Tag: Golden Age article

The Top Five Detective Programs from the Declining Years of the Golden Age of Radio

See the articles on detective programs in the World War II era and the immediate Post-War era.

Television was always going to be trouble for the world of radio drama and comedy. That problem grew larger as more TV sets were sold, more broadcast hours were added, and overall production quality improved.

1951 was the first year when television’s advertising revenue exceeded radio’s advertising revenue. It was a watershed and economic pressure bore down on radio. Everyone involved in scripted performances could make more money on television: writers, actors, directors. They were all drawn to television as radio programs began to cut back on budgets. Popular long-standing programs such as the Lux Radio Theater, Bob Hope, and Jack Benny began leaving the air to focus on the more lucrative opportunities in television. Networks began scaling back budgets for programs.

The decline could be seen in many ways. Great actors rarely starred in radio’s great anthology programs. Suspense had been known for its star-studded guest casts but in the latter 1950s, it featured many lead players who would have been lucky to be cast in two-line walk-on parts in the show’s heyday.

One last boom did occur in radio. Westerns took off with the success of Gunsmoke over radio and this continued until the end of the 1950s. Things didn’t go as well for the detective genre. After the glut of programs during the immediate post-war era, the herd began to thin. In addition, a lot of new programs were gone after six months when they might have lasted years had they aired in the previous decade. NBC, in particular, seemed to cancel one detective program so they could replace it with another they’d cancel six months later.

Despite its challenges, the era did provide opportunities. Character actors known for playing sidekicks now got a chance to star in their own radio detective shows. While writers like Jackson Gillis had moved on to television, there’s still some good scripts written. There’s even a case to be made that some scripts from the later 1950s show more maturity and nuance than the scripts from the height of the golden age.

This era has some solidly written and entertaining programs. However, few new detective programs were produced. In addition, many of the programs produced, such as Indictment and Treasury Agent, only left behind a handful of episodes. This may have been driven by more radio stations beginning to use tape, which had the cost-saving benefit of being able to be recorded over, much to the loss of future generations.

At any rate, here’s my top five detective programs from the declining years of the Golden Age of Radio..

5) The Adventures of the Falcon

Network: NBC

Star: Les Damon

This series has a terrific opening. The Falcon (aka Private Investigator Michael Waring) answered the phone and on the other end was an unnamed woman he had to break a date with and he gave a slight hint of the danger ahead. The story would generally start with a sordid situation developing that the Falcon would need to be brought into to solve.

The mysteries generally had a lot of twists and surprises. The Falcon had a competent police foil and he wasn’t always right. The series utilized some of the best New York radio actors including the distinct Ralph Bell. The characters often heightened characterization but this was toned down compared to something like Boston Blackie. However you cut it, this was a solid listen.

4) Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator

Network: NBC

Star: William Gargan

William Gargan had been a private investigator in real life which brought authenticity to his take on Barrie Craig. The academy-award-nominated Gargan was fun to listen to and provided versatile characterization. Craig could be friendly and easy-going, but also could get tough, or deal with sad or emotional moments. The series didn’t try to maintain a heavy atmosphere but knew how to mix in lighter moments to give its serious moments and ideas real weight.

The stories were well-written and well-directed. The first three seasons of the series were recorded in Hollywood, and the last in New York. However, throughout, the guest cast remained solid, and Gargan worked well with everyone.

3) Broadway’s My Beat

Network: CBS

Star: Larry Thor

“From Times Square to Columbus Circle…the gaudiest, the most violent–the lonesomest mile in the world.” The opening set the stage for Lieutenant Danny Glover’s downbeat adventures in solving homicides. The writing by Morton Fine and David Friedkin is highly stylized with a lyrical quality to it. Larry Thor nails the role of a tough, world-weary cop. Thor wasn’t an obvious choice. Prior to taking on the role of Danny Clover, he was best-known for performing announcer duties on programs such as Rocky Jordan.

While Clover is a cop, he seems to fit more comfortably with the hard-boiled private eyes of the previous era but with a badge that requires a little more cooperation and respect. Even though he’s a Lieutenant, he’s often in the field alone investigating cases. While many police and detective shows were moving toward a procedural feel with more realism and scientific investigation, Broadway’s My Beat went for human drama and poetry and the result is a compelling series.

