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Hogan's Heroes is an American television sitcom set in a German prisoner of war (POW) camp during World War II. It ran for 168 episodes from September 17, 1965, to April 4, 1971, on the CBS network. Bob Crane starred as Colonel Robert E. Hogan, coordinating an international crew of Allied prisoners running a Special Operations group from the camp. Werner Klemperer played Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the incompetent commandant of the camp, and John Banner was the inept sergeant-of-the-guard, Hans Schultz.
The setting is a fictional version of Stalag Luft 13 (Camp 13 in early episodes), a prisoner-of-war camp for captured Allied airmen located north of the town of Hammelburg in the Bad Kissingen woods. It was on the Hammelburg Road (now known as E45), on the way to Hofburgstraße and eventually Düsseldorf. "Anchors Aweigh, Men of Stalag 13" (S1E16) reveals the camp is 60 miles from the North Sea. Another episode places the camp 106 kilometres (66 mi) from Heidelberg in flying miles; it is 199 km (124 mi) by car. The camp has 103 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) during the first season, but becomes larger by the end of the series.
Though the series spans several seasons, it's always winter at Stalag 13; there are ever-present patches of snow on the ground and on buildings, and prisoners regularly gather around a barrel fire or shiver through roll call.
The farcical premise of the show is that the prisoners of war (POWs) are actually using the camp as a base of operations for Allied espionage and sabotage against Nazi Germany as well as to help Allied POWs from other camps and defectors to escape Germany (including supplying them with civilian clothes and false identification). The prisoners work in cooperation with an assortment of resistance groups (collectively called "the Underground"), defectors, spies, counterspies, disloyal officers, and others. The mastermind behind the whole operation is the senior ranking prisoner American Colonel Robert Hogan. His staff of experts in covert operations comprises two Americans, one British serviceman, and one Frenchman. They are able to accomplish farfetched schemes such as having a prisoner visit the camp as a phony Adolf Hitler or rescuing a French Underground agent from Gestapo headquarters in Paris. The show is thus a combination of several writing styles that were popular in the 60s: the "wartime" show, the "spy" show, and "camp comedy."
Colonel Hogan and his band are aided by the incompetence of the camp commandant Colonel Klink and Sergeant of the Guard Schultz who wants to avoid trouble more than anything. Hogan routinely manipulates Klink and gets Schultz to look the other way while his men conduct these covert operations. Klink and Schultz are constantly at risk of being transferred to the cold and bloody Russian Front, and Hogan helps to keep the duo in place if for no other reason for fear of their being replaced by more competent soldiers. In general, Germans in uniform and authority are depicted as inept, dimwitted, and/or easily manipulated. Many of the German civilians are portrayed as at least indifferent towards the German war effort or even willing to help the Allies.
Klink has a perfect operational record as camp commandant in that no prisoners have escaped during his time in the job (two guards may have deserted). Hogan actually assists in maintaining this record and ensures any prisoners who need to be spirited away are transferred to another authority before their escape takes place, or replacements are provided to maintain the illusion that no one has ever escaped from Stalag 13. Because of this record, and the fact that the Allies would never bomb a prison camp, the Germans use the Stalag for high level secret meetings or to hide important persons or projects the Germans want to protect from bombing raids. Klink also has many other important visitors and is temporarily put in charge of special prisoners. This brings the prisoners in contact with many important VIPs, scientists, high-ranking officers, spies, and some of Germany's most sophisticated and secret weapons projects (Wunderwaffe), which the prisoners take advantage of in their efforts to hinder the German war effort.
The main five Allied prisoners (Hogan and his staff) bunk in "Barracke 2" (a goof here was that whenever the door was open, another building labeled "Barracke 3" could be seen, even though the barracks were supposed to be directly in front of the Kommandantur, which was, unlike actual prison camps, situated inside the prisoner's compound (kommandantur = headquarters, barracke = barracks). The prisoners are able to leave and return almost at will via a secret network of tunnels and have tunnels to nearly every barracks and building in the camp, so much so that Hogan, in a third-season episode ("Everybody Loves a Snowman"), has difficulty finding a spot in the camp without a tunnel under it. The stove in Klink's private quarters, a tree stump right outside the camp (known as the emergency tunnel), and a doghouse in the guard dog compound serve as trapdoors. A bunk in their barracks serves as an elaborate trapdoor and the main entrance to the tunnels. The tunnels include access to the camp's Cooler, a name used by Allied prisoners for solitary confinement, where prisoners are routinely sent for punishment and to hold special prisoners temporarily entrusted to Klink. Just inside the "emergency tunnel" is a submarine-style periscope, which the prisoners use to check conditions outside the tree stump trapdoor. There is also a periscope in their barracks with one end hidden in a water barrel outside the barracks and the other disguised as a sink faucet inside the barracks that allows them to see events in the compound.
