Month: September 2011

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.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser 

The Amazing Mr. Monk

“He’s the guy.”

“Here’s what happened.”

These catch phrases were heard constantly throughout the remarkable eight season run of Monk over the USA television network.

Crime television has become grittier and focused on scientific investigations. Monk was a throwback in more than ways than one as a PG detective series where mysteries were solved by magical genius.

Monk performed acts of crime solving prestidigitation through his ability to look at the same evidence and see what other investigators didn’t see and make the most amazing connections. In one case, Monk solved two cases by reading newspaper articles including one about a case in France.

This sort of genius detective had become fashionable with the success of Sherlock Holmes but fell out of favor with the public. Most of these genius detectives have been forgotten and even those who are remembered (Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Father Brown) have detractors who criticize them for being arrogant, too perfect, and not relatable.

Whatever the merits of these criticisms, new detectives have tended to be clever and resourceful rather than super geniuses. As such, the show creators were entering risky territory when they so overtly based Monk on Holmes.

Monk worked in the 21st Century because he was a very real and human character, beset by a variety of phobias and compulsions, and in severe grieving over the death of his late wife.

In the first scene of the Premier episode, “Mr. Monk and the Candidate”, Monk incisively cut through a smokescreen by which a murderer had tried to make their crime look like a burglary gone wrong while at the same time obsessing about touching a lamp and fearing he’d left the gas at his home on.

The scene set the tone for the series. In Monk, was a mixture of brilliance and mental and emotional wounds. Monk’s carrying two conflicting packages allowed the series to be not only a mystery series but a comedy drama with a character that viewers could relate to.

Monk’s struggles gave him an unusual set of challenges. If he was going to make it as a detective, he had to not only find the criminal, but fight back against his inner demons. While few people suffered from the sheer number or power of Monk’s compulsions and phobias, those who suffered from a few could relate and be encouraged by Monk’s triumphs, creating a great human story.

Monk was far from the gold and distant geniuses who have all but vanished from the public memory. As Captain Stottlemeyer observed in Mr. Monk and the End, “I’d always thought that Monk was not all there, like there was something missing, like he was less than human. But he wasn’t missing anything. He was seeing more than anybody. he was feeling more than anybody. That was his problem. He was too human. If we had more like him, we’d be better off.”

The mysteries in the early seasons were great fun with stories like, “Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico,”  in which Monk goes to Mexico to investigate the case of a man who allegedly drowned in midair, “Mr. Monk and the Three Pies” featuring Monk’s smarter brother Ambrose (modeled on Mycroft Holmes.)

Tony Shalhoub netted three Emmys and a Golden Globe in the show’s first four seasons on the air.  Throughout the series, he was backed up by Ted Levine, who played the tough but kind Captain Stottlemeyer and Jason Gray-Stafford who brought more than his share of comedy relief as the eccentric Lt. Randy Disher.

While Shallhoub would remain, the show would go through many changes. In the middle of season Season 3,  Monk’s first assistant Sharona Flemming,(played by Bitty Schram) left the series and was replaced by Natalie Teager (Traylor Howard) a move that some fans (not me) say led to the show jumping the shark. Stanley Kamel, who played Monk’s therapist Dr. Kroger, died after Season 6 and was replaced by Hector Elizondo.

The show did begin to weaken, particularly as far as the mystery plots were concerned, in the second half of the series, but this had little to do with casting changes and more to do with the writing. More and more, the writers resorted to paint by number mysteries where all that was necessary was to remember that everything revealed in the story is a clue and you too would figure out whodunit.  In some cases, this was done because of the limits of writing for 40 minutes of story on television, with a mix of several genres. If it was a choice between losing something, the writers seemed to prefer writing a weak mystery plot.  Towards, the very end, it seemed the writers were just plain running out of ideas with episodes like, “Mr. Monk and the Dog” and “Mr. Monk Goes Camping” both of which used variations on  prior  better episodes.

Yet, despite this, the show remained popular because viewers began to care about the character of Adrian Monk, so much so that the show’s finale made national headlines. And that’s actually when I started watching it. Through DVD’s and later the Netflix Instant Watch, my wife and I watched the whole series. I should add that my wife is not a fan of most mystery shows, but she loved Monk.

Over the next five weeks, we’ll be counting down the top 20 episodes of Monk. The best episodes of Monk put together the elements of drama, comedy, and mystery.  Monk put a 21st Century spin on the classic detective story and created one of television’s most compelling characters in the process.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

EP0500s: Lux Radio Theater: To the Ends of the Earth

Dick Powell

Narcotics Commissioner Michael Barrows (Dick Powell) witnesses a Japanese sea captain throwing 100 slaves overboard to cover up a narcotics ring. Barrows is determined to get justice and sets out on a globe trotting adventure to break the ring and capture the murderous captain.

Original Air Date: May 23, 1949

Become one of our friends on Facebook….

Cast your vote for the show on Podcast Cast Alley…

Click here to download, click here to add this podcast to your Itunes, click here to subscribe to this podcast on Zune, click here to subscribe to this feed using any other feed reader.

EP0500: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Alma Scott Matter

Edmond O'Brien

The prime suspect in the murder of an insured asks Johnny to meet him and protests his innocence.

Original Air Date: December 29, 1951

Become one of our friends on Facebook…

Take the listener survey at

Click here to download, click here to add this podcast to your Itunes, click here to subscribe to this podcast on Zune, click here to subscribe to this feed using any other feed reader.

EP0499: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Missing Heiress

Sherlock Holmes searches for the daughter of a Canadian multimillionaire.

Original Air Date: October 5, 1947

Cast your vote at

Become of our friends on Facebook…

Take our listener survey at

Click here to download, click here to add this podcast to your Itunes, click here to subscribe to this podcast on Zune, click here to subscribe to this feed using any other feed reader.