Tag: modern audio drama

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.

Audio Drama Review: The Mark of Zorro

On the big screen, Val Kilmer played iconic heroes such as Batman and the Saint. In 2011, he added the role of Zorro in LA Theatre works presentation of The Mark of Zorro, based on Johnston McCulley’s novel The Curse of Capistrano.

The play opens with Don Diego de la Vega (Kilmer) trying to woo the beautiful Lolita Pulido (Ruth Livier) to be his wife as his father is pressuring him to wed now that he’s in his mid-twenties. Lolita isn’t interested because of his foppish, bookish nature, however she falls in love with the masked adventurer and vigilante Zorro (also Kilmer). The villainous Captain Ramon becomes a rival for Lolita while also trying to capture Zorro.

The play has some great professional sound design and music. The cast is generally good, though a couple are very broad and big for audio. Unlike another Hollywood Theatre of the Ear Production I reviewed (The Maltese Falcon), this doesn’t have each character narrating their own actions. Instead, the events are narrated by the landlord at the local tavern (Armin Shimerman) giving the effect of the story being told to you by your friendly barkeep Shimerman. This is a fun choice and the casting may be a bit of a nod to his role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Ferengi bar owner and landlord Quark. I also think the story story did a good job establishing the culture and values of the time.

This story strives for book accuracy probably more than any other Zorro work. That does mean there are some surprises. In most adaptations, Zorro is an action hero who romances his lady. In this adaptation, Zorro is first and foremost, a romantic figure sweeping Lolita off her feet and protecting her from Captain Ramon. The story is a bit more romantic comedy than an action tale, and the dialogue and plot isn’t exactly out of Jane Austen.

Don Diego is never revealed to be Zorro, even to the audience. Zorro’s secret identity is nearly as well-known to the public as Batman’s and Superman’s, so this is odd. It’d be like a Batman movie that never showed Batman was Bruce Wayne despite the audience knowing it. Again, I think this is an example of being loyal to the book, but it didn’t work for me.

Overall, though, this was a good time. If you’d like a Zorro tale with some adventure, political intrigue, and some cheesy romance, this is a well-acted and enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Rating:3.75 out of 5.0

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season 5

Season Five of Black Jack Justice featured six new cases that aired between December 2009 and February 2010 as Jack Justice (Christopher Mott) and his partner Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective (Andrea Lyons) take on six more cases in a post-war American city.

The season kicked off with, “Requiem for an Elf” the duo’s first Christmas special involving the duo’s underworld contact Freddy the Finger getting caught in the midst of a charity Santa racket and once again needing bailed out.

The other five episodes in the season all centered around famous sayings and proverbs. It’s an idea that may have been borrowed from the golden age radio series, The Amazing Mr. Malone but it works well here, giving each episode a sense of organization. Every episode this season hit perfectly with me. “Stormy Weather”is probably my favorite so far with some of the best banter I’ve heard in the series as well as good suspenseful moments. As usual, the series’ great comedic moments are balanced by more serious action, and the final episode has a few hints of romance for Jack.

Overall, Season 5 was great fun and probably my favorite series so far.

Rating:4.75 out of 5

The entire season is free to download from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Audio Drama Review: The Master of Blackstone Grange

Big Finish’s latest Sherlock Holmes release features a three-hour Sherlock Holmes adventure and a one-hour Christmas special.

In the titular Master of Blackstone Grange, Holmes is bored by the lack of a challenge now that Professor Moriarty is gone. However, Watson’s barber is distraught because of some strange problem he’s having with his wife. Watson sees this as a case that can get Holmes out of his doldrums. While Holmes is initially interested, that interest wanes when Moriarty’s henchman, Colonel Sebastian Moran is released from prison. This leaves Holmes unavailable when their client heads to the home of the country’s newest multi-millionaire, Honest Jim Sheedy. However, the barber has plenty of company as all the country’s great men are coming together at Blackstone Grange. But why?

The plot of this story borrows a lot from other Doyle work. The story pays homage to both The Valley of Fear and Hound of the Baskervilles. Yet, this doesn’t stop the story from having its own original plot and mystery but helps to set up the story and give it a sense of authenticity.

The performances are solid as usual. Nicholas Briggs is a very good audio Holmes, able to adjust his performance to capture different aspects and eras in Holmes life. Here, he manages to play mostly to Holmes’ melancholy and do so quite skillfully. Richard Earl is the consummate Watson, and in this story, we get to see a little of the widowed Watson. The rest of the cast is very competent, but Harry Peacock deserves special praise for his performance as one of the villains, Honest Jim Sheedy. Peacock is able to play Sheedy alternately as charming and menacing in ways that are equally convincing.

In The Fleet Street Transparency, Sherlock Holmes gets a mystery at Christmastime of a columnist who complains about his columns being edited before they appear in the paper. He doesn’t want to take the case at first but relents out of curiosity when a thug is hired to threaten him into doing it.

This is not a great Holmes story but it is pretty good. The solution doesn’t tax Holmes’ brainpower much, but it has a unique ending. What does make it worth listening to is the general authenticity of the script. There are moments that feel positively like it’s out of canon. A couple moments take you out of that, such as Holmes and Watson passing judgment on their client’s political views. However, it maintains authenticity far more often than not. Briggs and Earl turn in another solid performance. The story is sure to be a fun Christmas listen.

Both stories feature superb music by Jamie Robertson which captures both the feel of the era and the respective seasons.

Overall, this is another solid box set from Big Finish.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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