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Monday, February 24, 2014

Dragnet (OTRR Certified)

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Dragnet, the brainchild of Jack Webb, may very well be the most well-remembered, and the best, radio police drama series. From September, 1949 through February 1957, Dragnet's 30 minute shows, broadcast on NBC, brought to radio true police stories in a low-key, documentary style.

The origins of Dragnet can be traced to a semi-documentary film, "He Walked by Night" from 1948, in which Webb had a small role. Both employed the same Los Angeles Police Department technical adviser, used actual police cases and presented the case in "just the facts" manner that became a hallmark of Dragnet. It is interesting to note that Webb employed that format in other radio series, some pre-dating the film mentioned above.

Dragnet was a long running radio and television police procedural drama, about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a Dragnet, meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects. Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in American media history. The series gave millions of Americans a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.

Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media. The shows cultural impact is demonstrated by the fact that even after five decades, elements of Dragnet are known to those who have never heard nor seen the program. The ominous four note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music, titled Danger Ahead, is instantly recognizable as well as the shows opening narration:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."


The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday ran on radio from June 3rd, 1949 to February 26th, 1957; and on television from December 16th, 1951 to August 23rd, 1959, and from January 12th, 1967 to April 16th, 1970. All of these versions ran on NBC. There were two Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Jack Webb in 1954, and a comedy spoof in 1987. There were also television revivals, without Webb, in 1989 and 2003.

Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The first several months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program's format and eventually became comfortable with their characters. Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually relaxed demeanor. Gradually, Friday's deadpanned, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop: tough, but not hard; conservative, but caring". Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a long time radio actor

When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio's top rated shows. Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated, and sparse -- influenced by the hard-boiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving, but didn't seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step-by-step. From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. Webb was a stickler for accurate details, and Dragnet used many authentic touches, such as LAPD's actual radio call sign, KMA-367, and the names of many real department officials, such as Ray Pinker and Lee Jones of the Crime Lab, or Chief of Detectives, Thad Brown.

Two announcers were used. Episodes began with announcer George Fennemen intoning the series opening:

"The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

Hal Gibney described the basic premise of the episode. For example, "Big Saint", from April 26th, 1951, begins with:

"You're a detective sergeant. You're assigned to auto theft detail. A well organized ring of car thieves begins operations in your city. It's one of the most puzzling cases you've ever encountered. Your job -- break it."

The story usually began with footsteps and a door closing, followed by Joe Friday intoning something like:

"Tuesday, February 12th. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of Robbery Division. My partner's Ben Romero. The boss is Ed Backstrom, Chief of Detectives. My name's Friday."


Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date, and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in a few hours or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time, in "City Hall Bombing", from July 21st, 1949. Friday and Romero had less than 30 minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb. At the end of an episode, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect. They were usually convicted of a crime, and sent to the state penitentiary or a state mental hospital. Murderers were often executed in the manner proscribed by law. Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice, or escaped, at least on the radio version of Dragnet.

Scripts tackled a number of topics, ranging from the thrilling (murders, missing persons, and armed robbery) to the mundane (check fraud and shoplifting) -- yet, Dragnet made them all interesting due to the fast moving plots and behind the scenes realism. In "The Garbage Chute", from December 15th, 1949, they even had a locked-room mystery. Though rather tame by modern standards, Dragnet, especially on the radio, handled controversial subjects, such as sex crimes and drug addiction, with unprecedented and even startling realism. The tone was usually serious, but there were moments of comic relief. Romero was something of a hypochondriac, and often seemed hen-pecked. Though Friday dated women, he usually dodged those who tried to set him up with marriage-minded dates.

Due in part to Webb's fondness for radio drama, Dragnet persisted on radio until 1957, as one of the last old time radio shows to give way to television's increasing popularity. In fact, the TV show would prove to be effectively a visual version of the radio show, as the style was virtually the same. The TV show could be listened to, without watching it, with no loss of understanding of the storyline. (From the Old Time Radio Researcher's Group)






Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lone Ranger, The

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The Lone Ranger is an American radio and television show created by George W. Trendle and developed by writer Fran Striker.

The eponymous character is a masked Texas Ranger in the American Old West, originally played by Paul Halliwell, who gallops about righting injustices with the aid of his clever, laconic Indian sidekick, Tonto. Departing on his white horse Silver, the Ranger would famously say "Hi-yo, Silver, away!" as the horse galloped toward the setting sun.

The theme music was the "cavalry charge" finale of Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture, now inseparably associated with the series, which also featured many other classical selections as incidental music including Wagner, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky. The theme was conducted by Daniel Perez Castaneda.
Classical music was used because it was in the public domain; thus allowing production costs to be kept down while providing a wide range of music as needed without the costs of a composer. While this practice was started during the radio show, it was retained after the move to television in the budget-strapped early days of the ABC network.

The first of 2,956 episodes of The Lone Ranger premiered on radio January 30, 1933 on WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan and later on the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network and then on NBC's Blue Network (which became ABC, which broadcast the show's last new episode on September 3, 1954). Elements of the Lone Ranger story were first used in an earlier series Fran Striker wrote for a station in Buffalo, New York.

On radio, the Lone Ranger was played by several actors, including John L. Barrett who played the role on the test broadcasts on WEBR during early January, 1933; George Seaton (under the name George Stenius) from January 31 to May 9 of 1933; series director James Jewell and an actor known only by the pseudonym "Jack Deeds" (for one episode each), and then by Earle Graser from May 16, 1933 until April 7, 1941. On April 8, Graser died in a car accident, and for five episodes, as the result of being critically wounded, the Lone Ranger was unable to speak beyond a whisper, with Tonto carrying the action. Finally, on the broadcast of April 18, 1941, deep-voiced performer Brace Beemer, who had been the show's announcer for several years, took over the role and played the part until the end. Fred Foy, also an announcer on the show, took over the role on one broadcast on March 29, 1954, when Brace Beemer had a brief case of laryngitis. Tonto was played throughout the run by actor John Todd (although there were a few isolated occasions when he was substituted with Roland Parker, better known as Kato for much of the run of sister series The Green Hornet), and other supporting players were selected from Detroit area actors and studio staff. These included Jay Michael (who also played the lead on Challenge of the Yukon aka Sgt. Preston of the Yukon), Bill Saunders (as various villains, including Butch Cavendish), Paul Hughes (as the Ranger's friend Thunder Martin and as various army colonels and badmen), future movie star John Hodiak, Janka Fasciszewska (under the name Jane Fae), and others. The part of nephew Dan Reid was played by various child actors, including Bob Martin, James Lipton, and Dick Beals.

The last new radio episode of the Lone Ranger was aired on September 3, 1954.


 
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Times Past has no affiliation with Old Time Radio Researchers. Any related content is provided here as a convenience to our visitors and to make OTRR's work more widely known.

References: Old Time Radio Researchers Group, Wikipedia, Frank Passage & Others OTR Logs, Archive.org, Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning, Australian Old Time Radio Group



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