making the nightly news.

 

But, factually, it’s a real leap.   Certainly, even during WWII, every serviceman didn’t get sent overseas to do the fighting.  There are still crucial jobs to be performed over here---training, procurement, logistic support, weapons construction.  Not only do you need officers to oversee all of that, but there needs to be support personnel----clerks, motor-pool mechanics, aviation mechanics, medical people, supply people.  So every enlisted man doesn’t go over and get shot at, either.

 

But here’s the thing:  Gomer Pyle wasn’t a clerk or a supply orderly or a mechanic (though that’s probably what he should have been doing).  Pyle’s military occupation specialty (MOS) was infantryman.  And there’s only one job for infantrymen---to go out and fight the enemy.  Certainly there would be a training pipeline, but it wouldn’t take the five years that the show ran to get him to Viet Nam.

 

So, no, it wasn’t realistic.  Then, lots of things about Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. didn’t reflect the true culture of the Marine Corps.  But not sending Gomer to Viet Nam was probably the biggest deviation from the truth.

 

 

...Ive seen an ad for a book purporting to list all networks schedules , from I guess the very beginng of TV networks in the late 40s to to-day ?????????

  Not sure .

any information taken from a reference on television, no matter how evidently accurate it is, should be considered cautiously and cross-checked against another reference or more.

This gets to be a real problem with Web sites, because many consider their information to be fluid and constantly evolving. They can update it at any time, so having errors isn't a problem, as they will slowly be weeded out.

That's better than not responding to errors of course, but it also means they often have a lower standards for checking things before they post. And once they post, stuff gets spread quickly with errors that just build. Lots of people just cut and paste, expanding the problem.

As someone who has worked mostly in print, I always figure I get one shot to get things right, and it's important not to be wrong, as then that information will always be out there wrong. That's part of the reason I've never been big on crediting uncredited comics in my columns. If I get it wrong based on the information someone could change tomorrow, I'll be wrong forever and adding to the problem.

Needless to say, I don't use Wikipedia information for anything but a starting point.

-- MSA

Which is, perhaps, the biggest reason why I kick myself around the block a few times when I let an error slip in, like I did about the Western and Dell relationship in my last Deck Log post.  Because I don't want to add to the problem of misinformation begetting misinformation.

 

And even having the correct information now, thanks to Luke Blanchard, creates a problem.  If I correct my copy, it looks like I am trying to cover my mistake.  And, sure, Luke provides the correct gouge down in the comments section.  But what if a reader doesn't go down that far? 

 

And quite a few websites don't even have the convenience of simply scrolling farther down the page to read any posted comments; on those, one has to click a link to the comments, and quite often, I don't even think about that.  So on those sites, even if a commenter corrects an error, the likelihood of the misinformation being promulgated is greater.

 

So, you're spot-on, Craig.  One really has only one shot to get it right.

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