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Lugubrious Music, Openings, Closings


Lugubrious music, openings, closings...these are what I remember from many TV series from the 50s, Dragnet being the most famous. Over the past year I've reacquainted myself with two very popular shows from my childhood, both produced by that Quinn Martin of syndicated series producers, Fred Ziv: Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol.

Both shows were excellent at what they did, and I find them highly watchable, entertaining and often informative, literally educational. Yet both began with heavy, doomed laden music, in the case of Highway Patrol, accompanied by stern narration ("whenever the laws of any state are broken a duly authorized law enforcement agency swings into action..."). Both shows sort of "pose" as documentaries, though they're obviously fiction. At the end of each episode, after things are wrapped up, the credits roll, and once more that funereal music kicks in. Not funereal as in the kind of music one would hear at a funeral but rather music so joyless and downbeat one practically expects a funeral to follow.

The 50s was supposedly a happy decade for America, but was it? Many of the TV series of the period suggest as much, others don't. This was, after all, the Cold War era, and a kind of para-military mood prevailed, in real life and on television. It's certainly there in those two Ziv shows, one of which features the state police (even though its lead player doesn't wear a uniform), while the other has a former navy frogman as the hero. Ziv produced two other series that were even more military in tone, literally; one about West Point, the other, Annapolis.

I wouldn't categorize either Highway Patrol or Sea Hunt as downbeat, as the intention of each was to reassure the viewer that our highways and waterways are safely guarded by strong men who know how to do their jobs. However there's a humorless quality to these shows: no jokes, no comic relief, scarcely anyone has a private life. Although leading characters Dan Mathews and Mike Nelson like their work, don't mess around, always in the end resolve whatever problem they faced at the beginning, it's like they're both on guard duty all the time, 24/7. They're our sentries. We can play, go to the beach, sing, laugh and dance, because these men do their jobs. In this these two shows offer us the grim, sober other side of the coin of American life: some make sacrifices so that others can be merry. And it's true, as much now as then. Whenever I catch an episode of one of these shows I'm impressed. Shorn of melodrama, taken as windows on the real world, they're strong stuff.

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Television drama and sitcoms were patterned after radio entertainment. Check out the surviving episodes of Dragnet or Dangerous Assignment which were broadcast to listeners in the 1940's and early 1950's, as well as sitcoms like Henry Aldrich and Our Miss Brooks. Be prepared for opening and closing theme music as well as an announcement of the show and "closing credits" announced over the final theme music. TV shows simply followed the set-ups which had been established by radio networks in the 1930's and 1940's. Some of us (of a certain age) are irritated by today's TV closing credits -- hey, we'd like to see a READABLE cast list rather than a mini pic-in-pic in the corner with gigantic plugs for upcoming shows on the full screen. If you give old radio shows a listen, you'll find that only on soap operas like Guiding Light or Pepper Young's Family were many examples of personality or character development. Radio detectives and thrillers went straight to action or terror, the comedians straight for the belly laugh. The formats had won many listeners who'd stay tuned to the show THROUGH the sponsor's messages which were occasionally, as on Fibber McGee and Molly, incorporated into the script. Jack Benny, for example, included plugs for his sponsors in the broadcast itself. Ah, well, that was over 50 years ago. I'm sure the same viewers who'd enjoyed Dragnet on the radio never were puzzled by the fact that the openings and closings duplicated the radio format. You should also remember that in the 1950's people did not devote a great deal of time to TV viewing. Most families probably had a couple of favorite shows which they made a point of watching regularly but had other activities ... social meetings, sporting events, theater or -- yes -- even movies -- all of which vied for TV-viewing time. In the 1970's I lived in Europe and having a fairly active social life was somewhat shocked on visits home to see how many hours a day Americans spent watching TV! Now that I'm retired, I've fallen into the same bad habit, spending an inordinate amount of time in front of a computer or TV screen. I do make an effort, though, to read at least an hour a day for information or pleasure. Anyway, before critiquing the format of old television programs, you should be aware of how they developed. LOL

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Some of us (of a certain age) are irritated by today's TV closing credits -- hey, we'd like to see a READABLE cast list rather than a mini pic-in-pic in the corner with gigantic plugs for upcoming shows on the full screen.
Agreed. When I watch old Perry Mason shows, and others from the era, it's good to know that full credits will be shown at the end of the episode to satisfy my "what was his/her name?" moments. Then, once I'm reminded, it's fun to check them out on their IMDb page.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch said, in an interview, that he was once commissioned to write the opening/closing music for a TV "movie of the week." The closing credits were fairly lengthy. He was outraged when he watched the production, and saw the credits reduced to a quarter of the screen and an announcer plugging upcoming programs drowning out his music.





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Good stuff on radio and early television, Grantch. I knew that, wasn't thinking about Highway Patrol and Sea Hunt in those terms but yes, they were sort of like radio shows with picture, almost like Gangbusters, but more subtle, contemporary.

The formality and no-nonsense straight into the action style was typical of many syndicated shows, most of which were produced more cheaply than the ones made for prime time network broadcasting, yet even at that level there were radio holdover aspects to them. Even Rod Serling's narration (all narration, actually) on Twilight Zone gave off a whiff of old-time radio. The Fugitive also used narration, as did the earlier The Untouchables.

I've become a great fan of old-time radio in middle age thanks to the Internet, find the dramatic anthologies especially good listening. You really have you use your imagination with those shows, visualize.

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I don't remember much of it, but I recall I Led Three Lives as having a heavy opening. Siily me, being a kid of only six or seven, but I wondered how a guy could live three lives and ever get any sleep. He was always sneaking off for late-night Commie meetings but from what we saw, he got to his day job on time.

It ain't easy being green, or anything else, other than to be me

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Wasn't I Led Three Lives Fred Ziv? He was king of those ultra-serious shows, the ones that showed men doing their duty. Did Ziv ever produce a comedy?

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That was Ziv. The only thing comedic that I see on his resume was Meet Corliss Archer. I don't remember that show at all though.

It ain't easy being green, or anything else, other than to be me

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The "Sea Hunt" theme was from a music library used for radio, television, and films.

Radio's "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" used the same theme as "Sea Hunt" for years before the TV show.

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The library was Capitol/John Seely (a topic that is close to my heart). Used on cartoons for TV thru late 60s. Many B horror films.It had many different ones

Composers inclouded John Seely, Herschel Burke Gilbert, Alex Laszlo, Mahlon Merrick, Jack Shaindlin, Phil Green, David Rose, Henry Russell, Ed Lund, Herman "Hecky" Krasnow, Bill Loose, Specer Moore, Jack Cookerly, Jack Meakin, George Hormel, Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter, Hal Bluestone, Emil Cadkin, David Buttolph, Jsoeph MUllendore, David Chudnow, Byron Chudon, Roger Roger, Clarence Wheeler, Harry Lubin, Bill MacRae, Louis DeFrancesco, Paul Van Loan,Nathan Van Cleave, Raoul Krausshaar, and Ib Glindemann to name just "few"!

YThe music iuncluded the compostions contractually credited to Bill Loose and John Seely, whose name you will remember possibly from TV credits (Davey and Goliath, reruns of Hideous Sun Demon--if TAHT one ever get sshown!--and those six Warner bros, cartoons made due to a musicians strike in 958, and that's just counting the ones Seely's name is on.O)

Shaindlin, Kruashaar, and some others who had their own business let their music be released by Capitol under the originalk labels whilst many others's music, even composed for prevoious libraries, contractually got rebranded Capitol Hi-Q. (Paul Mandell, J.G.Bennie, Dave Shields, D.Matheson from various sources.)

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