Tag: Golden Age article

Is a New Golden Age of Audio Dramas Coming

As we hunker down during the global pandemic, those with more leisure time have binged a whole lot of television and been able to find distraction in new episodes of their favorite programs.

Many live late night programs have continued with the host at home and guests also at home. While this can work to an extent for Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, it raises a point.

How is this going to work for scripted dramas? There are so many logistical issues with filming a TV show or movie. The sheer number required to be working together on the set, the close proximity that actors have to get to each other, etc. If some form of social distancing continues to be enforced, any TV shows and movies produced during this time are going to look quite odd. That’s if they can be produced at all.

While it’d be an interesting idea to do more animation of popular TV shows, the truth be told, there’s not going to be time before the Fall Season to produce high quality animation to continue beloved shows.

The answer may be for the shows to re-embrace the audio medium they abandoned nearly sixty years ago and work to release new programs over radio. British Audio Drama company Big Finish announced on March 17th that it was suspending recording due to the COVID-19 virus and therefore would not be in studio. However, 9 days later, they were back in production having discovered that most of their stars could work from home and the direction could also be done remotely.

Dramatic podcasts around the world have been doing the same thing for years, as producers using affordable software have been able to mix and blend voices from thousands of miles away to tell stories via audio that sound just like they were recorded with all actors in the studio together.

While it might be tempting for any audio content to go to a premium provider like Audible, there’s going to be a larger audience for radio and a good potential to earn advertising revenue during a time when filming’s going to be difficult. The added listeners might also help radio stations who have seen their listening numbers decline with less people on the roads.

Several types of radio programs could work over radio during this period:

  1. Exploring Continuity Gaps:

A lot of dramatic television is highly serialized today. In an earlier era of television where continuity was light, it’d be easy if you made one-off radio episodes that told previously untold one-off adventures. That’s harder today because so many episodes are interconnected. TV shows also won’t want to continue their ongoing planned storylines over radio because we hope that television will eventually return to normal and they don’t want to mess up their reruns and resyndication plans by having audio episodes you have to listen to in order to understand what’s going on. They would have to re-record the audio shows for TV and I assume they won’t want to do that.

Some series could return and explore gaps in the continuity. For example, months often pass in-world between the end of one season and the start of another. If a TV series has already shot its season finale and knows that it wants to start the next season by jumping forward several months, it might do a radio series that explores what happens in those intervening months.

It might also explore past gaps in continuity. For example, the third season of the CW Series The Flash ended with the hero being imprisoned in the otherworldly Speed Force. The fourth season began after his friends had protected the city for six months in his absence. In the premier episode, they bring him back from the Speed Force. CW could commission a radio series based on what happened during that six-month period.

2. Spin Offs

Many programs have had popular guest characters and this might be a great time to explore whether their stories might be worth exploring in their own right. Creating Spin Offs will once again spare the main series from having to mess with its continuity. If the radio spin off works well, then a TV spin off may make sense once all returns to normal.

3. Return of the Cancelled Shows

Some shows continue to be popular even though they’ve gone into reruns. A new Golden Age of Radio could see them return for a limited run. There are two approaches that could be taken. First, is the continuity gap solution listed above. Secondly, you could set a show after its finale.

Monk would be a fun program to bring back by either approach. Attempts at making a Monk movie over the last 11 years have been stymied, but a series of radio dramas could hit the spot in these difficult times.

4. Original Programming

The networks have a whole host of ideas for concepts for new TV programs. Many of these could be adapted to radio, as well as bringing programs especially created for radio to light. Radio could provide a low-cost way to test the market for shows that would have high production values on TV.

5. Movie Adaptations

During the Golden Age of Radio, the Lux Radio Theater, Screen Guild Theater, and Screen Director’s Playhouse were dedicated to adapting movies to an audio format and recreated great big screen moments over the radio.

In the 1980s, George Lucas sold rights to adapt the Star Wars Trilogy to NPR for $1 per film and NPR produced adaptations of each of the first three films in the trilogy.

Adaptations of other popular films to radio with some of the original cast would be worth exploring. The Star Wars adaptations were popular even though fans could now watch the original films on VHS or TV.

Star Wars has a devoted fan base, which was key to the success of the audio dramas. Any successful adaptation of film to radio would have to be of a film which features equally devoted fans.

