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25Sep/110

Box 13 in the 21st Century


I recently received a listener question from Kathleeen about Box 13:

I had a thought; what do you think the "Box 13" ad would look like if it were on CraigsList?

The question is easy enough to answer but raises another one that's a little more complex, How would a modern day Dan Holiday make a Box 13-type scenario work in the 21st Century?

Dan Holiday (played by Hollywood legend Alan Ladd) was a reporter who decided to try his hand at writing mysteries. He had a unique idea to come up with plots for his stories. He put in ad in the Star Times saying, "Adventure Wanted, will go anywhere, will do anything. Write Box 13." That simple premise made Box 13 one of the greatest radio adventure mystery series ever made and it was actually our first series. (See: Archives.)

In the time of Dan Holiday, newspapers were king. They were the cheapest way to communicate a message to the general public. Not only did Dan Holiday use newspapers, so did George Valentine of Let George Do It, and the legendary Nero Wolfe placed newspaper ads for a variety of purposes. In In the Best Families he announced his retirement with a newspaper ad, and in Might as Well be Dead, he used an ad to search for the missing Paul Harrell.

Newspapers worked for Dan Holiday with his little ad run repeatedly because people saw it over and over again. In fact, in many episodes, the correspondents mentioned that they'd seen the ad several times which gave them the idea to write to Box 13 when they had a need for a freelance adventurer.

The Box 13 situation gave Holiday a suitable cloak of mystery. It allowed him to keep secret the source of his novel ideas and to protect himself from cranks with the notable exception of the adventure, "Find Me, Find Death."

The 21st Century is different.  The internet has overtaken newspapers  as the top source of news and information. So how would a modern Dan Holiday make this work?

He may be able to get away with newspaper ads for a while. Many of Holiday's adventures came from letters from older people who would be more likely to still be reading newspapers. But how would Holiday communicate with the Internet generation?

The Craig's List ad would probably be the same as his newspaper ad with a notable exception (the inclusion of a website):

Box 13-Craig's List

(Note: At the time of writing this post, the domain was not registered by anyone. I'm not responsible what might be there when you're reading this post.)

Including the website would not be strictly necessary. As readers could respond to the Craig's list post by clicking on a link in the ad.  The big challenge with something like Craig's list (other than the fact that I don't know under what category you'd even advertise as a freelance adventurer) is that there's no way to stand out the same way Dan Holiday's repeated newspaper ad did in the original series.

In the 21st Century, Holiday would need to do something else. He'd have to take the Box 13  thing and make it go viral to get the type of response he wanted. His publisher would probably insist on it. Holiday would probably have all the blogging and social networking stuff going and it'd only be a matter of time before he had a legion of followers and fans.

Imagine a guy who could write tweets like:

Good news: got my first response on Box 13. Bad news: She's trying to frame me for murder.

In Louisiana, fighting alleged voodoo curse.

I don't think he'd have any problem getting followers.

The BBC Series, Sherlock, which imagines Holmes in the 21st Century makes full use of modern technology including text, email, and the Internet.  These elements don't make the show successful. Rather, they serve to establish this Holmes firmly in his time. What makes the show work is the strength of the chracters and the stories.

The same thing is true of Box 13. A 21st Century Dan Holiday might carry an Android Phone, but if he's still a daring adventurer who will charge in where angels dare to tread to help someone, his story would still work if it's done right.

Ed Note: It should be noted that David Gallaher, a listener to the program, wrote a graphic novel which imagines a 21st Century Dan Holiday. However, Gallaher uses Box 13 in a different way. 

If you have a question about classic radio, television, or movies that you'd like me to write about, I'd welcome your suggestions. You can email them to me on our contact form.

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