20 February 2003 | schappe1
Half Hour Dramas
We are used to 40 years of hour-long dramas and half-hour comedies. We think those time limits were somehow decreed by God. But once upon a time, half hour dramas were common. I've got a large collection of Gunsmokes, (it was ½ hour for the first six years- the most popular year sit ever had), Have Gun Will Travels, as well as Naked City and Secret Agent, (Danger Man), both of which were ½ hour in their first seasons. So were many other shows, including man Westerns, like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and the Rifleman. My experience is that these shows were uniformly strong and interesting and that they packed as much drama and action in 30 minutes as most shows do in 60. Occasionally, there's a plot that could have used some fleshing out and maybe an ending that seemed too pat, as if they lacked the time for something appropriately complex. One thing ½ hour dramas didn't do very well is allow for ensemble casts. They usually concentrate on single stars with supporting players mostly in the background and stock villains. There wasn't time for subtle shadings. The drama was as stark as a shoot-out.
Still, there are so many hour-90 minute and even two hour dramas I've seen over the years that were padded with irrelevant subplots, pointless red herrings and other nonsense that the spare, to the point storytelling of these early efforts has a strong appeal. Have Gun Will travel was probably the best of the half hour dramas because it was perfect for it. Other than Hey-Boy, (and Hey Girl), there was just one cast member- the Hero. He was a constant, allowing for all the character development to be about the villain, or perhaps whoever was threatened by him. Despite Paladin's efforts at avoiding violence, the show typically came down to the inevitable shoot-out, where he had even better luck than Matt Dillon, (he was wounded far fewer times). Into this form was injected a series of shot, pithy poetry reading by the Shakespearean trained Richard Boone. That, plus the complexity of the villains, made this show a cut above the many other westerns of it's time. Ironically, what the show did not do well was comedy. Boone's stoic visage registered disgust better than amusement and disgust isn't very funny.