Overall, a new golden age of audio dramas would offer the entertainment industry a chance to bring something positive out of the awful events of the last few months, and I hope they avail themselves of the opportunity.

TV Episode Review: Murder She Wrote:A Christmas Secret

In “A Christmas Secret,” a Gulf War Veteran is set to marry Elizabeth, the daughter of a prominent Cabot Cove couple. While visiting for the holidays, Charlie receives an anonymous blackmail tape. When the woman who made the tape is nearly murdered, Jessica seeks to unravel the mystery.

What Works:

This episode has nearly everything you’d expect from a Murder She Wrote Christmas episode. The mystery has lots of suspects and potential motives as well as its share of red herrings

As this was from Season 9, the show was past the point where old Hollywood legends were showing up every week, but the recurring Cabot Cove cast is fun and the guest cast is solid.

The story has the right holiday flavor. It has just the right sentiment and rarely becomes saccharine or cheesy.

What Doesn’t Work:

Cabot Cove is supposed to be in Maine, but the show is filmed in California. That was never more obvious than seeing the streets snowless in December. The story features a Christmas trope of, “Will there be a White Christmas, it means so much to Character X.” I can’t help but feel the plot is a Hollywood ploy to avoid having to cover sets in fake snow for Christmas-related stories. It certainly feels that way here.

The solution requires a colorblind person to be completely incapable of making adjustments for her disability, and I have to admit I’m not entirely sure whether the writers have portrayed it accurately.

Overall:
This is a nice little Christmas treat. It’s neither the best Christmas mystery or the best Murder She Wrote, but it makes for fun holiday viewing.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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What Joe Friday Did

We offer a t-shirt that tells us Joe Friday never said “Just the facts, ma’am.” This often lead to the question, what did Joe Friday say and do?  In this article, we’ll break down highlights from Sergeant Friday’s appearance in more than 600 television and radio show episodes, two movies, and one novel I’ve read. Some are serious and some are fun, but it’s all in the spirit of celebrating one of the most iconic character of TV’s golden age. For simplicity’s sake, all programs first broadcast on radio will be cited using their radio dates. Programs aired after 1955 will not include a reference to medium unless it’s a book.

General facts:

-Friday and his partner were so in demand, they changed departments often (sometimes every week)

-Friday spent hours waiting for suspects to show up, spent days on fruitless stakeouts and spent entire patrols waiting to catch a criminal.

-While Friday is known for the epic speeches entered into congressional record, he favored the snappy one-liners he delivered nearly every episode.

Friday career highlights and facts:

-Friday joined the force sometime before 1939 (Radio: 07/14/1949) His time on the police force was interrupted by service in World War II (Radio: 01/05/1950) where he made a friend who subsequently committed a crime that got him sent to prison.

-He nearly blew up City Hall when he tripped while carrying a bomb in a bucket. Thankfully, it didn’t go off due to a flaw in the wiring.

-Friday lived with his mother  (Radio: 05/04/1950) for many years until she went back East to live with other relatives.

-While undercover, Friday was twice hired to kill a woman. (Radio: 09/28/1950, TV: November 6, 1967)

-Friday was sent undercover to buy drugs, but when it came time to do the buy to arrest the suppliers, the police didn’t have money to complete the buy. Friday was given a stack of whatever money various captains could get at the last minute, pieces of newspaper, and good wishes that the suppliers wouldn’t insist on examining Friday’s roll too closely. (Radio: 10/26/1950)

-Friday helped a convicted narcotic’s dealer’s kids and helped his wife get a job. This led the convict to give a Friday a lead on a $100,000 narcotics ring. (Radio:01/03/1952)

-After a woman tried to abandon her baby born out of wedlock, Friday and his partner intervened to help her and to gain understanding from her husband. (Original Air Date:04/10/1952)

-Friday once had a girlfriend named Anne who stood by him after he was forced to kill a young man in the line of duty (TV:12/17/1953). However, she was never seen again once he made the fatal relationship move of getting her a stationary set for Christmas despite warnings from Frank Smith. (Radio:12/22/1953)

-Joe Friday and Frank Smith once got into an epic indoor technocolor fist fight against a mob boss’ local hoods. (Dragnet Movie:September 4, 1954)

-Friday once stood silently on a porch for ten minutes in the middle of an investigation while an old man read a long essay about the love of dogs. (Radio:11/16/1954)

