Hogan's Heroes is the kind of situation comedy that could or would never be produced or sold to a network today, and that's a shame. Set in a Nazi prisoner of war camp during the height of WWII —not a "concentration camp" as many of the show's detractors have stated over the years—Hogan's Heroes follows the exploits of Col. Robert Hogan and his band of saboteurs as they take on the Germans without their knowing. Week after week the luftstalag's commandant, Col. Wilhelm Klink, is befuddled, besmirched, and beleaguered by Hogan as local airbases, factories, munitions trains, and bridges fell under the bomb making skills of Sgt. Andrew Carter and the myriad talents of the "Heroes." The Germans never win, and Hogan and the allies always triumph—all while embarrassing the hapless Klink in the process.
For all its silliness and unbelievability, the show featured some excellent writing by some of the best scribes in Hollywood. Most of the shows were directed by Gene Reynolds, who would go on to direct M*A*S*H, or were directed by the great Edward S. Feldman, who also served as the show's producer for its entire run. Other technical greats like cameraman Gordon Avil (M*A*S*H), Editor Michael Kahn (Spielberg's editor) and writers Laurence Marks and Albert S. Ruddy brought a professional chemistry to the show that, coupled with the top-notch cast, could actually make one suspend the disbelief.
Small moments were plentiful, and the characters were extremely well-defined for what was a lower-budgeted sitcom. There was a respect—even a friendship of sorts¬—between Hogan and Klink, and the affable Sgt. Hans Shultz ("I know NOOOTTTHHHIIING,") was both an unwitting and "witting" co-conspirator. It's clear to everyone that the kindly Shultz saw the war and the Nazis as a bunch of foolishness, wishing instead to be back home in Heidelberg at the helm of his gigantic toy company, Schatzi Toys. A major spark came in the form of the great Leon Askin who played Klink's boss, General Albert Burkhalter, who simply stole every scene in which he appeared. His nasally German accent, and his expressive face which turned the Burkhalter character into a living cartoon were at once classic examples of the actor's craft. When one considers Askin, who was Jewish, and who escaped from Germany as Hitler turned up the heat on the Jewish population, would ever agree to play a part as heinous as a Nazi General in a television comedy demonstrates the professionalism he brought to the role. Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink), Robert Clary (Cpl. LeBeau), John Banner (Shultz) and Askin, each Jewish, agreed the best way they could affect revenge on their former tormentors was to expose them as complete and total buffoons through the honesty of satire. In fact, Klemperer included a clause in his contract specifying that the Nazis would always lose by episode's end.
An interesting fact for fans of the show is that the producers intended to end the show upon the conclusion of its seventh season, much as the popular "The Fugitive" had done to incredibly high ratings. In fact, Hogan's Heroes was still a very popular and high-rated program in its last year, but was summarily canceled along with a number of similar sitcoms when some new, younger CBS executives decided to usher in the social comedies of Norman Lear. So the final episode, "Lay Down Your Arms" never went past the outline stage. (Remember, when the show completed sixth season production, everyone assumed, based on the ratings, they would be back for another year...)
According to a source on the writing staff, the episode would have included Hogan and the gang shepherding Klink and Shultz to safety. During the show Klink would have been given a tour of the tunnel as they were whisked to safety and a waiting submarine.
In fact, it is of interest that in the final season six show, "Rockets or Romance," the conclusion of the episode is a bit open-ended. This is because the storyline was to pick up again at the beginning of season seven.
Many fans wonder about Ivan Dixon's (Sgt. Kinchloe) departure from the show, and his replacement by Kenneth Washington. Dixon fulfilled the five years his contract required, and left to pursue directing opportunities. In fact, Dixon is considered one of the best television directors ever, and his success helped many African-Americans enter the business in production and executive capacities. Rather than recasting the same role, the producers and writers respected the audience enough to create a new character, Sgt. Baker, as Kinchloe's replacement. We assume Kinch "escaped," but this is never said, as to do so would ruin Klink's perfect record of there never having been an escape from Stalag 13! Washington did an admirable job as Baker, and the show wound up after 168 Episodes (Including the pilot, which was the only episode shot in black and white).
Hogan's Heroes left the broadcast air in 1971, but has been viewed nonstop worldwide in reruns ever since. Here's to Hogan (played by the late, and very missed Bob Crane), the Heroes, and the Nazi villains (such as they were!) who gave us smiles—albeit guilty ones—for so many years!