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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Commander Benson said:

Richard Willis said:

Also, [NCIS LA] would more properly be NIS (Naval Intelligence Service), since virtually nothing they do relates to conventional crime or Navy/Marine matters.

 

Actually, Mr. Willis, there is no such agency as "the Naval Intelligence Service"; it's the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and has been under that nomenclature since its founding in 1882.

 

There used to be a Naval agency that went by the initialism of "NIS"---the Naval Investigative Service.  But it changed its name to "the Naval Criminal Investigative Service" (NCIS) in 1992.

 

 

I think that they've made that point in the show too. The main character of Gibbs joined when it was still NIS.

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.

...Okay , I have just , years alter , read the entirety of this line , which , even though I had contributions to it , I didn't initially .

  Ooh , did I TWICE reference the last page to Mad's " Hogan's Heroes " satire ? Ooper .

  Just to say something about one of the actors referenced here...In my youth , my parents tended to hold Pernell Roberts up to me as an example of someone getting too big for his britches ~ Citing his leaving BONANZA and (at that time) going on to nothing in particular/not very much .

  I've recently seen some M*A*S*H on ME-TV , early-years...I saw an episode where " Ronny HOward " is a 15-yr old who has lied himself into the Army at his too-young age , Hawkeye discovering this when Howard's character is brought in to M*A*S*H .

  There seem to have been at least two major posts here that were ~ Deleted by their authors ? ~ , one , what would appear to have been a question by someone who was in the military during the Vietnam War but never stations in or near Vietnam itself as to whether he should/can wear a " Vietnam Veteran " cap , to which the Commander suggested he not , which I would agree with .

   I suppose " Vietnam-Era Veteran " would be alright , but it wouldn't make particularly good cap .

  The other was something that seemed to survive in a quote of mine , relating to the " MA*S*H Goes To..." paperback novels of the 1970s .

  I will say this ~ a major reason I went back to this thread was that I remembered SOMEONE ~  the Cmdr. ? ~ posting a fairly lengthy " springboard for a last episode of HOGAN'S HEROES " that would make a for a somewhat " credible " explanation of the series . There are some attempts at " serious " what-iffing regarding HH , but I didn't find what I remembered .

  Was there something like that somewhere else ?

...I was going to Edit/add on to my above post , but I remembered the experience I've had where I have found , that Editing a post in the sense of adding a considerable amount of text onto it , tends to lead to trouble even if you're on machines newer than this one I am now on .

  So , I'll add this here .

  Actually , I saw , on the front page , that the line lists " 179 Replies " - Well , I counted them in fact and I found , up until the above one , there were only 171 replies ~ Does the " Replies " counter keep listing replies that are up once even if they are taken down/somehow combined with another one later on ?????

  That seems likely , especially considering the right column's tendency to keep initial misspellings in  the fragment shown there , even if one corrects it later on !!!!!!!!!!!

  Also , I counted all the posts in this line as I read it ~ and I noticed that there is a standard of 12 posts per page , length of the post aside .

  Now , I've seen some HH on ME-TV in my recent watching of it , to...I'm just not that interested in the show . I never particularly was . Nice theme song tho' . Maybe if I tried to watch it some more...

  As far as re-run shows supposedly watched by every roughly 60s/early 70s kid , I wasn't much of a fan of HH . Or of F TROOP (Again , nice theme song , tho' .) . Or , same " nice " qualifier however , GILLIGAN'S ISLAND . I did see the B&W episode that revolved around a broken-submarine-stationed unaware Japanese military man (who had " gone to UCLA ") showing up in the castaways' harbor , though . The character was played fairly broadly ~ Would such a character be allowed to be portrayed that way on contemporary TV ?

  What objections were there to CAR 54 , WHERE ARE YOU ? that got it cancelled early ?

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

I suppose " Vietnam-Era Veteran " would be alright , but it wouldn't make particularly good cap .