-Friday played charades when he was eleven but doesn’t understand why adults would do that. (Radio: 08/09/1955)

-Friday and Smith went out of their way to make sure an escaped convict doesn’t suspect his wife came to them and told them about him. (Radio:08/09/1955)

-Friday watched the Boston Blackie  TV show. (Book: Dragnet: The Case of the Courteous Killer)

-Friday stopped a neo-Nazi from blowing up a school that was integrating. (TV:January 19, 1967)

-Friday failed to sign a receipt for ransom money leading to a frown and a long conversation with the Captain. (Original Air Date: February 9, 1967)

-Friday wrestled a teenager with a live grenade. (Original Air Date:  September 14, 1967)

-Friday was brought before a shooting board and found justified in shooting a burglar at a laundromat. (Original Air Date: September 21, 1967)

-Friday once took half an hour out of his date to hold a debate with a drug guru. (Original Air Date: January 11, 1968)

-In the premier of Dragnet 1969, Friday and his partner went on a TV panel show and spent the entire program debating a calm professor and an over-the-top rebel setting the tone for all the excitement in that season. (Original Air Date: September 19, 1968)

-Friday worked to recruit African American police officers, including a character played by O.J. Simpson. (Original Air Date: October 3, 1968)

-Friday and his partner provided support for the LAPD Command post when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. (Original Air Date: October 10, 1968)

-Friday helped the Secret Service with an uneventful visit by the President, since it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: November 14, 1968)

-Friday helped with the training and recruitment of policewomen. (Original Air Date: November 21, 1968)

-Friday and Gannon went out in the woods and wore casual clothes to have internal police conversations about community relations because once again it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: January 2, 1969)

-Friday and Gannon tracked down a dog that bit a little girl and saved her  from having to take an anti-rabies serum she was allergic to. (Original Air Date: March 27, 1969)

-Friday went back to college to get a Master’s Degree in order to become a better police officer.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Friday showed a fellow student he knew the difference between cooking spices when a student was openly carrying a bag of marijuana. He claimed, “It’s oregano,” and that he was no different than any other student carrying cooking spices to class in plastic bags.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Joe, in making the arrest, strained his friendship with a woman in class he’d been friendly with. Thus she never received a stationery set for Christmas. However, despite losing any chance at a close relationship, Friday was saved from being thrown out of class by a one-eyed lawyer. (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

For the purpose of this list, I consider all Dragnet productions featuring Jack Webb to be connected. Two episodes of Dragnet present a combined problem. In the July 10, 1949 radio episode of Dragnet a criminal who Friday and Romero put away 10 years ago comes for a visit. This indicates Friday had been a cop for at least 10 years (when this was interrupted by war service as detailed later in 1950 in the Big Escape.) However in the Dragnet TV episode, the Shooting Board aired on September 21, 1967, Friday stated he’d been on the force twelve years then and contradicted the radio/1950s TV series about the number of times he’d drawn his weapon.

It can be argued that Dragnet 1967 was neither a continuation or a revival of the original radio/TV series but a soft reboot in the same way DC Comics subtly changed the timelines of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to reflect a more recent beginning for each of these iconic characters. This theory is bolstered by the fact Joe Friday ended the original series as a Lieutenant but was back to being a Sergeant in the 1960s series.

However, I’d rather not go for the Dragnet multiverse and just acknowledge the series was not into continuity. The reference to breaking a case ten years previously in 1949 made Joe Friday older than Webb (who had just turned 29) while the reference in 1967 to having been on the force twelve years served to make Friday younger than the forty-seven-year-old Webb.

At any rate, here are a few stand out facts about Joe Friday. If there are any that I stand out to you, please share in the comments.

Other fun quotes. Check out some great Joe Friday/Dragnet quotes at the Internet Archive or Wikiquote.

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Understanding the Expanding Public Domain

The public domain is that magical place which creators can draw inspiration from. Public domain works can be published and sold by anyone. It includes the works of Shakespeare, Dickens,  and Edgar Allen Poe. However, in the US, it doesn’t include many works made after 1922 and the public domain has remain frozen since 1998. However, on January 1, 2019, New Year’s Day will be Public Domain Day, as a plethora of works created in 1923 will enter the public domain.

