To be Continued is a word fraught with mixed emotions for many television viewers. When their favorite Television show embarks on a muliple episode story line, viewers are guaranteed more complex, more involved, and perhaps developed stories. On the downside, there’s the long wait to find out what happened next week or in some cases, next season.
Many radio detectives began as 15 minute serialized programs in the 1930s and 1940s. Programs such as I Love a Mystery, Charlie Chan, A Man Called Jordan, and Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons began as 15 minute serials. However, most went to half hour format. And in the half hour format, each episode was a self-contained story with very few exceptions.
What were these rare multi-part episodes of half hour programs?
Generally, adapting a novel as a half hour radio series guaranteed the novel would be condensed beyond recognition, so a few mystery novels were adapted to radio in multiple parts. In the 1930s, several Charlie Chan novels were adapted this way. In addition, the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio franchise adapted three of the Holmes’ Novels in the midst of doing half hour adaptations of Doyle’s stories as well as original stories based on suggestions in the stories. Only one of these (from the Rathbone-Bruce perfomance) is in circulation.
Another detective story to get the multi-part adaption was Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone considered by many to be the first detective novel, it was adapted in four parts by NBC’s series The World’s Great Novels and then in two parts for Suspense, both of which are in circulation.
Beyond these literary adaptations, there were some detectives that ventured into the land of To Be Continued…
Adventures of Sam Spade (1946):In November 1946, CBS tried what had to be one of the boldest ratings plays ever in making a radio sequel to The Maltese Falcon called the Khandi Tooth Caper. The original movie was an all-time classic, so this radio version was against tough odds. Still, CBS must have gotten good reaction, because when Suspense expanded to an hour, CBS smashed the two scripts of Sam Spade together to make one hour long episode of Suspense. Thus, while the original Sam Spade episodes aren’t in circulation, the one hour Suspense story is about the same thing only with a cameo by Philip Marlowe.
Sherlock Holmes (1949) : In John Stanley’s second season of Holmes, Mutual experimented with doing multi-part stories in “The Elusive Agent” trilogy which as the title implies was much more of a spy story than a traditional detective mystery. It appears that they didn’t quite get the reaction from the public that they heoped for to the experiment as they’d hoped for, as it wasn’t repeated.
Candy Matson (1950): According to Digital Deli, Candy Matson’s attempt at the two part episode was a bit of fiasco. To begin with, without any notice to its audience NBC moved the show leading, a local newspaper to print, “Don’t tune for Candy Matson tonight on KNBC, because she will not be present. In a last minute move, KNBC put the show on last night at 7 o’clock. ”
Then an episode with a cliffhanger with Candy praying the 23rd Psalm as an airplane was crashing into a lake. The show didn’t air the next Monday, but that was because NBC movied it back to Tuesdays. Under such circumstances, getting one parters done was hard enough. Sadly, the episodes are not in circulation.
Dragnet (1950-53): Jack Webb did a grand total of six two part episodes out of Dragnet’s first two hundread and six. These were more elaborate story lines that allowed for a more-in-depty portrayal of criminal investigations. None of the episodes were cliff-hangers. With the exception of “The Big Mask,” the two parters showed Friay and his partner capturing accompliaces, but still in need of getting Mr. Big. The two parters fell out of favor in the final third of Dragnet’s run. This may be because viewers had not reacted well to the only Dragnet two parter to air over television and by mid-to-late 1953, the radio show had become the source for future scripts to the television series, so if it couldn’t be used on television, it wasn’t much good to do it.
Yours Truly Johnny Dollar (1957-59): Johnny Dollar in the Bob Bailey era was best known for its five part serials from 1955-56, after which it shifted to the half hour format. However, the show also turned out one two part episode a year from 1957-59. This included “The Mason-Dixon Mismatch Matther” and “The Dixon Murder Matter” from 1957 and the two part “Mojave Red Matter” (1958) and “Buffalo Matter” (1959). The multi-part matters became more necessary as CBS became more aggressive in selling ads, thus cutting the amount of time for plot down to a minimum. Two two part episodes may have only had a little more plot than what used to be single 30 minute shows.
Matthew Slade, Private Investigator (1964): Just past the traditional endpoint for Old Time Radio (September 30, 1962), this show was a solid radio revival entry which attempted to recreate the feel of hard boiled detectives. It began with a three part serial, The Day of the Phoenix. While Parts 1 and 2 are available everywhere, Part Three is hard to lay its hands on.
These multi-part episodes are fun when you can find them, but in a way, I’m glad there weren’t more. With so many gaps in old time radio series, we benefit from having self-contained shows that don’t require two or three shows ahead of it be intact as well. The way radio worked out in the 1940s and 50s has made it possible to enjoy prograsms without having to worry about gaps.
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