2) Dragnet

Network: NBC

Star: Jack Webb

Dragnet became less the bold experimental show it was when it started in 1949. Particularly when Dragnet hit TV and Jack Webb was doing thirty-nine episodes of Dragnet on television in addition to more than fifty radio episodes per season, and in the midst of all that, a Dragnet movie was made. I think it’s safe to say that by the time Dragnet left radio in 1955 that Webb wasn’t feeling the same passion for the project he felt in 1949 and was eager to get on to other projects.

Even so, even with less passion, Dragnet was still better than nearly anything else on the radio and managed to tell some of its greatest stories, including the classic Christmas tale, “The Big Little Jesus.” After Barton Yarborough passed away, Ben Alexander became Friday’s new partner Frank Smith and brought a new dynamic, particularly with humor. Most episodes after Alexander joined the cast began to feature a scene with Joe and Frank talking with a fun punchline. Not only was this is an interesting new addition, it strengthened episodes that packed a dramatic punch because the earlier levity makes the big emotional twist hit like a gut punch.

Once Dragnet stopped making new episodes, NBC continued to air reruns network-wide for two more years which was unprecedented and a sign of the show’s popularity and quality.

1) Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

Network: CBS

Star: Bob Bailey

The first fifty-eight weeks with Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar featured serialized stories that aired Monday-Friday. To me, this run of episodes ranks as the best run of radio drama of all time. While there are some amazing individual episodes and story arcs from different series, for consistent high-quality radio drama over the course of year with high quality, that run of Yours Truly Johnny Dollar was never equaled. Many story arcs were based on scripts of half hour episodes that writers such as E. Jack Neumann and Les Crutchfield had written for previous runs of Johnny Dollar or other programs. The format allowed writers to expand upon ideas or to combine ideas from different stories. The format was also ideal because with two exceptions (a six-parter and a nine-parter) each story was limited to five parts. This avoided the padding and drawing out stories that could become the case on so many other serialized drama.

Bailey was supported by some of the finest radio character actors of all times, including Virginia Gregg, Herb Vigran, and Howard McNear. Bailey and Gregg had some superb scenes together and play off each other very well. The series also began to develop Johnny into a real character. Johnny Dollar had been on the air since 1949 but his backstory had been limited to what served an episode. Still, Johnny got definite back story, friends, and a favorite hobby of fishing. While previous Dollars picked up the phone and reached random insurance agents of the week, Bob Bailey’s dollar reached specific agents with their own unique personalities.

The series reverted to a half-hour form and it’s fair to say that sometime after that, the quality of stories began to drop, particularly from a mystery standpoint . Part of it came from budget cuts that had Jack Johnstone taking over as the series’ sole writer (a role he wasn’t suited to.) Due to less airtime, there are some episodes of Johnny Dollar where half the episode is spent talking about the case and its history.

However, even with its problems, the story also had its strengths, giving Johnny a rich cast of supporting and recurring characters that no detective drama had ever seen. It was years, and maybe decades ahead of its time with the sheer volume of continuity and friends that Bailey’s Dollar was given.

On the strength of the details given to Johnny and the show’s stellar start, the Bob Bailey run on Johnny Dollar is the best highlight for fans of detective radio programs in those last few years of radio.

 

The Top Five Post-War Radio Detective Programs

It was a challenge finding programs to compare when ranking World War II radio detective programs last week. This week, the big challenge is narrowing it down. The immediate post-war era (1946-51) was great for radio detective programs. The Hard-Boiled genre of detective fiction had a huge impact in the post-War era. Once networks saw some success in one hard-boiled radio detective program, the number of tough guys who spoke similes as a second language surged. Many of these got lost in the shuffle, but the best of them found a hook or angle that made them stand out from the crowd.

This is also the era when you have more programs with a high percentage of episodes available, which makes comparison easier. However, choosing is not easy. So many great programs get left off a top five lists. A lot of programs have a really good case for including them.  Still, these are the ones I’d go with.

