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23May/150

Radio Comedy Review: The Mel Blanc Show

Around the world, people are sitting at their computer listening to Old Time Radio.

In Boston, Jim says, “I can’t get enough of that Jack Benny.”

While in Sidney, Mike says, “I can’t get enough of the Great Gildersleeve.”

Meanwhile in Boise, Adam Graham sighs and says, “Enough of this Mel Blanc show.”

—If the Writers of Mel Blanc wrote an intro for this review.

Mel Blanc was best known as the voice of Bugs Bunny and a host of other Warner Brothers cartoon characters. He’d also become a real presence on radio, providing talents to a variety of comedians including Abbott and Costello and Burns and Allen where he played the morose and abused “Happy Postman.” He’d also been a regular on the Armed Forces Radio Services portraying a stuttering Private Sad Sack (a modified version of his Porky Pig voice) for programs such as Command Performance and Mail Call.

So, it was natural he would land a sitcom. Unfortunately, for him, he landed it at CBS. CBS comedies during this era were very hit and miss. The Mel Blanc Show would be the first of three CBS programs that wasted a reserve of comedy talent due to sub-par scripts.

It was  not due to a lack of talent. Mel Blanc played himself and he also played his assistant Zookie, who was essentially a civilian version of Sad Sack. Throughout, the production Mel Blanc was supported by Mary Jane Croft as Mel’s girlfriend Betty and the legendary Joseph Kearns appeared as her grumpy father. At different times, the series was supported by Hans Conreid, Alan Reed, and Jim Backus among others.

Early episodes were burdened by an unnecessary uncle who didn’t contribute any plot or humor as well as a third Mel Blanc character, Dr. Chris Crabbe, a vet who had some mannerisms of a dog. The character was strictly for the dogs and was discarded. Also Betty had a little brother who disappeared from the show.

The story improved from dreadful to below average after the first dozen episodes as it relied more on Mel Blanc’s legendary voice talent. To save himself from whatever predicament he got himself into, he’d unleash one or more of his legendary voices. Most of the show’s truly funny scenes came from these moments. I couldn’t help but think this would have been a much better show had they made it a sketch comedy show like Red Skelton.

The program featured a nice set from Victor Miller and the Sportsmen every episode. If you delight in 1940s music, even if you can’t get into the comedy, the musical interlude is pleasant.

However, overall, I have to rank this pretty low compared to other comedies of the era.

The first problem is it was too repetitive.

Repetition and running gags are part of comedy. There’s nothing wrong with them, to a point. Repeating catchphrases is part of situation comedy from Lum Edwards saying, "I'm worn to a frazzle, worn to a frazzzle" to Steve Urkel's nasally plea of, "Did I do that?" after one catastrophe or another. Even show without such obvious repetition would have characters doing similar things.

The problem with the Mel Blanc show is, once the show is established, every episode is exactly the same with the opening narration illustrating how pathetic Mel is, to Betty's  father coming over to complain about a repair job and calling Mel an idiot, and Mel "accidentally" calls him one back. Then we learn about what passes for a plot and Mel gets some task, Zookie goes to talk to Betty's father, which leads to Mel being displaced by Hartley Bentley, who brags about how attractive women find him. Then Mr. Cushing the lodge president comes over and complains about how ugly his wife is. After this, Mel finally gets around to explaining his problem. Mr. Cushing suggests he disguise himself and use a funny voice, Mel Blanc does so, has a final scene with Betty, cue the music.

The show's writer, Mac Benoff, would eventually get less repetitive, though not until he wrote Life with Luigi.  When I reviewed Life with Luigi three and a half years ago, I noted it was somewhat repetitive. Compared to the Mel Blanc Show, Life with Luigi was the most original program on radio.

The other thing Benoff would figure out is how to make his lead character likable. As written, the character of Mel is a born loser with no personality. It's hard to root for the character to triumph and get the girl when I see no reason to care about him at all.  At a time when radio featured such likable and memorable characters as Fibber McGee, the Great Gildersleeve, and Chester Riley, Mel is written as a nebulous void.

The show was cancelled after one season with poor ratings and I can't argue with either the network or the audience. The best thing to say for the Mel Blanc Show is that, unlike CBS's future talent-wasting comedy duds, the show did no long-term harm.

