30 search results for "Audio Drama tradition"

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 3


Volume 3 of Big Finish’s Avengers: The Lost Episodes recreates four more lost episodes of Season 1 of the Avengers which featured John Steed (Julian Wadham) and Doctor David Keel (Anthony Howell).

The Springers: This story finds Keel undercover in prison as a notorious convict he hopes to impersonate. The story is a somewhat typical crime story but feels a bit more playful in places than some of the stories in the first box set. It’s a solid if unremarkable tale.

The Yellow Needle: An old friend of Keel’s is Prime Minister of an African nation about to declare its Independence from Great Britain. After an attempt on the Prime Minister’s life, Steed and Keel become involved in the case from several thousand miles away. The story reflects the process of breaking up the British Empire as former Colonies became Independent and the politics that often went into that. This gives it a definite historic value. Beyond that, it’s a taut and well-written political thriller.

Double Danger: Dr. Keel is kidnapped by desperate men who want him to treat a man they kidnapped so they can extract the secret of the location of stolen diamonds. This is set up like a traditional crime story but has a bit more going for it than many earlier stories. First of all, Keel’s adventures apparently have given him a bit of an edge of toughness as he’s far more calm than one would normally expect. There’s almost a hard-boiled aspect to some of the dialogue, and there’s more menace in the villains in this story than in many “thugs of the week” who have appeared before . The story moves at a fairly quick pace, and there’s a very effective use of humor with the old landlord.

The Toy Trap: This story takes a look at the seamier side of London life with a bit of a personal touch for Keel. Keel is to play chaperone to the wide-eyed innocent daughter of a friend, who has taken a job in London at a shop. They find one of her friends missing and that she’s been drawn off into a pornography racket exploiting naive young women. It’s a very well done crime story and it also introduces some genuine conflict between Steed and Keel. In the early going, Keel sharply disapproves when Steed starts doing his typical ladies man routine around his young charge, and then when Steed’s method for breaking the ring puts her jeopardy, Keel really lets Steed have it. Overall, this is probably my favorite episode in this series so far.

This collection contains some of the greatest Avengers Best Episodes Big Finish has produced and is my favorite of the four I’ve listened to.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles


The Hound of the Baskervilles is like the Christmas Carol. You don’t watch or listen to an adaptation to find out what happens but to see how well the creators have captured the story. Big Finish does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Hound of the Baskervilles in  a very traditionalist adaptation. Amazingly, the entire program was recorded and rehearsed in a single day.

The cast is  wonderful. Richard Earl has got the part of Watson nailed and that’s vital since most of the story centers around him. John Banks and Charlie Norfolk did Yeoman’s work, playing five parts and three parts respectively. They did it so seamlessly, I didn’t know they didn’t have separate actors for each part until I listened to the Extra’s CD. Samuel Clemens is very compelling as Sir Henry Baskerville. And of course, Briggs is great as Holmes.

Of course, what  makes the piece so atmospheric over audio is the sound design and music, coupled with Earl’s narration and they did an incredibly good job in post-production. It captured the spookiness and suspense of the story. Overall, Big Finish does Doyle’s most legendary story justice in a superb adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Reification of Hans Gerber

The Reification of Hans Gerber is an original Sherlock Holmes audio drama written in the twenty-first century. However, if you weren’t familiar with the Doyle canon, you’d be hard pressed to know that this was written by Doyle himself.

The plot captures the feel and atmosphere of Holmes without retreading over old ground. Holmes is called in to investigate the death of a wealthy man who left behind three nephews and a niece who expect to inherit until the will disappears, then one man is set to inherit. At first, it’s the eldest cousin, but a disowned relative named Hans Gerber emerges to claim the estate. It appears he’s out for more than the old man’s money when one of the cousins is murdered. The mystery is thoroughly engaging from start to finish.

Nicholas Briggs turns in his usual superb performance as Holmes, and Richard Earl plays Watson perfectly in the Edward Hardwicke tradition. One of the reasons the story feels so authentic is the amount of narration and description involved and Earl is a superb narrator. The other outstanding performance was Terry Malloy who plays Inspector Bainbridge, a police inspector who shows an amazing amount of competence.