5) Richard Diamond

Networks: NBC, ABC

Star: Dick Powell

Dick Powell began his career as a light song and dance man who played the lead in a lot of romantic musicals. In the 1940s, he began a new chapter in his career as the tough-guy star of films like Murder, My Sweet, Cornered, and Johnny O’Clock.  In Richard Diamond, these two elements are combined in a beautiful package in Richard Diamond. It’s a mix of usually rough violent stories that often end with him leaning close to his girlfriend, playing the piano, and uncorking a sweet romantic song.

The first season of the show is the best with Ed Begley as Lieutenant Walt Levinson, Wilms Hebert playing a double roll as Sergeant Otis and Diamond’s girlfriend’s butler. If the series had stayed that good throughout, it’d rank higher, but Begley left after the first season and three different actors played Levinson, and Wilms Hebert passed away in 1951. The show also tried to get away from the singing and do more serious tough-guy stuff without as much musical and comedy balance.

4) Sam Spade:

Networks: ABC, CBS, NBC

Star: Howard Duff

Sam Spade had been defined by the writing of Dashiell Hammett and the performance of Humphrey Bogart. That didn’t deter Duff, who took the role and made it his own. The character as Hammett wrote him would not have been someone the audience of the time would like to visit every week. Duff took the character’s toughness and occasional ruthlessness, and added a great deal of humor, with just a smidge of human sympathy and the result is unforgettable. The interaction between Sam and his secretary Effie were imitated by contemporaries but never really equaled.

The villains were bigger than life as if they should’ve been on The Shadow. However, the series seemed to thrive on these over-the-top characters as Spade took them in his stride, tidied things up, and got back to the office to dictate his report. Its music, opening, and “Good night, sweetheart” closing are iconic.

3) Rocky Jordan

Network: CBS

Star: Jack Moyles

Its international setting, replete with research on local customs, made it a stand out in the radio detective genre. Cairo-based café owner Rocky Jordan found himself in the midst of intrigue and mystery each week. Usually, it wasn’t of his own making and didn’t have anything to do with him or his business interests. Inevitably someone else in a jam would invariably draw Rocky into their problem.

What made the show is the relationship between Sam and Cairo Police Captain Sam Sabaaya (Jay Novello.) The two came from different worlds. The show didn’t back away from those differences but leaned in to them and showed how they maintained a respect and fondness for each other despite their disagreements. Captain Sabaaya was a thickheaded police foil, but a good cop who had a different thought process than our hero but often saved the day. One of the show’s best accomplishments is this felt like a believable part of their dynamic.

2) Dragnet

Network: NBC

Star: Jack Webb

Dragnet was a key step in the evolution of the police drama in bringing realism and professionalism to the way police dramas were told. There’s much that could be said about Dragnet over radio. Its characters talked more like real people. Because you felt like you were being shown how things really worked in the police department, Dragnet had a way of making tedious details and portions of investigations seem compelling. Even with the realism, there was a good sense of the dramatic and the show had a way of delivering big revelations and plot twists.

The music is iconic (although it took three episodes for them to settle on it) and the sound design helps make you feel like you’re accompanying Sergeants Friday and Romero. If you listen to Dragnet, particularly in the early episodes, If they walked into the store, you heard the sound of the store. This was different than other investigative shows where it felt like the heroes were always questioning their witnesses in pocket dimensions where nothing else was happening or going on.

They dealt with issues and cases that other shows avoided. It was a groundbreaking program that would set the tone for crime dramas for a decade and influence many programs that have come since.

1) The Adventures of Philip Marlowe

Network: CBS

Star: Gerald Mohr

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe had a lot going for it. It came closest to producing a serious hard-boiled detective series. It rarely indulged in the era’s popular extreme characterization, which gave it a more serious feel. It wasn’t oppressive, but the story had more weight than the detective shows that made it impossible to care that their over-the-top characters are being murdered. They were also less predictable. While some series were downbeat all the time or had a massacre every episode, Marlowe got some wins as well as some losses.

The production also showed willingness to play with different ideas. Sometimes, this would work out well, such as the episode where every character was a woman, including women holding traditionally male jobs. Sometimes, it didn’t work out so well, like the episode where he tried to investigate a murder while bed-ridden. However, there’s creativity behind the stories and they never get into a rut.

