Thursday, August 5, 2010

Core Samples

If I could tell the people who produced the episode of Suspense I'm listening to that one day we could all listen to them around the world on our portable phones, they'd have told me to go peddle that stuff to the producers of Space Patrol or X Minus One.

Suspense was on the air for a long long time - from 1940 to 1962. And because of that, it's a great bellweather to track the rise and decline of radio drama. During the war the shows were a little silly and obvious, uncomplicated tales of people victimized by thieves or Nazis or maniacs. Then came the ten years following the war, the Golden Age or Radio, with a new big name guest star each week and protagonists who were, as often as not, the maniacs themselves. Then came the final seven years as televsion ate up the audience for drama. Suspense cut the budget only, it seems, for scripts. They reused scripts from the golden age frequently (Sorry Wrong Number turned up 5 or 6 times), or comissioned new lacklustre material by fledgling writers. The stars were few and far between too, but usually those guys were working for scale anyway to promote whatever movie was coming out that week so it didn't make a difference on the budget; but the big names didn't bother any more. They were doing variety shows.

You can test my notion of Suspense as a quality gauge by sampling episodes from here. I think they're all in some copywrite grey area - not illegal unless someone makes trouble. My recommendation is shows from the Elliot Lewis era (1950-1954) - great music, and full-throttle overacting by guest stars. It's like having William Shatner in your own head.

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