It’s hard to overstate how much I enjoyed this. Pastiches so often fail to capture the feel of the original or are so busy inserting modern sensibilities and personalities into the story that they feel out of place. The authenticity of the story is outstanding. It’s tour de force  in writing, acting,  and production values.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem / The Empty House


The second series of Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range kicks off with the adaptation of the two Sherlock Holmes stories. “The Final Problem,” where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempts to kill Holmes off,  and “The Empty House,” where Holmes returns.

As writer/star Nicholas Briggs admits, these are not traditional adaptations.  In the previous adaptation, a bonus talking book of “The Speckled Band” was released with a word-for-word reading of that story. This is similar but this production dispenses with “He said.” Otherwise this is a  straightforward, almost word-for-word adaptation of Doyle’s stories with most of it told through Watson’s narration or Holmes narrating to Watson what has happened previously. As such, the strength of these adaptations rest on the strength of the underlying story.

However, Big Finish does add some nice touches. There’s an emotional core in these stories that Richard Earl, as Watson, does a superb job of capturing. Briggs turns in a solid performance as Holmes, playing the character perfectly as written, even when he’s being smug in “The Empty House.”  And one of the most interesting and subtle things they do in “The Final Problem”is tell the narration as Watson writing this down, and we hear the pen crossing the paper and the sound of pen will change and become more pronounced at certain emotional points. It’s a simple bit of sound design, but it’s  clever and adds something interesting to the production.

These are solid, dramatic readings with a good soundscape added in. However, given the wealth of material and the countless adaptations of these stories, the appeal of this release is limited and this would be the last time Big Finish used the format for Sherlock Holmes.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.00

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Audio Drama Review: Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama

Following the success of the first Star Wars film, George Lucas sold the rights to do a radio adaption to National Public Radio for $1. Adapting movies to radio was a tradition that dated back to the 1930s with the Lux Radio Theater. And in some ways, the resulting Star Wars radio drama bore some similarities to the old Lux Radio Theater with two stars (Mark Hamill as Luke, and Anthony Daniels as 3CPO) returning for their original while other actors filled in other lead roles.

But in other ways, the production was entirely different. Instead of condensing a story like Star Wars into an hour, this expanded it into 13 25 minute episodes, allowing for an expanded narrative.

So how did it work?

Positives:
The expansion of Star Wars into a multi-part audio epic makes a lot of sense given that it’s modeled after golden age sci-fi serials.

The sound design is absolutely gorgeous as it’s done with Lucasfilms cooperation and the same sound from the original film. But they do a good job of creating soundscapes in other areas including the race through Beggar’s Canyon.

The actors who take over roles played in the film are mostly just as good as the original actors, which is a testament to the strength of the story. I actually thought Ann Sachs was a slight upgrade from Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

Most of the expansions of the story were  thoughtful. The series begins with two episodes that serve as establishing shots for Luke and Leia prior to the events of the film, and it’s  nice to hear. We get to have Luke racing through Beggar’s Canyon and we also get to see him interacting with Biggs and trying to soldier through his uncle Owen’s constantly putting him off about going to the Academy. His frustration comes off as more reason and less immature.

The audio drama really fleshes out Leia’s character beautifully. She’s far stronger than in the film and more relatable. I really loved everything new they wrote for Leia. One highlight is a much better, more emotionally engaged reaction to the destruction of her home planet of Alderaan than in the movie.

The plot arcs for Luke and Hans Solo were also improved. You really got the sense growing throughout the story that Hans was or had once been more than just a smuggler out for himself in a way you don’t get from the film. Also, there’s enough time to discuss the insanity putting a back country pilot with no experience in space in charge of fighter as the radio drama has time for concerns to be raised about the efficacy of sending Luke Skywalker into battle.

These slight changes made the journey of Hans and Luke far more engaging. Hans’  journey reminds me of Rick from Casablanca (only with the Milennium Falcon) and Luke’s journey contains echoes of the Bible’s David.

