My Top Ten Half Hour dramas, by Rich Paschall
Have you ever watched an hour-long drama and decided it was too long? Even with all the commercial breaks, it did not seem to have a story of any length. “They could have told that in a half hour,” you may think. With all of the extraneous character development for the sake of giving us details into the private lives of the main characters, the story may go on for much too long. Recently I saw an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles that seemed to be torturing us with filler. If they stuck with the main plot line, it could have been over quickly, but they found plenty of uninteresting ways to stretch out the episode.
Why can’t each episode be a half hour if that is all the story they have? Why do they bury us with scenes that do not move the plot along? While there are a few half hour dramas, there has not been much to choose from in recent years. Showtime cable network has given us some short dramas, including the well regarded “In Treatment.” A few other cable or internet programs have also tried the short form. If you search for lists of half hour dramas, however, you will likely get redirected to lists of sitcoms. It is as if the internet does not know of any half hour dramas.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, broadcast television was filled with half hour dramas as well as situation comedies. Many of these shows have found new life on such networks as Decades, MeTV, Cozi, Antenna TV, Nick at Nite and TV Land. In case you are wondering what were the best short dramas, I am here to advance the plot with my top ten dramas of the past. Turn up the sound, adjust the rabbit ears and set the channel to SERENDIPITY TV.
Before we get too far along let’s give an honorable mention to a few. Naked City was a favorite of my grandmother. The first 39 episodes were just a half hour before the popular police drama expanded to an hour. A syndicated series Tales from the Darkside was a hit in the 1980s, but most locations ran it late at night so perhaps you missed it. MASH is often considered a comedy, but there were dramatic elements and serious story telling that made it a unique hit that was hard to classify. By the way, you will find no Westerns on this list. There were so many half hour Westerns it deserves a list of its own.
10. Adam-12 starring Martin Milner and Kent McCord. Think of this as Dragnet with police officers rather than detectives. In fact the creator and Executive Producer was Jack Webb, star of Dragnet.
09. Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The anthology series was hosted by the famed director and ran 7 seasons as a half hour show before morphing into the Alfred Hitchcock Hour for 3 more seasons. Hitchcock only directed a relative handful of episodes and those clever opening and closing monologues were written for him.
08. M Squad starring Lee Marvin. The novelty of this 1950 series for us was using Chicago as the setting. We all knew that the municipal vehicle license plate numbers began with an “M,” hence M Squad. I guess you could say there were really no unmarked police cars in those days.
07. Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges. The main thing I remember about this show was that my father loved it, so we never missed an episode. Who knew so much action could take place under water?
06. Dragnet starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander and later Harry Morgan. The popular radio series came to television in 1951 and aired for 8 seasons with Ben Alexander as Jack Webb’s partner in the police drama. When Webb brought it back for 4 more seasons in 1966, Alexander was unavailable and Harry Morgan stepped in as his detective partner. The second series was in color.
05. Lassie. A boy and his dog, what’s not to like? The long running tales of the heroic collie should actually be considered several series. Lassie kept turning up in new homes and with new owners. It seems the dog even joined the US Forest Service for 6 years. Let’s stick with the first two main sets of owners. 1954-1957 Jeff’s Collie and with Tommy Rettig as Jeff and Timmy & Lassie with Jon Provost as Timmy.
04. Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. OK, we knew that Superman was breaking through fake walls and yes, we wondered why people were so stupid they could not realize Clark Kent was Superman, but we loved it anyway. The series started in black and white, but went to color in 1955, long before the others.
03. The Twilight Zone. The anthology series was created and hosted by Rod Serling, who also wrote many episodes. It touched on a variety of genres and always contained a twist or unexpected ending. Ranging from Science Fiction and Fantasy to horror and the supernatural, each story held your interest.
02. Honey West starring Anne Francis. It was time for a female detective but it only lasted 30 episodes before the network reportedly went for cheaper programming. It was an unfortunate decision as the series earned Francis a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy nomination.
01. Peter Gunn starring Craig Stevens. This crime drama featured a suave detective, a jazz club and plots that were well developed. Executive producer was Blake Edwards and the well-known theme song was written by Henry Mancini. This one never ages.
Note: Click on any of the titles above for the opening sequence.