This book purports to be a "homage to M*A*S*H, to the people who made it and acted in it." The book includes interviews with the main cast actors, producers and directors, a summary of every M*A*S*H episode in the broadcast order, listings of all the writers and directors, a list of all nominations and awards for the series, and even a list of all companies producing M*A*S*H memorabilia. Illustrated by over 200 photos (half of them in color), the book could, at least at the time it was published, rightly claim to come close to its title about being "complete."
But it is precisely the fact that it was published in 1984, soon after the series finale, that must be borne in mind when evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of this book.
The first part of the book, covering the background to M*A*S*H is a valuable resource to any M*A*S*H fan, with insights into how the series came to be, and how the many episodes were written, produced and filmed. Included are many photos of the sets, including some of the best ones of the Fox ranch.
The core of the book, however, are the interviews and episode summaries. The interviews are predictable. Writing about a series that had just had its finale, Kalter obviously chose to focus her interviews on the main personalities behind the series: all the main cast members are interviewed, as are Gelbart, Reynolds, Metcalfe and several writers and editors.
Fans, of course, would have liked to hear more from the minor character players and people who worked behind the scenes. But writing in 1984, Kalter was perhaps not to know that some of the extras and bit players would go on to become big names themselves and that people would be interested in how they started their careers. Equally she might not have expected that the M*A*S*H phenomenon would grow the way it had, and that fans would be researching every detail and nuance in the show, from the layout of the set to the bathrobes used.
It's a pity, because, writing in 1984, she would have had the best access. The extras would be around and readily found and many of the details would still be fresh in people's minds. Fox had also given her access to their scripts and provided the photographs. Many details of who was acting which role, who this nurse was, could all have been settled by looking at the call sheets.
Writing in 1984 and in the days before episode summaries were widely available on the internet and on wikis like this(!), Kalter's summaries were a valuable resource for anybody wanting to follow the series on reruns.
Kalter's episode summaries (which she calls 'Battle Notes') are a major issue with this book. She confesses that the summaries were written by reading the scripts (or at least some version of each script) rather than by watching the episodes. Presumably she did not have access to the episodes on videotape or found it too expensive to buy the whole set.
The episode summaries sound strange, like they have been written by someone who is not very familiar with the series or who had not actually watched the episodes. Details are mentioned which did not actually show up in the episodes as finally produced. For example, in Season 3 "Springtime", the summary states that during Klinger's wedding ceremony-by-radio, Klinger tosses the bouquet to Radar who is so flustered that he tosses it to Margaret who catches it with delight. However no such scene exists in the episode.
The images used to illustrate the various episodes likewise have issues. Many of the pictures show angles or scenes that were not actually in the produced episodes. In "Dreams" for example, Kalter has an image of Margaret's dream scene with her in her wedding gown and Hawkeye next to him. No such scene exists in the episode. Kalter explains that in her summaries, she has sometimes omitted one or two of the multiple plots lines in each episode for the sake of brevity. But this results in her summaries sounding highly unbalanced. For example, in the summary for the Season 6 episode Images, she chose to focus on Radar's attempts to get a tattoo, ignoring the arguably much more important and powerful plot line about Margaret's relationship with Lieutenant Sandra Cooper.
Nonetheless, the inaccuracies of the summaries and the images are of research interest in themselves. They give us an inkling of what some earlier versions of the scripts might contain, and what scenes did not make it past the cutting room.