The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

28Aug/100

Johnny Staccato Paroled onto DVD

Back in May, I wrote about TV detectives locked in Copyright jail. (i.e detective shows that are unavailable as they are under copyright and not being actively marketed by their copyright owners.) We can strike one detective from the list. All 27 episodes of Johnny Staccato, that Jazz Pianist Private eye played by John Cassavettes are being released on DVD this October 12th.

Kudos to Timeless Media Group for another great DVD release. From Crime Dramas like Checkmate to Westerns like the Virginian and Branded, they are doing great work in preserving some of the great forgotten shows of years past. Hopefully, Johnny Midnight and Felony Squad will get their chance soon.

5Aug/100

EP0204: Sherlock Holmes: Murder Beyond the Mountains

Basil Rathbone

*During a time when Sherlock Holmes was believed to be dead, he confronts a murder mystery at a Tibetan monastery.

Original Air Date: January 14, 1946

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5Jun/101

The People You’ll Meet When Climbing a Building

Someone has put together a mash-up of some high profile cameos that Batman and Robin ran into during the 1960s Batman series.

Old Time Radio fans will recognize the names of some of these stars: Howard Duff (Sam Spade on the radio, but making the cameo in his role as Detective Sergeant Sam Stone of Felony Squad), Jerry Lewis from Martin and Lewis, Art Linkletter from People are Funny and House Party, Edward G. Robinson from Big Town and many other productions. It's some light Saturday fun that reminds me of the unique place that the 1966 Batman show has in my heart.  While, it's certainly not the best Batman TV show ever, it has the rare quality that makes a TV show in demand more than 40 years after going off the air.

29May/100

TV Detectives Locked in Copyright Jail

Recently, I got the Best of TV Detectives (affiliate link), a 150 episode collection of TV Detective shows. Despite the fact that not all of them were detective shows. (Two public domain episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and a few crime dramas) it's been quite a treat to catch some of these shows for the first time.

There was Front Page Detective with David Chase which called to mind some of the great radio detectives in its characterization. Racket Squad, Public Defender, Code 3, and the Court of Last Resort played off of Dragnet in their mix of entertainment and education about various aspects of law enforcement and crime. The set has further spurred my interest in other TV Detective shows, long forgotten to see what can be found.

The shows can be divided into the following categories:

1) Mostly/Completely in the Public Domain: TV shows made before 1964 were given a 28 year copyright term, renewable for another 28 years.  Those shows that didn't renew entered the public domain. Each episode had to be renewed individually. That's why you'll find episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show (an otherwise copyrighted show) in dollar DVD bins. However, some shows simply didn't renew at all. Some had a very good reason. Their network had gone belly up. The DuMont TV network produced several early television shows, but within 28 years, they were out of business, and whoever had been assigned Dumont's Copyrights let them lapse. Other shows just lapsed for whatever reasons, perhaps official inattention as the shows weren't being syndicated.

Just because a show has lapsed into the public domain doesn't mean the public can actually see it. If there's no film left, it might as well not exist.

Shows that have lapsed completely or mostly into the public domain tend to have a variable nature about the number of shows available, usually a sparse few episodes claimed from a TV station that had paid to syndicate the show one at point. The economics is simple. There's no one with an economic incentive to care for the show or care if its episodes survive. The results: spotty prints, few prints, and many adventures lost.

2) Shows with few episodes in the Public Domain:

This category of shows was mostly renewed, but a few episodes slipped into the public domain. Examples of this include one episode of the 1960s TV show Burke's Law that lapsed into the public domain, as well as two episodes of the very cool Peter Gunn. Next to actually being released commercially on to DVD, this could be the best possible situation for a TV Detective. An episode or two in the public domain. Fans are teased by the cheap public domain episode and made curious about other episodes, which can lead to the release of a full box set. Those who knew 1960s Detective Series Checkmate has only been available on bootleg DVDs, but the popularity of public domain episodes spurred a release of the Best of Season One and the The Best of Seasons Two. Now a complete set of all 70 episodes is set for release this year.

Copryighted And Actively Available: This is a good state for the show be in. Those shows that have been fully copyrighted and are fully available are available to watch. Shows like Perry Mason and the Rockford Files are easily accessible to mystery fans on TV and DVD, and in many cases online. Copyright preservation helps to ensure quality condition (usually) of prints, while some public domain shows can be of variable quality.

However, there is a downside to continued copyright protection when a series remains under protection but is completely unavailable.  Unlike, the public domain series, no third party can come in and make episodes available. I found quite a few interesting sounding detective serials that I'd love to see, if only they would release a DVD. Here are a few detective shows from the 1950s I'd love to see, if the respective owners would release them:

1) Johnny Midnight:

In Copyright Jail until: 2056

Edmond O'Brien, eight years after leaving Yours Truly Johnny Dollar returned to the serial gumshoe role as Broadway Star turned private detective named Johnny Midnight.  You can't really go wrong with Edmond O'Brien as a detective. (see DOA and the Killers for more proof.) So this sounds like an interesting series.

2) Johnny Staccato:

In Copyright Jail until 2055

John Cassavetes stars as Johnny Staccato, a Jazz musician who is a private detective. It makes me think of a  mix of Pete Kelly's Blues and Man with a Camera. I haven't seen much with Cassevettes. He was a television pioneer who spent much of his career behind the camera, but he was very good in a 1972 Columbo movie, Etude in Black. Rated 8.7 out of 10 by IMDB users.

