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Classic War and Military Television: 3 TV Shows That Shaped the Genre

By    |   Monday, 02 Nov 2015 04:20 PM

Shows like "M*A*S*H," "Hogan's Heroes," and "McHale's Navy" are classic war and military TV shows that paved the way for modern shows while tackling social issues related to military life and war, such as suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder in often serious yet comedic ways.

Shows like "The Unit," "Army Wives," "Band of Brothers," and "JAG" had the advantage of having shows set the stage for talking about the flaws of military life. It also allowed them to expand on what had already been done.

1. "M*A*S*H" (1972-1983)

As the story of a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War, "M*A*S*H" (Alan Alda) used humor and hijinks to offset the serious nature of the show.

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Often, Cpts. "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Trapper" John McIntyre (Wayne Rodgers) would relieve the tension of war by making sport of Mjr. Frank Burns (Larry Linville), but those lighthearted moments would brace the audience for the dark drama of saving the wounded, breaking the news to a soldier he would never see or walk again, and even handling death.

The show didn't shy away from killing Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) at the end of the third season to illustrate that people don't always make it home from war.

In many ways, "M*A*S*H" was a pioneer for the genre. During the show's run, the writers, actors, and creators weren't afraid to criticize or show the ugliness of war. The consequences of the chain of command and military decisions were also fair game.

The show was so beloved that the finale became the most watched broadcast in television history and held that record for nearly three decades; it also spawned two spinoffs, "AfterM*A*S*H" and "Trapper John."

2. "Hogan's Heroes" (1965-1971)

"Hogan's Heroes," starring Bob Crane and Werner Klemperer, centered on a group of Allied Forces prisoners of war in World War II Germany and how they worked from within to sabotage the German war effort.

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Because of the horrors of WWII, "Hogan's Heroes" has been criticized for its lightheartednessas people lose the context and the era in which it was created, but given the show's longevity, it appealed to Americans who experienced the war firsthand and their children.  

3. "McHale's Navy" (1962-1966)

"McHale's Navy," starring Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway, also takes place during World War II, but based in the South Pacific, until the last season when the location shifted to Italy.

What made this show unique was that it illustrated the Japanese as a serious threat, and how a small group of men could sabotage their efforts all while giving their superior officer fits. The show's creators also weren't afraid to tackle serious issues, showing the dangers of war, even as the sailors schemed to get money, women, and have a good time.

Through humor, "McHale's Navy" lampooned military life and wartime decision-making.

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Shows like "M*A*S*H," "Hogan's Heroes," and "McHale's Navy" are classic war and military TV shows that paved the way for modern shows while tackling social issues related to military life and war, such as suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder in often serious yet comedic ways.
classic, war and military, tv
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2015-20-02
Monday, 02 Nov 2015 04:20 PM
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