Before M*A*S*H, the line between TV comedy and TV drama was as well demarcated as the DMZ between the two Koreas. This military-doctor comedy daringly combined zany humor—equal parts Marx-Brothers slapstick and high-class wordplay—with dark drama, as when the war claimed the life of the base’s first chief, Col. Henry Blake. (The show banned canned laughter in its operating-room scenes, presaging the single-camera, laugh-track-free comedies of today.) Like many great shows, M*A*S*H stayed on the air a few years too long, got preachy, and grew as shaggy and soft as B.J. Hunnicut’s anachronistic hairdo. But it proved that comedy could be serious, drama could be funny and both could cut like a scalpel.

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