We got a little bit more of a taste of the political intrigue on the Death Star and some insight into Grand Moff Tarkin’s decision to remain on the Death Star during the Rebel attack.

While most of the cast are obscure players, there are a few future stars featured. Perry King played Hans Solo three years before getting the lead in Riptide. David Alan Grier made his acting debut. Adam Arkin also features.

Negatives:

Perry King isn’t bad as Hans Solo but he’s a  downgrade from Harrison Ford, who’s the hardest member of the cast to replace.

While most of the material added was interesting, that greatest bane of serialized drama from the Adventures of Superman to Doctor Who shows up in the form of several scenes that are padding. The worst offender was a scene in which Obi-wan Kenobe taught Luke the proper stance for holding a Light-saber. That’d be boring TV, but it’s  mind-numbing audio.

Most of the production holds together because of the strong story and great sound design. There are several scenes where the lack of skill and experience in transferring visual adventures to an aural medium become apparent. Examples includes the Trash Compactor scene or Luke swinging Leia across a chasm in the Death Star.

The final scene may have been the worst. The production crew wanting to recapture every single moment of the film couldn’t figure out how to do the scene where Luke, Hans, and Chewie received medals from Leia so instead they had Hans and Luke bickering  with Leia joining in the arguing. Not a good way to end.

What’s odd about this is that the Star Wars Audio Drama was produced in Los Angeles in 1980, when many of the people who made the Golden Age of radio so magical were not only alive, but also active in productions like the CBS Mystery Theater. I wonder if it ever occurred to NPR to see if any of these people would have been willing to volunteer their services. If they had, this might not have had so many bumpy spots.

The one really odd change in this was that Darth Vader doesn’t appear during the climatic Death Star battle scene. It’s mentioned that he’s out leading the attack, but we don’t hear him inside his TIE fighter getting a lock on Luke Skywalker before the Millennium Falcon swoops in and that does hurt the drama of that vital scene.

Conclusion:

I used to watch the original Star Wars film several times each year, and did a couple times watching through the entire series in one sitting.

Yet, I haven’t done this for more than a decade. Part of it was growing up and not having time to watch 90 minute movies often, part of it was the prequels which, while having their highlights, replaced the fun, adventure, and heroism of the originals with annoying side characters, big CGI effects, and darkness. Along the way, the prequels’ portrayal of both Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi Knights was disappointing to say the least.

What I loved about this Audio Drama is it managed to recapture the fun and excitement when I watched and rewatched the original Star Wars film so many years. Of course, it’s not easy to get over prequel fatique as I found myself thinking how amazingly off-base Obi-wan’s description of Anakin was based on what I’d seen in the prequels. It wasn’t gilding the lily. It was gilding the skunk cabbage.

I found to properly enjoy Star Wars again,  I needed to follow the advice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. I had to unlearn what I’d learned. And this wonderful audio drama helps to do that as it immerses listeners in the wonderful and fascinating world of the original Star Wars characters.

It has its weak points, as well as some unnecessary padding,  and could have stood some more expert direction to make this an even better production, but there’s no denying that it does a great job of capturing the essence of a movie grabbed the attention of the world and still holds a place in the hearts of fans to this day.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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A Look at Jago & Litefoot, Part One

Big Finish’s audio drama series, Jago and Litefoot will soon release it’s twelfth series. It follows theater owner Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin) and pathologist George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) as they team up as investigators of all things infernal in late 19th Century London.

What are the origins of this series and how did it become popular? The story of Jago & Litefoot is the tale of a long overdue spin-off and the freedom audio drama gives actors to play roles they would never be allowed to play in a visual medium.

In the course of the next four weeks, we’re going to take a look at the entire series over the next four articles.

The Origin

Jago & Litefoot

Jago and Litefoot originally appeared in the Doctor Who TV story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” in 1977 which finds the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) travelling back in time to the late Victorian Era. It’s a story that’s noteworthy for its period feel. The Doctor abandons his typical suit and long scarf for a Sherlock Holmes outfit complete with deer stalker cap while Leela trades her short jungle dress for a proper Victorian look. In the story, the Doctor investigates a series of strange murders and he obtains the help of Litefoot the pathologist, and Jago, whose theater is at the center of the killings. However, the Doctor meets the characters separately during his investigation and the two only come together in the last episode.

