Last weekend, as we recall, we published a list of our ten most popular articles during the last six months. This Friday, we are going to publish our top five most popular entertainment choices, as rated by our readership. There are actually eight at this review, due to a two-way tie at #5 and a three-way tie at #3.
We have been reviewing classical television series (with a few movie serials) which depict positive views of our culture and represent honest portrayals of morality and manhood. Beginning with next week's feature, we are going to review material from Hollywood's Golden Age. So stay tuned.
From the results from the last six months, we learned a few interesting things. Our readers have a definite preference in storylines and heroes. The top pick was something of a surprise; but it's easy to see the trend as the numbers were counted down. Though unscientific, we can learn from this list what people really find attractive in the male nature. The heroes among the top picks all certain common character traits:
1. They acted independently, and solved problems on their own initiative;
2. They answered to a higher moral code and acted according to it, regardless of the consequences.
3. They typically either had significant others, or others for whom they assumed responsibility;
4. They were universally respectful and indeed often chivalrous towards women.
All of these points run contrary to postmodernist thinking portrayed in contemporary pop culture by male feminists and Manospherians. It would seem that the traditional male with genuinely masculine characteristics is still the most admired archetype. Here are the readers' choices with dates of review:
5. (tie) The Lone Wolf (May 6th). Interestingly enough, our first and last reviews tied for 5th place, and both were similar in their lead characters. The Lone Wolf was based on a popular novel series by Louis Joseph Vance, and ran on Independent networks in 1954. The lead character, Michael Lanyard, was a modern knight-errant whose adventures were the subject of his reputation as a free-lance writer.
5. (tie) The Saint (October 28th) This series ran from 1962-1969 on Independent stations. This was a British production based on the novel series by Leslie Charteris. The lead character was Simon Templar, who like Lanyard, fought on the side of justice against the powerful and corrupt. Templar was a gentleman soldier of fortune who often had to go against the system to see right done.
4. Shotgun Slade (July 8th) Our readers agreed that this unique series was a top choice. A combination of film-noir storylines, music, and atmosphere against the backdrop of the Old West, Shotgun Slade ran on Independent networks from 1959-1961. Slade was a private detective based in Denver and got his nickname from his weapon of choice. The Old West setting gave a unique twist to the standard PI format. Slade's character was much like the others reviewed here; unyielding integrity unafraid to act on principle.
3. (tie) T.H.E. Cat (October 14th) Another deeply thought-provoking adventure series, T.H.E. Cat aired on NBC from 1966-1967. Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat was a former circus acrobat who retired to run a nightclub and engage in adventures helping people in trouble on the side. Cat had a unique set of talents, which he put in the service of others. The series was remarkable though in that portrayed good men, who were flawed but used their strengths for good, often against irrational and unyielding evil.
3. (tie) The Rifleman (September 23rd) This was a very popular Western about a gunfighter who was also the widowed father of an orphaned son. It ran from 1958-1962 on ABC. The hero of the series was Lucas McCain, a Civil War hero who wielded a custom-built Winchester rifle in the cause of right. By the very plotline, McCain's character was both an abstract and concrete example of true masculinity.
3. (tie) Combat! (May 27th) A very realistic WW2 series that aired on ABC from 1962-1967. Sgt. Chip Saunders and Lt. Gil Hanley were commanders of an infantry squad fighting their way through occupied Europe. The series episodes were of high quality and an hour long, often depicting the moral dilemmas, responsibilities, and initiatives leaders of men exhibit in critical circumstances. Saunders' character was a fairly average young man of the 1940s whose character developed him into a heroic platoon sergeant.
2. Peter Gunn (May 20th) Aired from 1958-1961 on NBC. A very popular PI series that depicted the exploits of Peter Gunn, who probably more than any other character represents the masculine qualities listed above. As did, incidentally, his love interest, Edie Hart represented a strong feminine archetype. The popularity of this series both among our readers and among earlier audiences attests to how valued these characteristics are.
1. Man Against Crime (July 15th) This series was also known as Follow That Man in syndication. Our top viewers' pick aired from 1949-1954 on DTN and was the first really popular private detective series. The character was Mike Barnett and the storylines were extremely realistic, often shot live and on location in New York. The series is relatively unknown today, but Barnett was the archetype on which almost all subsequent characters were based. It's really not surprising in retrospect that this series was the top choice: it portrayed the highest of masculine qualities in the most realistic settings.
There are a few television dramas which we were unable to review, but would like to recommend them, with the reason for their omission. Viewers are encouraged to seek out all of these:
Too Many: series that were excellent but too long-running or too complicated to review. These include:
Gunsmoke, 1955-1975 on CBS. A legendary Western featuring Marshall Matt Dillon taming the Old West from Dodge City. This series ran for 20 straight years.
The Virginian, 1962-1971 on NBC. A Western based on Owen Wister's novels. This program featured a strong, silent ranch foreman known only as the Virginian. The episodes were 90 minutes long and with profound and serious storylines. It was much like the classic film Westerns brought to television.
Boston Blackie, 1941-1952, Independent. Not well remembered today, Boston Blackie was an iconic hero of the mid-20th Century. A former jewel thief turned hero, Boston Blackie was the subject of several hour-long features spanning the 1940s, and a radio show in 1944. In the pursuit of justice, Blackie often had to outwit the bungling police who were considerable comic relief in the series. In 1952, Blackie moved to TV, with a different cast but the same general plotlines. In the TV series, he was joined by a love interest, a charming heroine named Mary Wesley. "Enemy to those who make him an enemy. Friend of those who have no friend," was Blackie's motto.
Too Few: Unfortunately, like many films, some great television series are lost. Here are three of which some episodes survive and are worth seeing on Youtube:
I'm The Law, 1953 NBC. The exploits of Inspector Kirby of the NYPD. Kirby was played by veteran actor George Raft. About 8 episodes are known extant, about half of which are on Youtube. Available episodes show this was a very well-written and involved police drama with Kirby a hands-on detective of the old school.
Rocky King, Detective, 1950-1954, DTN. Only four episodes of this series are known to survive, and on Youtube. Inspector King was also played by a veteran actor: Roscoe Karnes. Inspector King was also married and family issues were sometimes interspersed among his adventures. The episodes always concluded with King calling his wife from his office and after a short pause would say, "Yeah, we got him."
Too Scarce: These are recommended but not currently available, so keep an eye out for them. We may review these at some point in the future:
Soldiers of Fortune, 1955-1957, Independent. This was an interesting concept in that it took the theme of the Old West gunfighter and his sidekick hiring out in the Cold War Era to fight Freedom's enemies.
China Smith, 1952-1955, Independent. China Smith was an adventurer of the Lanyard and Templar mold, living in 1950s Singapore.
Johnny Staccato, 1959-1960, NBC. Johnny Staccato was a private investigator and part-time musician in the Greenwich Village clubs of the early 1960s. He was another known hero in the community to whom everyone turned when in trouble.
So, we look forward to another six months of offering classic weekend entertainment choices for your viewing pleasure.