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’. Â 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)?