Why the Public Domain was Frozen

Until the early 1990s, the public domain grew in two ways. First was expiration of the original copyright term. Works written prior to the 1976 Copyright Act  had twenty-eight year copyright terms that could be renewed for another twenty-eight years (increased to 47 years though the Copyright Act.)  If the copyright owner didn’t renew their copyright, their work came into the public domain after twenty-eight years. This is how many Hollywood movies, TV episodes, and a few books from 1963 and before slid into the public domain. Congress put a stop to this by renewing all outstanding copyrights in 1992.

The other way the public domain expanded was when the renewal term expired. That ended in 1998. Media companies led by Disney had been trying to get  the copyright extended for years. The first Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie was set to enter the public domain in 2004. Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act  (named after the late singer and Congressman) which added another twenty years to all Copyrights. Works passed after the 1976 Copyright had a term of the author’s  lifetime plus 70 years, and those pre-1976 works had a term of 95 years.

At the time of passage, copyright extension promotions seemed to want far more. Bono’s forth wife  and successor in Congress, Mary Bono made the point that Sonny Bono had believed Copyright should last forever. That is unconstitutional. The Constitution requires  copyright be for  “limited times.” She spoke favorably of long-time Motion Pictures Association of America Chairman Jack Valenti’s suggestion this could be worked around with a copyright term of “forever minus one day.” Opponents of further Copyright extension didn’t expect an effort that audacious, but they did expect some effort to increase the length of copyright if for no other reason than for Disney to save “Steamboat Willie.” In the end,  no effort was made and the Public domain will grow once again.

What Will Happen

At the end of 2018, copyrights on works created in 1923 will expire. On January 1, 2019, the public domain will expand.

Starting on January 1st, organizations such as Google Books and Project Guteneberg will make books written in 1923 available to readers across the Internet to download for free. Librivox will make audiobook recordings of them.  In addition, filmmakers will be able to adapt them, as will American audio drama producers such as Colonial Radio Theater.

Mystery fans will enjoy the third Agatha Christie book to enter the public domain, Murder on the Links. In the addition, one of only ten Sherlock Holmes stories still under Copyright in the United States, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” will enter the public domain.

Silent films such as the original Ten Commandments or Charlie Chaplain’s The Pilgrim will be enjoyed online for free as well as on discount DVDs.

Filmmakers will at last be able to freely include songs such as The Charleston and Yes! We Have No Bananas Today in their films.  Churches won’t have to pay to include “Great is thy Faithfulness” in their services.  Community theaters will be able perform Noel Coward’s first play London’s Calling.  Before, doing all of these legally required paying a royalty or license fee. However that all changes in 2019.

The public domain will continue to expand, allowing free distribution of an ever-growing number of influential works. The Jazz Singer, the film that launched the era of talking pictures, is set to enter the public domain in 2024. Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon will enter the public domain in 2026, and Fer-de-Lance, the first novel featuring Nero Wolfe, will enter in 2030.

Continued growth of the public domain will depend on Congress not extending copyright again. Entertainment companies have powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill and may demand more protections. If Disney lets “Steamboat Willie” go into the public domain, they may raise a fuss at the prospect of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves entering the public domain in 2033, one year before the first Superman comics are set to become public domain.

For now though, the long overdue expansion of the public domain is beginning. Here’s hoping it continues for many years to come.  If you want more information on works entering the public domain in 2019, check out this article from the Duke University School of law. 

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My Big Finish Twenty, Part Four

We continue our look at twenty great Big Finish releases in celebration of Big Finish’s Twentieth Anniversary.  Last week, we featured #10-6. Two week ago we covered numbers 15-11. See Part One for numbers 20-16.

We wrap up our Big Finish Twenty with my final five.

5) Jago and Litefoot Series 10

I love Jago and Litefoot. I wrote four long posts detailing the history of their wonderful audio drama adventures, so of course they’d go on this list. Their absolute best Series was Series 10. (See my review here.) The set features some great adventures including Jago and Litefoot sending letters to their younger selves, competing with each other for the attention of their biographer, and Jago being buried alive and waking up in a dystopian future. The individual episodes are superb with the finale serving as a capstone to the first Ten Series of Jago & Litefoot.

Other contenders for Best Jago and Litefoot Series for me would include Series 1, Series 3, Series 5, and Series 8.