The prisoners' infiltration of the camp is so extensive it includes control of the camp telephone switchboard, allowing them to listen in on all conversations and to make phony phone calls. They have radio contact with Allied command, based in London, code named "Mama Bear" in some episodes and "Papa Bear" in others. Hogan's code name is "Goldilocks" sometimes, and Papa Bear other times, although in later seasons Stalag 13 utilized different code names. Their radio antenna is hidden in the camp flagpole on top of Klink's headquarters, and the prisoners are able to make phony radio broadcasts including some by a prisoner impersonating Adolf Hitler. A real microphone, hidden in Klink's office in the picture of Hitler making a speech exactly where the microphone is in the picture, allows the prisoners to hear what is being said in the office (the speaker is disguised as the coffee pot in their barracks). The guard dogs are friendly to the prisoners, thanks to the town veterinarian Oscar Schnitzer (played by Walter Janowitz), who supports the prisoners. He routinely replaces the dogs on the premise that they could become too friendly with the prisoners, but he also uses his truck to smuggle people and items in and out of the camp, where the German guards are too afraid of the dogs to open the truck. Prisoners work in the camp's motor pool and "borrow" vehicles, including Klink's staff car, as needed to carry out their schemes. Sections of the barbed wire fence are in a frame which the prisoners can easily lift when they need to get out of the camp. When required, Allied airplanes land near the camp, or make airdrops. Allied submarines pick up escapees and defectors Hogan and his men are helping flee Germany.
Other notable actors to appear on Hogan's Heroes included the following:
The pilot episode, "The Informer", filmed in early 1965, aired on September 17 that year. The episode's plot centered on two new prisoners entering Stalag 13 (in this episode, referred to as Camp 13), Lieutenant Carter (played by Hovis), who escapes into the camp, and Wagner (played by Noam Pitlik), who is actually a German spy posing as an Allied prisoner. Wagner attempts to expose Hogan's operation to General Burkhalter (here known as Colonel Burkhalter), but Hogan and his men are able to discredit the spy. As punishment for his outlandish claims, the spy is sent to the Russian front.
Although the series remained true to the pilot in most respects, there were some changes. Some of the prisoners' luxuries, such as an underground steam room, were eliminated to make the situation marginally less implausible. The character of Colonel Klink was made more of a fool than a villain, while his sharp accent was toned down. Klink did not affect the monocle seen in all later episodes, and his walk had less of the distinctive stoop. He also does not carry the swagger stick he often affected during prisoner roll calls in other episodes.
The major difference was that only the pilot was shot in black-and-white. After the series was sold to CBS, the network announced a major push in color programming for the 1965-66 season, and so the rest of the season (and the series) was filmed in color.
The character of Vladimir Minsk, a Soviet POW played by Leonid Kinskey, was intended to be a series regular. However, Kinskey declined to continue with the series. Stewart Moss, who played an American POW named Olson in the pilot, also declined an offer to become a series regular. Larry Hovis was intended to be a guest star in the pilot only. However, producer Ed Feldman was impressed by his performance and, after Kinskey and Moss declined to take part in the series, was offered a regular role. Hovis' character was changed from a Lieutenant to a Sergeant. According to Hovis, Feldman chose to do this because "sergeants are more sympathetic." Although Hovis' character had escaped at the end of the pilot, Feldman did not see this as a problem because he believed "no one will care".
Outdoor scenes were filmed on the 40 Acres Backlot in Culver City, California. The set was destroyed in 1974 while the final scene of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS was filmed.