I belong to the Vietnam Veterans of America. Occasionally the "Vietnam Era Veteran" vs actual "Vietnam Veteran" question comes up. Part of the problem is the US military's shoddy record-keeping. Some veterans have PTSD or Agent Orange problems who were sent there on "temporary duty" and are thus denied assistance. Also the Veteran's Affairs Dept has a habit of denying claims because of a veteran's MOS (military occupational specialty) which is ludicrous. They seem to think that only infantrymen were affected by these things. Vietnam Era veterans are allowed to join the V.V.A. I have trouble understanding why they would want to join if they were never assigned to the land, air, or sea units that actually fought there.

Wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap doesn't rise to the level of what is called Stolen Valor. As has been widely reported some people have been known to claim war service and usually medals for valor when they either were never assigned to war zones, were so assigned but had no valor awards, or were never in the service at all. The US Supreme Court recently said that laws against this were an infringement on free speech. Replacement laws are being drafted that would approach this as a type of fraud, if it can be proven that something of value (election to office, jobs, money) was being acquired this way.

I wasn't much of a fan of HH . Or of F TROOP (Again , nice theme song , tho' .)

Hogan's Heroes was generally respectful of the WWII Allies while portraying the Germans as either venal, stupid, or both. As I said in my other post, it was hard to believe that only the Gestapo or SS officers (which they conflated into one thing) were actually Nazis. Colonel Klink impressed me as a throwback to the days when an officer's commission was awarded just because of family connections/nobility. Klink certainly seemed to have had no real training. For those who don't know, the actors Werner Klemperer (Klink) and John Banner (Sgt Schultz) were both Jews whose families were forced to flee the Nazis.

F Troop was in the mold of Sgt Bilko, with the NCOs being corrupt and everybody else being stupid. The Wikipedia entry says "the show's ratings were still healthy after the second year (ranked #40 out of 113 shows for the 1966-67 season, with a 31.3 share), but according to (Forrest) Tucker, Warner Bros.' new owners, Seven Arts, discontinued production because they thought it was wasteful for so much of the Warner Ranch to be taken up by a single half-hour TV show. Producer William Orr says the studio was also unhappy with the added costs of producing the show in color during its second season."

What objections were there to CAR 54 , WHERE ARE YOU ? that got it cancelled early ?

Like F Troop, Car 54 had only two seasons. One person speculated on a UK website that the NYPD pushed to have it cancelled. I think if it was really making money and otherwise inoffensive the studio would have kept it going. Usually shows are cancelled because not enough people are watching them.

Richard Willis said:

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

What objections were there to CAR 54 , WHERE ARE YOU ? that got it cancelled early ?

Like F Troop, Car 54 had only two seasons. One person speculated on a UK website that the NYPD pushed to have it cancelled. I think if it was really making money and otherwise inoffensive the studio would have kept it going. Usually shows are cancelled because not enough people are watching them.

That's nonsense on its face. The New York Police Department, or some other police agency, might refuse to cooperate with any given TV show's or movie's producers, but it can't get a project canceled. 

Also, "because not enough people are watching them" isn't the only reason shows get canceled. Sometimes production costs make it unfeasible to continue. For example, as noted above, the cost of switching from black-and-white to color killed F-Troop.

Sometimes, the decision is simply that once enough episodes are in the can for syndication, what need is there to make more? The Dick Van Dyke Show ended after five years just for that reason. The latter-day Star Trek spinoffs, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, were planned to go seven years and no more.

The original Law & Order died because TNT didn't want to pay the price for picking up the 21st season's reruns, and without that guaranteed buyer, the production costs were higher than NBC was willing to live with. NBC pressured producer Dick Wolf to take a cut in his fees, but he balked, and NBC pulled the plug. (For Dick Wolf's part, he has always believed NBC got less than appropriate value for the Law & Order reruns, and that it shouldn't be on him to make up the budget shortfalls on their mistake.) Something similar is going on right now with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, according to Deadline Hollywood Daily: "Could It Be Curtains for the 'Law & Order' Franchise?"

