I have a friend at work who likes to spend time in my office. I don’t blame him, not only am I cool cat to hang with, I have one of the best views on the floor – made even better for him because he doesn’t have windows at all. Our conversation tramples free-range over pretty much everything but generally falls into one of the cardinal directions of work, military service, fine dining, or film – a discussion of Casablanca is very efficient.
Recently he told me that Dragnet, Adam 12, and Emergency had all become streamable on Netflix. I loved Emergency growing up – to this day, when someone says, “We’re on our way” I silent add “Rampart” every single time. Every time. Then I hear the siren sound in my head. I’m really surprised I didn’t become a fireman. Anyway, I remember that I watched Adam 12 but couldn’t tell you anything about it and the closest I ever came to Dragnet was handing over the video cassette of Dan Aykroid’s movie to rental customers.
It was time to check out some classic TV. My friend’s description of Dragnet was just too juicy to miss out on. Slang. Public Service Announcements disguised as “on the nose” dialogue, and more voice over narration that you can shake a stick at. Henry Morgan is just a bonus.
Dragnet lived up to its reputation. I like it way better than Cops. Even my children watch it. Sort of. There’s a lot of Candy Crushing going on too. But a funny thing happened on the way to queueing up Dragnet – I spotted Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
We love it. I remember the opening and the opening only from decades ago. We’ve watched a couple of them and their great, if you are interested in a good story and observing how film has changed in the last 60 years. Not all of my children like it, but their reactions have been very educational for me as a story teller.
1. “That guy is annoying. He says the other guy’s name every single time he talks.” Parents observe. “See? He did it again. ARRGGGGHHH!” I think that the main character’s name was the single most often used word, squeezing out ‘and’, ‘the’, and ‘red bellied sap sucker.’ Today’s audience doesn’t like that – it’s condescending.
2. “Dad. What did he do?” Hmm, sort of the point of the show, right? “No really, Dad. What’s going on? I mean, its obvious right?” Not the way Alfred rolls. More to it. “So tell me what’s going on, what did he do? No, really, I NEED to know.” The shows run about 25 minutes. At minute 11 my daughter couldn’t stand it. The suspense was too much. Awesome. I haven’t seen her react like that to anything. And she loved the twist, the story “after” the story.
So the takeaway? You don’t have to be nostalgic to enjoy an old program and a great story will reach across generations, bending convention and medium, to draw the audience in. Black and white? Who cares. Cheese Whiz for dialogue? So what. Create an alluring mystery and then deliver on the promise – it will be a populist winner every time.