However, when they came together, the dynamic was great.They were praised as a fine double act. Writer Robert Holmes reportedly liked the idea of the two having their own spin-off series.Many fans over the years would agree, but no one at the BBC saw this as a worthwhile project and nothing came of it.

Benjamin and Baxter certainly knew little of it and didn’t  work together for the next 30 years. Both had very prolific careers with a combination of stagework and television appearances. Benjamin’s career was the picture of a character actor as attested to by his 168 acting credits through IMBD. His credits read like a history of British Television with appearances in series such as Foyle’s War, the Tomorrow People, Rumpole of the Bailey, Yes, Prime Minister, and the Return of Sherlock Holmes as well as appearing as another character in the revived series of Doctor Who as a different character. Baxter’s career was no less prolific, but it was focused more on the stage and included play writing as well as appearances in a few films.

By 2009, Benjamin was 74, and Baxter 76. It was safe to say their time on a Victorian Doctor Who serial was little more than a happy memory for them.

The Pilot
Mahogany Murderers

Benjamin and Baxter worked together for the first time in more than thirty years on the Mahogany Murderers, which was released by Big Finish in June 2009. The story was officially released as part of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line of audiobooks. The Mahogany Murderers was strikingly different than other releases in this line as it was not really an audiobook, but a two-handed audio drama and it became a backdoor pilot for the series. In addition, despite featuring the Doctor Who theme music, the Doctor doesn’t appear.

The plot involves Jago and Litefoot meeting up at the Red Tavern and telling each other about strange encounters they had. For Professor Litefoot, the case begins to get strange when a body is pulled from the Thames and turns out to be a very well-detailed mannequin or is it?

It actually proves to be a part of a plot by a gang of criminals who want to live forever, and they are assisted by the mad genius, Doctor Tulp.

The story is brilliantly acted as Jago and Litefoot recount the tale with gusto. The story becomes more complex and creepy as it develops and the truly diabolic nature of the business is revealed.

 

The release was a critical and commercial success. It showed the potential for a series of Jago and Litefoot adventures.

The Series Begins

The Jago & Litefoot series has had a very consistent feel to it over the course of the last eleven box sets, aided by the continuing presence of most of its key principles. The series is produced by David Richardson, with scripts edited by Justin Richards, and\ directed by Lisa Bowerman.

In The Mahogany Murderers, Bowerman took on the functional role of the minor character, Ellie Higdson, the barmaid. The role grew to become the main supporting character through the entire series. Conrad Asquith, who played Police Constable Quick in the Talons of Weng-Chiang, reprized the role as Sergeant and later Inspector Quick in every box set except for Series 5.

The cast and the creative team were in place and thirteen months after the Mahogany Murderers was released Jago & Litefoot released their first series box set. Each box set would contain four stories, written by three or usually four different writers. Details of the first two series with minimal spoilers follow.

In this first series, the show is very entertaining but it’s clearly trying to find its feet. While there was a single villain behind the scenes, each story has a different flavor as there’s a sense of trying to discover what works best. The first story “The Bloodless Soldier” is a werewolf tale and it’s followed by “The Bellova Devil” which is a more traditional detective mystery, then “The Spirit Trap” has them taking on what they think is a phony medium but who turns out to be far more dangerous than they imagined, and then wraps up with “The Similarity Engine,” which has a very strong steampunk feel to it.

The series set down a few key precedents. Because it is set in the same universe as Doctor Who, the infernal things that Jago and Litefoot investigate will tend to have causes that are naturalistic, alien, or mad science related. Even if there’s a werewolf, the series will offer a natural explanation for it rather than suggest an ancient curse or something of that sort.

The first series also had to be concerned with the character development of Jago. Jago has endearing traits that make him a fun supporting character but that could pose a problem as a lead. Jago can be a pompous and is almost always the over the top impresario ready to drop a grand alliteration, such as, ‘Slumbering somnambulists to the slaughter!’  In addition, if written in the wrong way, Jago could easily be one dimensional and the teaming of Jago and Litefoot would be that of the erudite Litefoot and blustering cowardly idiot Jago.