After a decade and a half in serialized daily radio comedy and six movies, in 1948,  Lum 'n Abner came to CBS prime time in a show sponsored by Fridgidaire. It essentially destroyed their careers. In 1950, After nine seasons and four movies as the Great Gildersleeve, Harold Peary got his own show for CBS, which lasted one season and managed to put him into supporting roles for the rest of his career.

Mel Blanc's career emerged unscathed. Blanc continued to provide voices for all the wonderful cartoon characters he was legendary for doing. He also did radio work and made the transition to early television along stars such as Jack BennyThroughout his lengthy career, he showed how funny he could be when given good material. It's a pity that didn't happen in the show that bears his name.

Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0

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23May/150

EP1580: Dragnet: The Big Knife

Jack Webb
Twenty-one girls have been knifed at a local high school. Joe Friday and Ben Romero must catch the perpetrator before he kills one of his victims.

Original Air Date: May 11, 1950

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22May/150

EP1579: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Sick Chick Matter

Bob Bailey
A friend of Johnny's call him in to investigate when his chickens are becoming ill.

Original Air Date: February 9, 1958

When making your travel plans, remember http://johnnydollarair.com

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21May/150

EP1578: Nick Carter: The Case of the Classical Clue

Lon Clark

Nick is contacted by a wealthy man to investigate his ward's fiancé but the man is murdered before Nick can speak to him.

Original Air Date: February 1, 1947

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20May/150

EP1577: Philip Marlowe: The House that Jacqueline Built

Gerald Mohr

Marlowe is hired to find a missing house on New Year's Eve.

Original Air Date: December 31, 1949

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19May/150

EP1576: Police Headquarters: $80,000 Robbery and Two Officers Disappear

A fur robbery occurs but the criminals get away far too quickly in $80,000 Robbery. 

Two police officers disappear when bringing in a dangerous fugitive and then a gang boss offers an Inspector a deal

Episodes: 19 and 22

Original Air Date: 1932

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18May/150

EP1575: The Saint: The Bride Who Lost Her Groom

Vincent Price

Louie brings a bride whose groom didn't show up for the wedding.

Original Air Date: February 11, 1951

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16May/150

EP1574: Dragnet: The Big Badge

Jack Webb

Joe Friday and Ben Romero hunt a man who holds up parked cars while pretending to be a police officer.

Original Air Date: May 4, 1950

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16May/150

Book Review: The Case of the Courteous Killer

In 1958, Dragnet had been with America for nearly a decade, with 318 Radio performances coupled with more than 200 TV episodes, and a movie. It’s in this atmosphere that Richard Deming wrote his tie-in Dragnet novel, the Case of the Courteous Killer.

It begins with an unassuming man holding up couples in lover’s lane, eventually killing a man who thought the unassuming robber would be easy to handle in the first of a series of murders. Joe Friday and Frank Smith are called in to locate and apprehend the suspect.

Adapting television shows to novels is tricky business, but the late Mr. Deming does a superb job capturing the spirit of the 1950s TV show while producing a story that was more gripping and involved than half hour television would allow.

Deming nails the voices of Joe Friday and Frank Smith. Friday was particularly important as the story is told in typical Dragnet first person. There were a couple moments I didn't quite buy, though. For example, I found the idea Joe Friday watched the Boston Blackie TV show to be a little unbelievable. There are also funny moments with Frank Smith providing comic relief as he talks about his brother-in-law and various goings on. Truly, I could imagine this on TV as I read it.

The mystery was far beyond typical Dragnet cases, which were resolved in half an hour, but it was in that same matter of fact style. There are many twists as this criminal changes methods, the police stumble upon an almost unbelievable coincidence that's too strange for Dragnet's genre, and the courteous killer twice attempts to exact some not-so-courteous revenge on Joe Friday.

The story lost a bit of momentum and dragged in the last little bit with some repetitive moments before finishing up strong at the end.

Still, if you love 1950s Dragnet, or are a fan of clean early police procedural, this is a really good and engaging read.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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15May/151

EP1573: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Price of Fame Matter

Price of Fame
Vincent Price calls for Johnny's help to locate a priceless stolen painting.

Original Air Date: February 2, 1958

When making your travel plans,  remember http://johnnydollarair.com

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