When I was a kid, and that was a long, long time ago, I couldn’t get enough of TV. And I’m talking about being in Boston (from age 1-9) when the city only had two channels. My earliest memory of it is never even coming on the air until about 5:00 or so with Howdy Doody. Up till 5:00 there was only a test pattern, which I even watched on occasion, wondering if people in other cities got the same test pattern and if not, was theirs cooler than the one I was watching.

Anyway, within a couple of years, TV started airing in the morning as more and more programming came on line. I used to regard school as an intrusion on my TV time, and I would occasionally note the time in the classroom, telling myself, “Break The Bank is on right now, followed by Strike It Rich“. Actually, Strike It Rich was one of my favorites. Movie serial star Warren Hull (The Spider) was the MC, presiding over a trail of tears flowing from the contestants. They told their sad stories, then had a chance to answer questions for money.

I always liked the game shows, but I also liked baseball, certain variety shows, Saturday morning shows like Super Circus and Mighty Mouse, even some soap operas, and cop dramas. The cop dramas were invariably on late at night, however, like 8:30 and beyond, so my parents didn’t let me stay up that often. When I could, though, it was Dragnet, The Lineup, Man Against Crime, and later Peter Gunn, M Squad, and all the other great cop shows.

I especially liked Racket Squad, a low-key show from the early 1950s (now out on DVD) starring the great Reed Hadley, which focused on swindlers, embezzlers, and other practitioners of the confidence game. It showed how ordinary people can be easily taken in by clever con artists. I never forgot this, and after knowing a few grifters in my adulthood, I saw how some of these people found themselves in way over their heads as a result of their own poor choices. Many times they would get desperate and cross the line, and presto! Then you had noir.

These days, I don’t care for series cop shows at all. They all look alike. They all have the model-handsome hero, the pretty girl (or “strong woman”, to use their euphemism), the black guy (or girl), the Asian guy (or girl), the crusty-but-benign supervisor, the same camera work, same ol’, same ol’.  The closest I can come is Justified, an outstanding maverick of a show starring a smoldering Timothy Olyphant, and based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. Beyond that, I go for Mad Men, Dexter, and American Idol (I know, I know). I loved The Sopranos and Deadwood, but I’m afraid they’re gone forever. And that’s pretty much it, besides great movies on TCM.

Thing is, almost all these shows have, at one time or another, provided me with some kind of material for my writing. Maybe even a scrap of information or an unusual plot line that some writer sneaked past the producers, or just a sharp line or two…I’ve always managed to glean something from these shows every now and then. I’m even talking about the old ones, too, that I have on DVD.

How about you? Ever get any ideas from TV shows (not counting CSI or Law And Order)?

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3 Responses to TONIGHT AT 10, 9 CENTRAL

  1. Joyce Ann

    No. That would seem like plagiarism. The best ideas come from real life and obscure newspaper stories (for fiction).

    BTW: Do you know How many people there were in “The Naked City”? They each, supposedly had a “story.”

  2. Joyce Ann

    Also, have you tried the show “Breaking Bad”? Wow, talk about really decent people who have screwed-up their lives (and others) with the wrong choices–exceedingly Noir–the web their lies have woven just get more and more wicked. There seems to be no way out of this thing alive. All acting fantastic. Highly acclaimed. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to catch up with the earlier seasons.
    My husband also likes Justified, and must watch it whenever on. A) Because it is an Elmore Leonard product–we have seen every movie made from an Elmore Leonard book, including 3:10 to Yuma. They advertise it once, and he immediately knows it is Elmore Leonard; and 2) He really admires the way the U.S. Marshall (Timothy Oliphant) uses and handles his gun (And, he is a “hunk.”). He loved that opening episode in Miami with the time limit. The incident that has him in trouble now.
    We have never in our lives spent one moment of our precious time watching American Idol, nor would we, nor will we, nor do we really know much about it, but it seems dreadful. I don’t think our children, parents, or any of our close relatives watch it either. Yuk!
    But, when it comes to shows like American Idol, I must admit–H. L. Mencken was right: ” No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

  3. I’m pretty much with you on television shows. I watch Justified every week, and lament the loss of The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire. I get much of what you get from television through NetFlix movies: the plot line that could have been followed up better, what if they had done this instead of that, an occasional situation.

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