The series chose to go another direction and right from the first episode, Jago is established as something different. Jago faces a fateful decision, a moment of truth at the end of “The Bloodless Soldier,” that forces him to take action and spurs his journey towards being a believable hero of the story. And rather than Litefoot being smart and Jago being dumb, the series establishes the duo as complimentary. Litefoot is better read and expert in scientific investigation, however Jago’s years of experience in the theater have brought him a specialized skillset and a sort of street smarts that helps him catch things Litefoot might miss.

Overall, the first series does a great job of laying the groundwork for the whole Jago & Litefoot audiodrama.

In the Winter of 2011, Series 2 of Jago and Litefoot was released. This second series had a much darker feel. It kicked off with Litefoot abandoning Jago for a new partner in Gabriel Sanders in “Litefoot and Sanders.” After killing off Ellie’s brother in the Series 1 opener, Ellie herself dies in the opening story and our heroes take a spooky night train to ensure the safe burial of her remains only to discover foul experiment afoot among the bodies in, “The Necropolis Express.” In  “The Theatre of Dreams,” Jago books an act that can make your dreams come true but of course, this promise has a dark side. Finally, in “The Ruthaven Inheritance,” Litefoot is fired and Jago is tricked into selling his theatre. Both men get 500 pounds and the villain’s endgame comes into play.

“The Theatre of Dreams” is probably the outstanding story of the series with its mind-bending plot and the way it challenged listeners’ perceptions. The series strengthened the relationship between Ellie and our heroes. They show obvious care for her. When they find out she’s not really dead but has been transformed into a vampire by the villain of the story, Litefoot sets out to cure her and Jago takes care of her despite her making him nervous. Her vampirism is gone by the end of the series but some of the after effects play a role in Jago and Litefoot stories for years to come.

On a negative side, the final story put Ellie, Jago, and Litefoot in serious straits and the finale offers cheap solutions that aren’t entirely satisfying. In addition, the tone of the stories was too dark for the lead characters, particularly in the second box set.The first two box sets were well-written but it’d be hard to describe the series as fun. The series had some strong stories but they needed to find the right tone. They’d take a big step towards that in Series 3 and they’d do it with some old friends and new writers. We’ll talk about that next week.

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The Biggest Show on Radio

In 1950, NBC produced won of radio’s greatest spectacles of talent, a 90 minute variety show.

The late 40s had been bad for NBC as rival CBS had raided their stable of talent, luring Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Harold Peary (Star of The Great Gildersleeve) over to their network with higher wages.

NBC had not come up with an answer for how to challenge Jack Benny’s Sunday Night supremacy and from this was born, The Big Show. It was planned as a 90 minute variety show, which was extraordinary.  There had been other variety programs that had been an hour in length such as The Shell Chateau, The Good News programs of the late 30s and early 40s, The Kraft Music Hall,  and Fred Allen’s Texaco Show of the early 40s. However, 90 minutes was unpreceded for a radio variety show outside of a few specials.

The Big Show alternated between Hollywood and New York, allowing it to access most of America’s major talent wherever they happened to live. With a budget of $30,000 an episode, they managed to land solid talent, producing a fine mix of comedy, music, and drama. The Big Show had many great ingredients:

Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead“The glamorous unpredictable Tallulah Bankhead” was the show’s host. Her voice was one of the most recognizable in radio. It was deep and distinct. She called her guests “darling.” Bankhead was best known as a stage actress on Broadway and in London. The highlight of her film career had been Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Finding other movie roles that suited Bankhead’s unique personality was a challenge.

Bankhead was a rare talent. Her range of duties included comedic banter with the guests who, in the tradition of old time radio variety shows poked fun at her age, her low voice, her offkey attempts at singing, and her rivalry with Betty Davis. Bankhead also would get a chance to showcase her dramatic talent, performing several pieces including several one woman scenes. She also did her fair share of comedic performances.  Bankhead also mixed in occassional sincere moments such as when she paid tribute to the nation’s troops overseas or a great performer. She would signal the station identification on each half hour by saying she was ringing her chimes, which would signal the famous NBC Chimes.