4)The One Doctor

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) arrive in what the Doctor terms as a vulgar period of history where most things are known and there’s little exploration or curiosity. The Doctor and his exploits are pretty well-known. So well-known that a con man is impersonating the Doctor with the aide of his assistant Sally. The Doctor stumbles onto his impersonator but before he can get that sorted out, an evil overlord shows up and threatens to destroy the entire star system unless the system’s greatest treasures are brought to him.

This is the best Doctor Who comedy story Big Finish has released. It has a great cast including the future Doctor Who companion actor Matt Lucas, a clever script that makes sense, while still delivering a variety of humorous situations. Overall, this is an absolute joy.

3)Hamlet

Yes, you read that right. While it’s best known for its Science Fiction and Nostalgic TV adaptations, Big Finish did two Shakespearean plays, King Lear and Hamlet. Both plays were  well-performed with stellar casts that bring these legendary stories to life. Hamlet is my favorite of the two, since I generally like Hamlet a bit more than King Lear.

Hamlet is one of the best stories ever written, but that doesn’t mean adaptations of Hamlet are all good.  There are many poorly acted and poorly executed versions of the play that involve actors giving hammy performances or droning through their lines. There was a version of Hamlet that was subject of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff.

This is a brilliant Hamlet. Big Finish didn’t mess around with the script but they got some very good actors to appear in it. Alexander Vlahos is a great Hamlet. His delivery is pitch perfect. He makes every line real and credible.

The big advantage of this one is the sound design. Most audio versions of Shakespeare plays tend to be either recorded versions of the play or actors just reading the lines. However, this story has a very realistic and well-done sound design done by a company that specializes in making great-sounding audio. The sound and music are never intrusive or overdone and definitely enhance the experience.

This is a tremendous production that does justice to one of the greatest stories of all time.

2) Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight

The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companion Charlotte Pollard (India Fisher) arrive at an Edwardian Mansion on Christmas where on the stroke of midnight, a servant is killed in a bizarre way. The Doctor and Charley find themselves drawn into the story and try to solve the mystery as reality and time seem to bend in this strange and unusual place as more servants continue to die each time midnight strikes.

This is an amazing and multi-faceted story. It’s science fiction, it’s a mystery, a dark comedy, and a satire on the English class system. It has some hilarious moments, some dark moments, and ends with some sweet and emotional moments. It features great acting, superb direction, and top-notch writing. Chimes of Midnight has been consistently listed as one of Big Finish’s best releases since it came out in 2002. (In 2015, it was voted the best monthly Doctor Who release by listeners.) It’s a story that lives up to its massive hype and is a must-listen.

1) Doctor Who: The Last Adventure

All of the Doctors who appear in Big Finish Doctor Who stories were given a proper ending to their tenure on television with their regeneration, or I should say all but one.

When Colin Baker was cast to play the Sixth Doctor, he had high hopes for a long, happy tenure in the role but ended up with a short, unfortunate tenure. His character as written was unlikable (particularly in his first story) while he was given a clashing, multi-color costume universally panned. On top of that, the show’s script editor thought he wasn’t fit for the role and said so publicly. The show went on hiatus for 18 months and when the show returned, it did so with a “trial” that reminded the audience of the recent unpleasantness. Baker did a good job with what he was given, but was ultimately fired from the show and didn’t return for a regeneration story. Instead, his successor Sylvester McCoy appeared on the TARDIS set wearing Baker’s outfit and a blonde wig.

Baker’s Doctor got a second chance at Big Finish. On audio, the Sixth Doctor became a more likable character and got several new companions while starring in a host of well-written and memorable releases including the previously mentioned One Doctor. That really gave Baker a chance to show how good a Doctor he could be and gave many fans a new appreciation of his Doctor.

After so many years and so many stories, Producer David Richardson had the idea of finally giving the Sixth Doctor a proper ending. This led to the Last Adventure, which features four stories throughout the Sixth Doctor’s life that ultimately set the stage for his regeneration and a final confrontation with his enemy the Valyard. Each story is told with a different companion and the stories take different tones from an eerie story about a strange train yard to a light-hearted story about doglike people who have stay indoors to avoid becoming human to a suspenseful tale of malicious evil in Victorian London (with Jago and Litefoot) to a final confrontation in the TARDIS, this box set covers a lot of ground and each chapter is well-written and well-executed. They’re not only a solid conclusion to Baker’s era, but they also each stand up as strong stories in their own right.

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