Mohr’s performance was superb. He was tough but he wasn’t cartoonish or needing to prove himself all the time. His characterization was often world-weary, but sometimes hopeful in spite of the trouble he’s been through. There’s a definite soft spot that makes you care for him.

The episodes are well-directed and have superb action scenes despite how tough it is to do those over radio. The “Get this and get it straight” opening light is one of my favorites, although it was tweaked much more than it needed to be. Norm MacDonnell, who’d go on to distinguish himself on Gunsmoke, has nearly flawless direction on this series.

This is not only the best post-War radio detective series, it may well be the most consistently good radio detective series ever made.

DVD Review: Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple – Movie Collection

The four 1960s Miss Marple films starred Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. For purist fans of Agatha Christie’s spinster detective, these films don’t offer much. Only one of the four was based on a Miss Marple book while two others were based on Poirot stories and one of the four was an original story. Some have compared these films to Peter Ustinov’s Poirot films in the 1970s and 80s, but to me that misses the mark. Ustinov’s Poirot films were at least nearly recognizable as the same character and stories despite the changes.

The only way to enjoy these four films is on their own merits and by that measure they do work. Miss Marple finds herself in one murder mystery after another. It begins with Murder She Said, when she sees a murder through a window while riding a train and is disbelieved by the local Detective Inspector (Bud Tingwell) and she’s assisted in solving it by her friend, the local librarian Stringer (played by Rutherford’s real-life husband Stringer Davis.) The formula of her getting involved in murder and having the Inspector treat her like she’s a meddling amateur and her being vindicated in the end is the way all three films go that see her investigate murders at stables, at a rooming house, and at sea. And she also generally gets an unexpected marriage proposal.

The series gets a little goofier, though mostly in a good way, as it goes along with a lot of tongue and cheek humor. I might compare it in some days to a somewhat more restrained version of the approach to the 1966 Batman TV series with a bit more of a British pantomime take to its comedy, as there are very broad characters who are well-played.

The writing is decent, although the last film Murder Ahoy (the only original story) was a bit weaker than the rest of the series. However, the weaknesses in the script are made up for by the performance of Lionel Jeffries gives as the ship’s captain as he helps sell the dodgier aspects of this story.

The music is light, with a cheery upbeat tune that wouldn’t fit most productions based on Agatha Christie’s writing, but fits this one like a glove.

This is one of the coziest mystery movie series you’ll find. If you like that sort of film and can tolerate its deviation from its source material, this is a delightful romp that’s worth viewing.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

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My Favorite Old Radio Research Resources

The following are some of my favorite and most powerful research resources for the Golden Age of Radio:

Radio Goldindex: This was created by respected radio researcher and chronicler David Goldin. It recently was hosted at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which has helped ensure it’s always up.

You can search for programs by series title, by performer name, or by date. There are tens of thousands of programs included. Oftentimes entries are based on Goldin’s examination of actual transcription disks, so it’s helpful to settling questions about when programs aired. Unless there’s strong evidence to the contrary, I go with what’s in Goldin’s log. He’s also far better at recognizing a host of old time radio voices than I am. I also use this to help me find programs for extras I do for the app. featuring old time radio detectives in different roles or when I do a themed series on the Amazing World of Radio featuring a specific actor. I also used this when I did a special podcast gift to my mother featuring programs that aired on her birthdate a few years back.

The site does have its problems. The listings aren’t 100 percent accurate and the search by artist and search by programs aren’t perfectly synced. Also, entries have varying degrees of information on dramatic programs. Some will give just cast/crew information. Others will include plot details and even occasionally a mini-review.

Still, it’s incredibly useful and its flaws are due to the fact the Index began as a one-man labor of love.

On the Air is John Dunning’s massive encyclopedia of Old Time Radio. I bought the Kindle edition several years ago, but a listener was moving and sent me their hardback edition and it is nice to have this big physical book filled with Old Time Radio shows.

It’s an incredibly useful book. It’s particularly helpful when I’m researching obscure programs. The length of each entry varies, and the popularity of the program may determine that in part as people are going to be more interested in reading about Fibber McGee and Molly rather than pages about some obscuring singing program. It’s particularly useful in determining how long a series ran.

