TOO MUCH DRAMA – RICH PASCHALL

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.

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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 consider 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.

97 thoughts on “TOO MUCH DRAMA – RICH PASCHALL

        • Yes the mayor on NO was certainly annoying. IN LA there was a mole to find late in the season. They played that out too long. Some episodes barely moved along. They did find a creative way to write the dying Miguel Ferrer out of the script, but it was sad to know he was sick and dying in real life.

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      • Great topic, Rich.I, too, wish more of today’s dramas were self-contained. They feel they must have a “Red John” — “The Mentalist” continuing villain). “The Fugitive” and his one armed nemesis was one of the earlier “continuing plot” series. Producers/network suits think we’ll drift away if they don’t give us an incentive to view next week’s show.

        I’m also a devotee of those old series on the oldies channels. You’ve presented a worthy list.

        I just began watching the old “Medic” series with Richard Boone on GET or ME TV. There’s also the old “The Richard Boone Show” anthology show. It was a TV rep company with Boone, Warren Stevens, Harry Morgan, Ford Rainey, Janette McDonald and Laura Devon alternating in lead and supporting roles. Complete, self-contained stories. Lasted one season with Boone walking away in frustration. I’m also taping “Studio One” which was a landmark series along with “Playhouse 90”. A recent “Studio One” oldie was “The Night America Panicked”. It detailed the night Orson Welles ran his “War of the Worlds” radio drama that scared the bee-jeezus out of millions of listeners. Many panicked. There were accidents, even fatalities as people tried to run from the “Martian Invasion”. Ed Murrow (with ironic smile) hosted and narrated the show. The cast included Warren Beatty, Warren Oates (twenty somethings), Vincent Gardenia and Ed Asner among others. Oh, Alexander Scourby was also in the cast. Another “PLAYHOUSE 90” featured the 2 part “The Defenders” starring Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner in roles that would be reprised by E.G. Marshall & Robert Reed in the acclaimed but short-lived “The Defenders” series. In the Playhouse 90″ two parter, the cast included Martin Balsam (with full head of hair), Ford Rainey and Steven McQueen (Yes!!) as the angst-ridden young defendant.

        So many of these shows rekindle memories from my youth. When the show ended, the story was resolved.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. So good to see Twilight Zone on this list. Otherwise there would’ve been an uprising… from moi. Thanks also for no Lost in Space; ridiculous then, more so now. And yes, please, a Top Ten of the old half-hour Westerns is now a must.

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    • Lost in Space did not qualify for many reasons. It is hard to categorize those Irwin Allen “dramas.” You may look for our half hour Westerns in two weeks. The “Rabbit Ears” committee is deep in consultation now and we will be handing out the envelopes soon. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway will not be announcing the winners.

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    • Queen, my Queen, how could I forget the old westerns?? The original half hour “Gunsmoke” episodes were wonderful. They still work!!
      “Have Gun-Will Travel”, “Tombstone Territory” (Marilyn, how many t’s in ‘territerry’?), “Wyatt Earp” (Brave, courageous and bald), “The Restless Gun”, “A Man Called Shenandoah”, “The Texican”, “Lawman!” (A particular favorite with my man John Russell as Marshall Dan Troop”), “The Rebel”, Branded”, “Tales of the Century” (w/ Jim Davis and Mary Castle), “The Deputy” (HENRY FONDA!!), “Broken Arrow”.

      These were just the HALF HOUR westerns that usually had adult scripts and good acting.

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      • Tune in again in two weeks, when we ride back into the sunset to find our top ten list of half hour Westerns. The boys are holed up at the old silver mine putting together the list and will hand it off to the sheriff in time for the star studded episode.

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        • Okay, just reminded me of “Death Valley Days” brought to you by 20 mule team Boraxo. Stanley Andrews as The Old Ranger before they brought Dutch Reagan aboard to shill.

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      • Uh, what about Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Hop A Long Cassidy, Gene Autry, Wild Bill HIckock (Hey BIll! Wait for me!!) There is an interesting documentary voiced by Dennis Weaver about Hop A Long Cassidy. He was the first global superstar. It was aired in dozens of countries. He visited hospitals to visit sick kids all the time. One time he walked in on a kid who had been in a coma for months. The kid heard his voice and woke up! After that he was always being moved by people wanting to touch them or their sick child. Fascinating documentary.

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        • I loved Hoppy! Next to Silver, he had THE horse of horses. I had his lunchbox. I had it picture on my wall — on top of my Lone Ranger wallpaper. I think I still have his tin plaque downstairs, to this day. Those tin placards really LAST.

          I also loved Roy and the gang, though maybe I loved his horse even more. Okay, I was pretty fond of Bullet, too. And Buttermilk. Thing is, like Hoppy, Roy and Dale were genuinely good people. They cared. They had a mission … which in their case included adopting any kid that looked hungry. I don’t even remember how many children they had. 12? 15? A lot. And they loved them all. I think they had a couple of their own, too. It was a real family, not a celebrity event.

          Even Lone Ranger was sincerely involved in trying to make the world a better place. In helping kids develop positive moral character — and it wasn’t about a right-wing God or a bunch of hate-filled quotes from a bible. It was real, human outreach.

          We need more of that. A LOT more of that.

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          • Okay, answer me this, Pale face. How come Tonto always had to go to town (and get beat up?). How come Tonto always had to cook dinner? Get the firewood (spit ovah that piece of firewood)? What was Long Ranger doing? Polishing his bullets?? Betcha Tonto had to do that plus shine Long’s boots and do the laundry!!! How come Long always took credit for everything?? Ya never hear anyone say at the end of the show….”That’s TONTO” …..”Git ’em up, Scout”.

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            • But LONE cooked the dinner. That has to count for something, right? As for going into town and getting beat up (every single time), I think it was intended to remind people of prejudice against Indians. If they beat up the Lone Ranger, it would have just been a plot point.

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            • Whoops! Hadn’t scrolled down far enough to see MrsA’s response, and thought you were talkin’ to me, Pilgrim. And actually, I was the Tonto and Scout fan. When We (me and my dog) played “Cowboys and Indians,” Poochie was always Scout and I was always Tonto. 😀

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        • Pancho, I didn’t forget Hoppy, Long, Roy, Gene, Wild Bill or others in that category. Just thought they were more for young ‘uns like us. Ceeeeeeesco y Pancho?? Let’s not get into their relationship. Happy Trails!!

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        • Pancho, I came across a “decades” piece on Rita Hayworth. In one of her early flicks, Rita Casino is the love interest for Tex Ritter. So very funny.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. What’s happening in Canada is we still have the 1/2 hour drama or program but there’s a 1/2 hour of commercials interspersed. After 15 minutes of ads one tends to forget what they’re watching let alone figure out character development or complicated plots.
    Leslie

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  3. Rich, I’ve just heard from a friend who writes books about film actors, character actors. He lives in Arizona and knows people like William (Falconetti on “rICH mAN, pOOR Man” and co-star on “Laredo” series) Smith, Warren Oates and Richard Jaeckel.
    My friend says his character actor pals didn’t like Jack Lord because of his arrogance. Book ‘im!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF THE SHORT WESTERN | SERENDIPITY

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