Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Early Detective TV Shows

The very first television detectives

In the late 1940s, TV was still new technology but many of the types of shows
Ralph Bellamy points at Fred Astaire
we see now, you could see then.

Children's programs, Westerns, news, soap operas, comedies, game shows, variety shows, anthology dramas and a good amount of amateur hour/you can be a star programs.

By the early 1950s only a tiny percentage of the television line-up consisted of programs devoted to mystery, police, law or crime drama. Until 1949, nationally, what TV police existed were characters on other shows.

Excerpt from Dragnet, The Big Screen radio show, August 1951
Friday and Romero are assigned to stop a TV Repair Racket:

Captain: "It's a pretty vicious racket. It ought to be stopped now. Television's a wonderful medium of entertainment.  A lot of the country doesn't have it yet but when the cable goes through and it finally opens up people should know about the swindlers and the crooks who'll try to gyp them."

Romero: "It was the same way when radio first came in. Always seems like when something new comes along and it's a little complicated a little too involved for the average guy, a few smart punks victimize them, rob the consumer blind."
-- Episode also done for TV 1955

1949-1954 Martin Kane, Private Eye. William Gargan, Mark Stevens, Lee Tracy and Lloyd Nolan played the title role.

Diahann Carroll, Lloyd Nolan
Nolan would later appear in Julia

1949-1954 Man Against Crime (also known as Follow That Man) Ralph Bellamy starred in the private eye series. Robert Preston would co-star.

1950-1952 The Adventures of Ellery Queen. Richard Hart and Lee Bowman

Lee Bowman shown with Joan Blondell
starred.  After actor Richard Hart died, Lee Bowman took over the role.  
Following the radio show, there have been different incarnations of this program that included actors Donald Cook, David Wayne and Jim Hutton. 

Helene Hanff, later famous for writing the biographical 84 Charing Cross Road also wrote for this series. Ann Bancroft played Hanff in the film version of 84 Charing Cross Road. 

The Adventures of Ellery Queen, Murder To Music.
Live Kinescope 1951 TV Episode. DuMont Television Network

1950–1952 Dick Tracy. Ralph Byrd played the detective. When Byrd died this  series ended.

1952-1953 Biff Baker, U.S.A. Alan Hale, Jr. as the Cold War spy.

And to a lesser extent...
1946 You Be the Judge a game show that re-enacted real-life court cases. (Local NYC broadcast)

1948-1951 Court of Current Issues (aka Court of Public Opinion) [Not to be confused with Erle Stanley Gardner's The Court of Last Resort 1957-1958.]

The Court of Last Resort

Grand-Daddy of Reality TV?

Unit-99 was a radio show (1957-58) where a real Sacramento police sergeant carried a tape recorder along with him. Some of the episodes can be hard to listen to. These may be the grandparents of Reality TV or at least predecessors of shows like the Cops TV series. You can find the show on MP3 and some free old time radio to stream.

Sergeant Dan Meredith, Unit 99 from the Sacramento Police Department "carries the [tape] recorder with him to the police station as well as the scenes of the crime as he interviews victims, bystanders, and narrates the action as it happens. While collecting the facts about petty thefts, hold-ups and first-degree murders, radio listeners get a taste of what it was like to be a cop in the 1950s."
-- OTR Cat [link above]

If you like the Cops TV show, listening to the police scanner, Unit 99 has you riding along with a real cop in the 1950s. Not an opportunity anyone expected to get. 
Unit 99 may be found in a genres True Police or Real-Action Police Stories.

Dragnet Early Television Cop Series

84 Charing Cross Road; Helene Hanff; Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins

Actor Lee Tracy: What happened in Mexico didn't stay in Mexico 1933

Julia Baker: 10 Famous TV Moms: Nurse Costume Ideas

A great variety of Detective shows and some free old time radio 

Ralph Bellamy My Girl Friday :: FDR Sunrise at Campobello 

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