The book was released in 1998 and there has been additional research since then and there have been some programs discovered that aren’t listed in Dunning’s massive tome. Still, it’s an incredibly useful starting place to get basic information on a series’ stars, how long a series ran, and what networks it was on as well as a lot of little tidbits.

Wikipedia has some information on old time radio programs, but Wikipedia is always best as a starting point for research rather than as an end. Some topics are well-researched and edited, with detailed radio logs. Others have partial logs, no log at all, or has information included that’s wrong or just an urban legend. As a rule of thumb, the more obscure the program, the less likely you are to find a good article on it here.

Google Books has been a lifesaver in helping with obscure topics and programs because it searches and indexes so many different old time radio books and books on various actors that it comes up with information that’s just not available searching the Internet. I’ve gotten on some interesting rabbit trails. And this resource has also led to a few Interlibrary loans and purchases.

Log Sites:

Digitial Deli FTP, is not as updated as often as it used to be but it also has a lot of good information and articles on various radio programs. The site not only includes logs but it tends to show which old newspapers it got information from as well as often reprinting or quoting articles on a particular source. Digital Deli FTP can be a bit uncharitable with the perceived failings and disagreements of others within the Golden Age of Radio community and also can get a little political. However, despite those issues, it’s got a lot of great information on it.

Old Time Radio Program logs is a great listing of Old Time Radio episode logs by Frank Passages, Stewart Wright, and other notable researchers. The logs not only contain information about when episodes aired, but also the show’s overall production. Their log of O’Hara was invaluable in understanding how to best discuss the two circulating episodes recorded five years apart with two different stars. There are a few of them that are a bit older and maybe not as up to date, but the site is still an incredible resource.

Jerry’s Vintage Radio Logs: This is from the site of Old Time Radio pillar Jerry Haendiges. The logs are designed to feature his high-quality old time radio recordings which are available on CD and MP3. He has some program logs here that are just not available anywhere else. While some are quite old, you can tell which ones are more out of date as he always notes the last updated date. His logs for Sherlock Holmes and the Australian run of the Fat Man have been invaluable. He’s also got a lot of other great resources on his site.

Miscellaneous:

Old Time Radio Star Interviews: Years after the golden age of radio ended, many starts continued to talk about their experiences. The OTRR library has full interviews with several radio stars conducted by John Dunning and Chuck Schaeden. If you don’t want to listen to full interviews, the Breaking the Walls podcast does a great job incorporating selected excerpts that highlight interesting tidbits about radio history.

Old Time Radio Newsletters:

The Old Time Radio Researchers puts out the Old Time Radio Times every two months in pdf.

The Metropolitan Old Time Radio offers its Radio Recall newsletter to its members and has samples on its website.

DVD Review: Forgotten Noir, Volume Seven

Forgotten Noir, Volume 7 collects three B-movie mystery/adventure films from the 1950s, all of which had interest to me as a fan of old time radio.

The first is David Harding, Counter Spy. Based on the long-running Phillip H. Lord radio series, the film has a framing device of a commentator who blasted the government, having the idea of counter-espionage explained to him through a story that occurred during World War II as a Navy Lieutenant Commander is called in to find out how information is being leaked from a torpedo manufacturing plant. The framing device is unnecessary and the film has a few slower moments, but this is the best film in the set as it was made as a studio B picture for Columbia rather than as an Independent release.

Next up is Danger Zone. There’s some confusion around this movie. Some say it’s based on Pat Novak for Hire starring Jack Webb. It’s actually based on the Pat Novak for Hire ripoff Johnny Madero, Pier 23 also starring Jack Webb. Future Ward Cleaver Hugh Beaumont stars as Dennis O’Brien, who is Johnny Madero by another name. This movie adapts two different stories made over radio with little to link them, apparently to allow the option of splitting them to air on television. One of the stories adapts an existing radio episode, “The Fatal Auction” and follows the plot beat for beat.

The biggest change is that rather than having his confidant be a waterfront priest, Dennis’ go-to guy, Professor Frederic Schiker, is a Jocko Madigan-type drunk who lives with O’Brien, which does save on scene changes. I did miss the character’s chiding (which was a feature of both Pat Novak and Johnny Madero) and without that the performance is a bit flat. The stories are decent, but the acting is a bit off. Even Beaumont, true pro that he was, seemed to not totally believe the off-the-wall hard boiled lines he was being asked to deliver. It does make me appreciate the unique quality that allowed Jack Webb to deliver those lines with as much conviction as he did.

