Monday, November 19, 2012

U.S. History 1974-75: TV, M*A*S*H, Chapel Hill, Lorne Michaels and the Bicentennial

In the M*A*S*H episode "There Is Nothing Like a Nurse" (originally aired Nov. 19, 1974), the 4077 nurses are evacuated upon intelligence of a forthcoming air raid. It turns out to be a harmless pamphlet drop by so-called "5 O'clock Charlie," and the nurses return to much jubilation. The end.

Over the course of the episode, the show's makers appeared to have jammed in several very funny, probably leftover gags (trapping Major Burns in a latrine with a jeep, Hawkeye's riffing over a mailed-from-home wedding film, etc.) that were probably each too short to carry their own storyline. M*A*S*H was in its third season, and it had really found its stroke. The show is confident enough by this point to fly plot-light and play to its established base. This episode is probably unlikely to have won over any too many new converts to CBS at 7:30 p.m. Central Tuesdays, but it's a treat for fans who get to explore all sorts of little idiosyncrasies of their beloved characters through this highly amusing amalgamation of one- to three-minute, only loosely associated scenes.

In addition to the gags, there are three separate musical numbers led by guitar-toting Capt. Calvin Spalding, portrayed by Loudon Wainwright III. He's a pleasant enough troubador and, in real life, the dad of singer-songwriters Martha and Rufus Wainwright. According to Wikipedia, Loudon III is the 1946 yield of the union of a Life editor and yoga teacher. He's a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., a former "new Dylan" and still a frequent contributor to the scores and soundtracks of hit movies, such as Knocked Up.

Loudon III bubbles back up on TV in the Nov. 15, 1975, Saturday Night Live, performing his rousing preview of the now-near Bicentennial, “Bicentennial.”

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