3) The Line Up

In Copyright Jail: Until 2055

The Line-up was based on an old time radio show of the same name and was one of the string of police procedurals that came out after Dragnet. It was set in San Francisco and ran in syndication for many years as San Francisco Beat.  Doing a copyright search, some episodes of this show have fallen into the public domain but the public domain shows haven't come into any type of circulation. IMBD.com user rating: 6.9

4) Felony Squad:

In Copyright Jail: Until 2064 

This is a show that's a fascinating must for fans of Old Time Radio.  It stars Sam Spade's Howard Duff  as Detective Sam Stone, who works in a major crimes unit in a Western City. The show also featured Ben Alexander of Dragnet as Desk Seargent Dan Briggs. Rated an 8.7 on IMDB. It should be noted that this show at one point, had a few episodes released on VHS, but not released on DVD.

It's interesting to read about the show, however it would be even more interesting to watch it.  Hopefully, copyright owners will take note and begin to release legal authorized versions of these shows on websites like Hulu or DVD, so that a new generation of fans will enjoy them.

It should be noted that Hollywood can make some bizarre decisions with these DVD releases. (There are more official seasons of Bonanza available to watch in Germany than in the United States.) If you think these shows belong on DVD, or there are other shows not currently on DVD that you'd like to see, you can go to TVshowsonDVD.com and let your voice be heard by voting for your favorites.

15May/100

Bill Cosby’s Detective Show

One of the Google searches that hit the site recently was for "Bill Cosby Detective Show." People remember Bill Cosby for his Comedy, particularly the ratings sensation, The Cosby Show. But, Bill Cosby did try his hand as a TV detective.

 

It was 1994 and Cosby's first project after the end of the Cosby Show and his choice was the Cosby Mysteries which followed recently retired police officer, Guy Hanks as he found himself retired after a heart attack and winning the lottery on the same day, but still drawn back to serve as criminologist solving cases for the NYPD or occasionally private clients.

The mysteries were well-written with surprising twist and turns, and plenty of tension. The character of Guy Hanks was typical Cosby. There was always the light touches that are in most Cosby Characters (going back to Kelly Robinson in I Spy.)  He and Police Detective Adam Sully (played by James Naughton) had good chemistry. He also had a good sidekick in aspiring young criminologist, Dante (Mos Def.) Cosby as an elder mentor always make for good entertainment.

The show had some fantastic episodes. My favorite featured Douglas Adams (writer of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as a husband who runs into Hanks at the Party and has a discussion about the art of murder because he's about to murder his own wife, and Hanks has to stop him without leaving the party.  In another, his Cosby show wife, Phylicia Rashad played an old flame and competing criminologist.

It was a fun show that sadly lasted only for 19 episodes. There are a number of reasons why. Cosby pointed to the timeslot quipping that with the Cosby Mysteries, "The biggest mystery was when it was on."

The show may simply have come too late. Cosby chose to make the show a character-driven detective story rather than using violence and sensationalism to gain ratings.  The PG Detective shows that had been popular through much of the 1970s and 1980s with TV shows like the Rockford Files, Quincy, and Magnum PI, were passing from the scene.

Matlock had been forced to jump networks from NBC to ABC in 1992. The 1990s saw CBS fail with a revival of Burke's Law and later in the 1990s drew a blank with Buddy Faro. Angela Lansbury continued to have success with Murder She Wrote, though that would also disappear in 1996.

The TV mystery and cop series that would take to the air in the 1990s and since have tended to be more lurid and violent, and to really sell the show based on that. Of course, there are exceptions, but the PG detective show may be the hardest one to make today.

The Cosby Mysteries' biggest problem may not have been that there was something wrong with the series but not enough right. Two truly sucessful PG Detective shows that each managed eight seasons on the air were Diagnosis Murder. (1993-2001) and Monk (2001-2009). Both shows succeeded by being more than detective shows. The quirky Mark Sloan and the Neurotic Adrian Monk made for shows that you didn't have to be a mystery fan to enjoy, with plenty of comedy. In Diagnosis Murder's case, they also made use of guest stars, bringing several old TV detectives back to television such as Mannix, Adam 12 co-stars Martin Milner and Kent McCord, and Andy Griffith as Matlock, after Matlock was cancelled by a second network.

The biggest problem with the Cosby Mysteries was that its creators didn't understand that a good mystery wasn't enough to hold an audience. Still, fans of good mysteries would do well to give the Cosby Mysteries a look if they see it on reruns. Unfortunately, the show has not been released on DVD.

26Mar/100

RIP Robert Culp

Robert Culp has passed away. As with other older actors whose work I shouldn't be familiar with, I'm a big fan of Culp's and Bill Cosby's I Spy. I have it on my Netflix Instant watch queue. It was truly cool and showed forth wonderfulness. Even 40 years later it stands up pretty darn well. And Culp will definitely be missed

Bill Cosby paid tribute to his friend :

"The first-born in every family is always dreaming for an imaginary older brother or sister who will look out for them," Cosby said. "Bob was the answer to my dreams."

If you haven't seen I Spy, I'll give you a fair chance to avail yourself if you've got 51 minutes to spare. (yes, in the 1960s, you actually could get 51 minutes of show in an hour.) And if you've got another fifty minutes check out Greatest American Hero, a 1980s show featuring Culp.

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