Finally, we have The Big Chase. I was interested in this film as it starred Mystery is My Hobby and Stand by for Crime star Glenn Langan and his wife (and Stand by for Crime co-star) Adele Jurgens as a rookie policeman and his expectant wife. The story does have some nice features. Langan’s character is given depth as we learned why he joined the force and why he wants to get into the juvenile division. Langan does a good job and plays his part without the more refined voice he does his most famous radio voice in.

The story features better talent than you’d expect with a film like this with Lon Chaney, Jr. playing one of the bad guys and Douglas Kennedy playing our hero’s police Lieutenant buddy. It also featured Joe Flynn (of McHale’s Navy fame) in one of his earliest film roles as a reporter in yet another unnecessary set of framing scenes. The film is called the Big Chase for a reason. It has a twenty minute chase scene that’s a lot of fun. It involves cars, trains, a helicopter, boats, as well as some fisticuffs, and gun play. It’s not perfectly executed but makes up for it with some nice location shooting which can cover a multiple of film-making sins for many fans.

The big problem with the film is that it is severely padded. It runs a little over an hour and has enough interesting material to fill somewhere between 25-35 minutes. The chase really gets started nearly 40 minutes in, and prior to that the pacing was positively glacial.

I was glad to watch the films, but this is one of those ones I couldn’t recommend for everyone. This is a film that you have to be an OTR buff to appreciate. We have a well-known radio series coming to film, an obscure radio series coming to film, and a star of two lesser known radio series playing a policeman in a slow, dull film that gives way to an impressive low budget chase. As the saying goes, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you would like.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

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Book Review: Dick Tracy: Dailies and Sundays: 1931-33

Dick Tracy is the legendary detective created by Chester Gould whose comic strip adventures continue until this day. Dick Tracy first hit newspapers in 1931 and this book collects his first strips from October 1931 to May 1933.

This collection is notable for what you won’t find: any of Tracy’s garish rogues gallery. No Flattop, Mumbles, or Pruneface. The most prominent villain is Big Boy, but in here he’s a regular mob boss. The colorful villains would come much later for Tracy. This book features Tracy taking on thieves, kidnappers, and racketeers that were typical 1930s villains.

The book opens with the father of Tracy’s fiancée being murdered. Tracy joins the police force in order to catch the killer. The most unrealistic part of this entire collection is when Tracy is so quickly graduated and placed in a leadership position on the force with no explanation. Three months later, he slacks off because of personal problems with Tess and is demoted to uniform duty and complains about how he was demoted despite all he’d done in the three months on the force. 

Once you get past that silliness, the book is good. The crimes aren’t outlandish and Tracy’s methods are pretty solid for a 1930s newspaper strip, featuring some real detective work. The book also did go for some “ripped from the headlines” cases. For example just after the Lindbergh kidnapping, Tracy had to solve a similar baby kidnapping case.

Other than introducing Tracy and Tess Trueheart, the book’s important contribution is introducing Junior, the homeless, seeming orphan who Tracy adopts, or perhaps it may be he adopts Tracy.  He becomes part of the action on several occasions and you can see why he’s often viewed as a precursor of teenage sidekicks like Robin, the Boy Wonder and Captain America’s sidekick Bucky Barnes.

The art in the book starts off looking a bit primitive but as Gould continues to draw, it becomes a lot more polished. The book is mostly in black and white with the exception of the earliest Sunday strips. These strips didn’t follow the daily strip plot, opting instead for a separate mystery or  sometimes just a one-off gag strip. They continued until May 1932.

The book also includes an interview with Gould by his successor on the Tracy comic strip, Max Allan Collins. 

Overall, while the book doesn’t capture Tracy at the peak, it does manage to capture Tracy’s beginnings and also help readers understand how Tracy became so popular in the first place with fun and exciting stories, detective work, and a broad-based appeal to multiple members of the family with character drama and a kid sidekick. Worth a read for both Tracy diehards and those who are curious about the beginnings of this iconic character.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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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.