M*A*S*H aired weekly on CBS, with most episodes being a half-hour in length. The series is usually categorized as a situation comedy, though it has also been described as a “dark comedy” or a “dramedy” because of the often dramatic subject matter.[A]
The show is an ensemble piece revolving around key personnel in a United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in the Korean War (1950–53). (The asterisks in the name are not part of military nomenclature and were creatively introduced in the novel and used in only the posters for the movie version, not the actual movie.)[clarification needed] The “4077th MASH” was one of several surgical units in Korea.
While the show is traditionally viewed as a comedy, many episodes had a more serious tone. Early seasons aired on network prime time while the Vietnam War was still going on; the show was forced to walk the fine line of commenting on that war while at the same time not seeming to protest against it. For this reason, the show’s discourse, under the cover of comedy, often questioned, mocked, and grappled with America’s role in the Cold War.
Episodes were both plot- and character-driven, with several narrated by one of the show’s characters as the contents of a letter home. The show’s tone could move from silly to sobering from one episode to the next, with dramatic tension often occurring between the civilian draftees of 4077th – Hawkeye, Trapper John, and B.J. Hunnicutt, for example – who are forced to leave their homes to tend the wounded and dying of the war, and the “regular Army” characters, such as Margaret Houlihan and Colonel Potter, who tend to represent patriotism and duty (though Houlihan and Potter could also represent the other perspective at times). Other characters, such as Col. Blake, Maj. Winchester, and Cpl. Klinger, help demonstrate various American civilian attitudes toward Army life, while guest characters played by such actors as Eldon Quick, Herb Voland, Mary Wickes, and Tim O’Connor also help further the show’s discussion of America’s place as Cold War participant and peace maker.