ClarkKent_DC said:

Also, "because not enough people are watching them" isn't the only reason shows get canceled. Sometimes production costs make it unfeasible to continue. For example, as noted above, the cost of switching from black-and-white to color killed F-Troop.

Yes. In many cases the costs of science fiction and fantasy shows prove to be too much for the revenue they bring in.

Sometimes, the decision is simply that once enough episodes are in the can for syndication, what need is there to make more? The Dick Van Dyke Show ended after five years just for that reason. The latter-day Star Trek spinoffs, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, were planned to go seven years and no more.

I've heard this five-years-in-the-can rule before in order to qualify for lucrative syndication deals. Also, they can only hang on to the critical actors for so long. Law & Order was the biggest exception to this. It makes sense that people come and go in a city job. Some of the characters went easy and some went hard.

Doctor Hmmm? said:

I remember Trapper John lived in a mobile home in the carpark of the hospital.  Between him and Petrochelli, it must have been something of a lifestyle choice back then.

It wasn't Trapper John himself, but his protegé, Gonzo Gates. It was an easy way of showing that he was A Rebel Who Doesn't Follow the Rules. I'm surprised they didn't have him ride a motorcycle through the hospital hallways.

 

If House hasn't done that yet, I'm sure he will eventually.

I remembered this post when I saw this publicity still for NBC's new drama, The Night Shift:

Granted, this show is not a sitcom -- at least, despite the photo above, it's not intentionally meant to be funny -- but there is a military angle in that many of the doctors at this San Antonio hospital are Afghanistan war veterans. Including Our Hero, A Rebel Who Doesn't Follow the Rules (the one astride the motorcycle, of course).

Some commentary from TV Club: "Look Upon This Night Shift Press Shot and Despair"

...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 !!!!!!!!!!!

...Hot tramp . I love you so .

  Or , as Chic put it , " Rebels Are We ":-).

  Is the show's consultant trying to make The Bad Boy pass for Hugh-As-Wolverine ???????????

ClarkKent_DC said:

Doctor Hmmm? said:

I remember Trapper John lived in a mobile home in the carpark of the hospital.  Between him and Petrochelli, it must have been something of a lifestyle choice back then.

It wasn't Trapper John himself, but his protegé, Gonzo Gates. It was an easy way of showing that he was A Rebel Who Doesn't Follow the Rules. I'm surprised they didn't have him ride a motorcycle through the hospital hallways.

 

If House hasn't done that yet, I'm sure he will eventually.

I remembered this post when I saw this publicity still for NBC's new drama, The Night Shift:

Granted, this show is not a sitcom -- at least, despite the photo above, it's not intentionally meant to be funny -- but there is a military angle in that many of the doctors at this San Antonio hospital are Afghanistan war veterans. Including Our Hero, A Rebel Who Doesn't Follow the Rules (the one astride the motorcycle, of course).

Some commentary from TV Club: "Look Upon This Night Shift Press Shot and Despair"

To paraphrase Cannonball Run,

"He's trying to help people. On a motorcycle, he can do it faster!"
 
ClarkKent_DC said:

Doctor Hmmm? said:

I remember Trapper John lived in a mobile home in the carpark of the hospital.  Between him and Petrochelli, it must have been something of a lifestyle choice back then.

It wasn't Trapper John himself, but his protegé, Gonzo Gates. It was an easy way of showing that he was A Rebel Who Doesn't Follow the Rules. I'm surprised they didn't have him ride a motorcycle through the hospital hallways.

 

If House hasn't done that yet, I'm sure he will eventually.

I remembered this post when I saw this publicity still for NBC's new drama, The Night Shift:

Granted, this show is not a sitcom -- at least, despite the photo above, it's not intentionally meant to be funny -- but there is a military angle in that many of the doctors at this San Antonio hospital are Afghanistan war veterans. Including Our Hero, A Rebel Who Doesn't Follow the Rules (the one astride the motorcycle, of course).

Some commentary from TV Club: "Look Upon This Night Shift Press Shot and Despair"

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