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My family owned the second TV on our block back when I was a young child. I grew up with television. I studied in front of the TV. I watched every detective show I could see as well as such SF series as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel. I stayed up late weekday nights to watch The Steve Allen Show. I watched old B movies and the "Bowery Boys" on Saturdays. The whole family gathered in front of the TV to watch horror movies Saturday nights on Kansas City's Shock Theater.


Classic Programs

Have Gun -- Will Travel - Richard Boone played a gentleman gunfighter named Paladin who was lightning fast with his guns but preferred to use his intelligence and his classical education to achieve the tasks he had been hired for. The series was unusually literate and complex for a western of its era. Boone later starred in the short-lived but excellent anthology series Richard Boone Theatre and in Hec Ramsey a mystery series set in the old west.

Peter Gunn - This noirish private eye series told some good stories but is best remembered for being the first TV show with a jazz score — composed by Henry Mancini. Created by Blake Edwards, it starred Craig Stevens (whose father had been principal of my elementary school) with supporting performances by Herschel Bernardi and Lola Albght.

77 Sunset Strip - This classy detective series was loosely based on the 1958 movie Girl on the Run, which was loosely based on a novel by Roy Huggins. It established a model of a series about a detective agency with different members of the agency solving each week's case and with a strong sense of place. Others that followed the model included Hawaiian Eye and Bourbon Street Beat, with occasional crossovers between the series.

The Third Man - The character of Harry Lime in this series bears little resemblance to the one Orson Wells portrayed in the 1949 movie of the same title but he might well be Wells' character from the radio series "The Lives of Harry Lime" having gotten rich and gone straight. It starred two of my favorite actors, Michael Rennie (Harry) and Jonathan Harris (as his assistant Brad), and was one of my favorite shows as a kid. The shows were lighthearted, globetrotting adventures with mystery elements and featured many of the finest character actors on TV in guest roles. Some episodes are now available on DVD.

 

Contemporary Programs

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - CSI and its New York and Miami based offshoots are all highly unrealistic portrayals of law enforcement -- real CSIs don't interrogate witnesses, give orders to detectives, or make arrests. Most of the technology shown is real but little of it works that fast if the department actually has it available at all. The bizarre cause of death in many of the episodes is often barely possible but extremely improbable and the shows are rife with drug mythology and phony drug scares. But the stories are fascinating and the characters are compelling. the shows are as unrealistic as Star Wars and are similarly fun to watch.

Dexter -The writers of this show know nothing about sociopaths and little or nothing about serial killers. Dexter is an entirely unrealistic character but a thoroughly charming one and Michael C. Hall, who plays the role is a terrific actor. If you are watching crime shows to learn about crime or criminal psychology, you're going to learn little but nonsense from this or any other TV crime series. But if you are watching them for fine performances in entertaining stories, this is a great show.

Eleventh Hour - Based on the successful British miniseries that starred Patrick Stewart, this show was contemporary science fiction in the best sense of the term. In each episode, Dr. Jacob Hood (Rufus Sewell), a brilliant biophysicist and special science advisor to the FBI, investigated scientific crises and inexplicable events. He was assisted in his investigations by his bodyguard/watcher Special Agent Rachel Young (Marley Shelton). Unlike most TV crime or SF shows the science in this one was generally pretty realistic.

Weeds - An excellent comedy-drama series about pot farming and drug dealing. Not a documdrama, but more realistic than most shows about drugs on TV.The stories are great and the acting is excellent.