The Comedians

The Big Show played host to some of the greatest and best loved comedians America ever produced.

The Big Show’s most frequent guests were Fred Allen and his wifeFred Allen Portland Hoffa. Allen had had his own show for many years, but a combination of declining ratings, declining health, and the rise of television led to the end of his program.

Allen was known for his biting satirical wit which stood as Allen’s unique genius in this era. Allen got off the show’s most memorable line when he declared the reason television was called a medium was because nothing was well done.

Jimmy Durante as host of the Colgate Comedy HourJimmy Durante was also a frequent guest on the program. His mangling of the English language, self-depreciating manner, and jolly singing made him a delightful addition to the show.

Other comedians making multiple appearances included Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Joan Davis, and Martin and Lewis. These programs led to some interesting combinations. In one episode, Groucho groused about having to play straight man to Jerry Lewis at this point in his career. Dean Martin would have a similar thought a few years later.

Every comedian I’ve listed so far had their own radio shows, so The Big Show is a great way for OTR fans to find new comedy favorites. In addition, two men who would have great careers in television (Danny Thomas of Make Room for Daddy and Phil “Sergeant Bilko” Silvers) made an appearance each.

Music and Meredith Wilson

The musical portion of the show included top shelf talent with appearances by Ethel Merman, the Andrews Sisters, Jack Carson, Mindy Carson, Judy Garland, Ethel Waters, and Railroad Hour host Gordon McRae among others. Perhaps the biggest novelty of the show is the three appearances by then-first Daughter Margaret Truman.

Meredith WilsonHowever, the musical  delight of the show remained Meredith Wilson, the music director who was charged with a 40-piece orchestra. Wilson not only came up with great arrangements, the first season of the Big Show was punctuated with several original Wilson songs. Wilson’s creativity was not limited to music. In the only full Season 2 episode in existence, the cast performs scenes from Wilson’s novel, “Who Did What to Fedalia?”

Perhaps Wilson’s greatest hit was the show’s closing anthem, “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.” Bing Crosby called it a song of faith and good will. On the Big Show, the song was sung at the end by the week’s entire cast, including those who weren’t regular singers. Each would distinctly whether it was Groucho Marx or Fred Allen or one of the dramatic stars. Those who couldn’t sing would speak their parts including Tallulah. This gave the show a memorable and classy ending.

Even after the Big Show ended, Wilson’s creation endured. “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You” has been performed by artists as diverse as Tammy Wynette, Bing Crosby,  Jim Reeves,  and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It’s an enduring classic and the biggest thing to come out of the Big Show.

Drama

The Big Show took a few episodes to live up to the show’s promise of providing drama in addition to the comedy and music, however when it did, it it did the dramas well.  Movie actors would come and perform scenes from new film releases or when the Big Show was in New York, radio audiences could get a taste of the latest Broadway play, including many who would never make it to New York to watch the performance. Actors who made dramatic appearances on the show included Peter Lorre, Edward G. Robinson, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders.

The Big Show would often follow up a serious well-done drama with uproarious comedy.  Tallulah and male guest star could perform a deadly serious piece and then a comedian like Jimmy Durante would ask permission to perform his version of the scene. After the heavy scene that came just before, the humorous takeoff was made even more funny.

The Demise of the Big Show

Sadly, the Big Show didn’t last but two seasons. It couldn’t have done much better. Television was coming on strong and advertising dollars would not support the Big Show’s big budget. Indeed, one of the advertisers for The Big Show was RCA which promoted it’s new television console. The day of big radio were clearly numbered.

The entire First Season of The Big Show survives to this day but only 1 and 2/3 episodes of 31 survive from Season 2. Still, what remains is a fantastic program put on by some of the finest talent radio produced. Truly the Big Show was worthy of its big name.

Further reading:

The Digital Deli’s Definitive log of The Big Show.

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You” as performed on the Big Show.

All 27 circulating episodes of “The Big Show”

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