Quail Ridge Books and Music—As wisecracking-but-loyal Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell became a television icon. Though he’s worked regularly as an actor and producer since then, most of Farrell’s work has been behind the camera as a human rights advocate, involved in everything from antiwar and anti-death penalty activism to refugee aid. He visits Quail Ridge Books tonight as part of a month-long, 8,000-mile tour to promote the paperback edition of his autobiography, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist.
Just Call Me Mike is one of the rare books that seem to have gained the endorsement of liberals and conservatives alike (both George McGovern and Bill O’Reilly contribute glowing blurbs to the back cover). When we spoke with Farrell on the road, he’d just had dinner the night before with former CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson.
M*A*S*H was the ultimate fluke—a hugely successful series with explicit antiwar elements aired while the Vietnam War was going on. Farrell, who’s seen many of the current, commercially unsuccessful Iraq films and feels that “the quality is quite extraordinarily high,” believes the intense coverage of the war in the electronic media has helped keep audiences away. “I’m still very saddened that these wonderful efforts to tell stories about this awful war aren’t receiving the attention I think they deserve,” says Farrell, who adds that he liked In the Valley of Elah and Rendition, but did “not care much” for Lions for Lambs.
What would it take for a socially relevant fictional work to connect with today’s audience? “It would take some careful packaging, staying away from an overt message, making the message more subtle,” Farrell says. “I think people are overwhelmed [by war coverage], generally. They want to be entertained, taken away from the reality of the day. So to do it in a way that would be successful, I think you’d have to find a way to do it that was allegorical, rather than overt.” He maintains that despite its continuing popularity, M*A*S*H could not be done today. “If you came with an idea like that, [networks] would run from it.” —Zack Smith