Memories make 'M*A*S*H' special a must-see for fans

November 25, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Question: What does Shelley Long have to do with "M*A*S*H"?

Answer: She was a guest performer in one of the 251 episodes of the hit series that ran from 1972 to '83.

Conclusion: Long would be the perfect person to host "Memories of M*A*S*H," a 90-minute retrospective airing at 9:30 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11).

If this line of thinking makes sense to you, then you are ready to program a television network. If it doesn't, you are going to have lots of company tonight wondering why Shelley Long gets so much air time. Long is there, because she's a star with some box office appeal. If CBS thought segments with tap-dancing chickens would bring viewers to this special, they would be part of tonight's package, too. Which is to say, CBS comes not so much to celebrate "M*A*S*H" tonight as to strip any last bits of Nielsen flesh from its bones. NBC and CBS are neck-and-neck for first place in the November ratings "sweeps-stakes," and tonight could decide the battle.

That's the bad news. The good news is that "M*A*S*H" was so well-written, acted and produced that even the haphazard array of clips in tonight's special often manages to connect with shared memory and transport you back into the world of Hawkeye, Trapper John, and the rest of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit.

There are interviews with all the major players and producers. The most emotional conversation is with Gary Burghoff, who played Radar. Burghoff seems genuinely moved in talking about his farewell scene with Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson).

There are enough of those moments to make "Memories of M*A*S*H" a must-see for the millions who followed the show. But be warned, it's long on Long and short on showing why so many loved this comedy.

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