Ken Foote’s Radio/TV Files: Procedural “Who Dun Its”

By Ken Foote, CBSDFW.COM

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A promotional photograph from procedural crime drama "Perry Mason." (credit: CBS)

Since 1948, the CBS Television Network has been known for its great shows, from comedies, to reality shows, and to the procedural drama.

The term “procedural” refers to a discipline in the construction and flow of the sequence of the story line. One of the early procedurals on CBS was “Perry Mason.” Each episode had the following main elements: the background of the supporting characters creating the tension between each other, the actual crime, the consultation with Perry prior to trial, the hiring of the Paul Drake Detective Agency, sassy conversations with Hamilton Burger and Lt. Arthur Tragg, the preliminary trial, stern faced judges (one of the judges, Kenneth McMillan, was a semi regular in The Three Stooges films), more evidence dug up by Paul and Perry, and the close with Perry haranguing the witness, “Isn’t it true you killed your wife?” Then came the identity of the actual criminal and then the wrap up. The conclusion usually involved Perry; his secretary, Della Street; and Paul, sitting around Perry’s plush Los Angeles office or at their favorite restaurant explaining how it all happened. Evidence was withheld from audience to keep them from switching the channel! In each and every episode, this basic formula was executed intact for 271 episodes.

Today, you still see the procedural drama elements in shows like “NCIS,” “The Mentalist” and the “CSI:” brand of shows on CBS. But on this date in 1971, CBS aired a made-for-TV movie starring William Conrad playing a middle-aged, balding and portly detective named Frank Cannon. Cannon didn’t get roughed up too much, but he always got his man. He had very expensive taste in material items and in cars. 124 episodes were made between 1971 and 1976. It also spawned a spinoff series called “Barnaby Jones” starring Buddy Ebsen (you will remember him as J.D. Clampett in the CBS series “The Beverly Hillbillies”). It also aired on CBS Late Night for a short period of time as well.

Bill Conrad was also the voice of Matt Dillon on the radio version of “Gunsmoke,” but when that show moved to TV, it was a young James Arness who got the part on TV.

Cannon went into local TV syndication for a period of time after it left the network. As a young program director at KXTX Channel 39, we had the local rights to this show. I recall everyone at the station being real worried about this show working, not being able to sell commercial time within it, and concerns about not having anything to marry it with. I convinced my boss that the best place for it to succeed on the station was weeknights at 10:30 p.m. He agreed, and when it aired, it was huge hit in Dallas and for KXTX. I was relieved that my scheduling hunch was right!

See you next time.

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