China Beach was a military drama set during the Vietnam war which ran on ABC from 1988 – 1991. Starring Dana Delany in a breakout role as Head Nurse Colleen McMurphy, following her through her tour of duty, and won 19 Golden Globe Awards (with 38 nominations) during its network run.
Much like M*A*S*H did with the Korean war a decade earlier, China Beach focused not on the actual battles of the Vietnam conflict, but rather focused on the everyday lives of the doctors, nurses, and other personnel attached to the American evacuation hospital in Da Nang on how to come to grips and cope with the horrors of war. Unlike M*A*S*H however, China Beach told it’s stories primarily from a woman’s point of view, as well as explaining what happened to certain characters after they returned to the States.
The show was also noted for its visceral content, displaying the gruesomeness of war in detail that was unusually graphic for television shows of the time.
The creators also made use of unusual and unconventional storytelling methods, sometimes utilizing cartoon style animation or brief interviews with actual Army nurses, many of whom were consultants to the series.
China Beach was praised by critics, and enjoyed a small but loyal fan base, but never ranked very high in the all important Nielsen ratings. After four seasons, three years on the air, and sixty two episodes, it was put on hiatus and finally canceled in 1991. Dana Delany won the show’s final Emmy, for Best Actress, at the 1992 Emmy Awards.
Producer John Wells would go on to produce the highly acclaimed series ER, and many from the China Beach cast would go on to appear in that show as well.
The show lived on in syndication for several years, but as of 2009, it has yet to be released on DVD. There is speculation that securing rights to much of the music heard on the show has proven problematic, and is the most likely cause for the delay.
In 2010, Vietnamese authorities banned the use of the word “China Beach” to describe the legendary strip of coastline, citing tensions with China over disputed island territory.