Larry Gelbart, one of the creators of M*A*S*H, explains how “The Interview” episode from February 24, 1976 was created.
Eschewing both color film and a laugh track, the black-and-white episode features war correspondent Clete Roberts playing himself and interviewing members of the M*A*S*H unit. He and the characters face the camera directly and talk about their life. Gelbart developed the script by having an assistant interview the actors in character and molding their improvised answers into a basic framework. Then, he directed the episode by having Roberts ask the questions to the actors on-camera—telling him to add some of his own questions into the mix. The resulting footage was assembled to create a faux documentary, anticipating the mockumentary form that would become integral to the genre decades later. “The Interview” has humorous moments, of course, but it also aspires to pathos and melancholy. The overall message is that war is absurd and tragic. By mixing black humor with satire, antiwar outrage, and moments of melancholy, M*A*S*H established a new tone for the sitcom and opened genre possibilities that would have been unthinkable just a few years before.