The theme music for Hogan's Heroes was composed by Jerry Fielding. Fielding added lyrics to the theme for Hogan's Heroes Sing The Best of World War II – an album featuring Dixon, Clary, Dawson, and Hovis singing World War II songs. The song also appeared on the album Bob Crane, His Drums and Orchestra, Play the Funny Side of TV.
The actors who played the four major German roles—Werner Klemperer (Klink), John Banner (Schultz), Leon Askin (Burkhalter), and Howard Caine (Hochstetter)—were Jewish. Furthermore, Klemperer, Banner, Askin, and Robert Clary (LeBeau) were Jews who had fled the Nazis during World War II. Clary says in the recorded commentary on the DVD version of episode "Art for Hogan's Sake" that he spent three years in a concentration camp, that his parents and other family members were killed there, and that he has an identity tattoo from the camp on his arm ("A-5714"). Likewise John Banner had been held in a (pre-war) concentration camp and his family was killed during the war. Leon Askin was also in a pre-war French internment camp and his parents were killed at Treblinka. Howard Caine (Hochstetter), who was also Jewish (his birth name was Cohen), was American, and Jewish actors Harold Gould and Harold J. Stone played German generals; Jon Cedar played a camp guard.
As a teenager, Werner Klemperer (Klink) (son of the conductor Otto Klemperer) fled Hitler's Germany with his family in 1933. During the show's production, he insisted that Hogan always win over his Nazi captors or else he would not take the part of Klink. He defended his playing a Luftwaffe Officer by claiming, "I am an actor. If I can play Richard III, I can play a Nazi." Banner attempted to sum up the paradox of his role by saying, "Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?" Klemperer, Banner, Caine, Gould, and Askin play stereotypical World War II Germans, and all had served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II — Banner and Askin in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Caine in the U.S. Navy, Gould with the U.S. Army, and Klemperer in a U.S. Army Entertainment Unit.
Hogan's Heroes won two Emmy Awards out of 12 nominations. Both wins were for Werner Klemperer as outstanding supporting actor in a comedy, in 1968 and 1969. Klemperer received nominations in the same category in 1966, 1967 and 1970. The series' other nominations were for comedy series in 1966, 1967 and 1968; Bob Crane for actor in a comedy series in 1966 and 1967; Nita Talbot for supporting actress in a comedy in 1968; and Gordon Avil for cinematography in 1968.
In 2002, TV Guide named the Emmy-winning Hogan's Heroes the fifth worst TV show of all time in an article titled, TV Guide's 50 Worst TV Shows Ever. The entry for Hogan's Heroes in particular accuses the show of trivializing the suffering of real life POWs and the victims of the Holocaust with its comedic take on prison camps in the Third Reich. Some critical pieces, such as The Great TV Sitcom Book, did concede that, although the premise was ludicrous, the writing and acting were good.
German film distributor KirchGruppe acquired the rights to Hogan's Heroes, but did not broadcast it for many years due to fears that it would offend viewers. It was first broadcast on German television in 1992, but the program failed to connect with viewers. However, after the dialogue was rewritten to make the characters look even more foolish (which ensured that the viewers understood the characters were caricatures), the show became successful. The German version also introduced new unseen character, "Kalinke", who is Klink's cleaning lady and perennial mistress. Colonel Klink describes her as performing most of her cleaning duties in the nude.
Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, the writers of the 1951 play Stalag 17, a World War II prisoner of war story turned into a 1953 feature film by Paramount Pictures, sued Bing Crosby Productions, the show's producer, for infringement. However, their lawsuit was unsuccessful. While the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, the federal judge overruled them. The judge found "striking difference in the dramatic mood of the two works." The differences in the two works are obvious but you have to wonder about all the similarities between the two, especially with both works featuring very similar Sergeant Schulz characters. 
In 2012, an arbitration hearing was scheduled to determine whether Bernard Fein and Albert S. Ruddy, the creators of the show, had transferred the right to make a movie of Hogan's Heroes to Bing Crosby Productions along with the television rights or had retained the derivative movie rights. In 2013, Fein (through his estate) and Ruddy acquired the sequel and other separate rights to Hogan's Heroes from Mark Cuban via arbitration, and a movie based on the show has been planned.
CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released all six seasons of Hogan's Heroes on DVD in Region 1 & 4. The series was previously released by Columbia House as individual discs, each with five or six consecutive episodes.
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