Kraft Suspense Theatre aired on NBC television from October 1963 until July 1965. It aired in color at a time when most shows did not.
Suspense Theatre was one of many anthology series to air in the 1950's and 1960's - meaning that it featured different characters in different settings for each episode.
Kraft Suspense Theatre
Suspense Theatre has been largely forgotten - especially when compared to the other anthology shows of its era. Shows like Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents are universally recognized as classics, while few people have heard of Suspense Theatre. Both Twilight Zone and Hitchcock Presents are/have been featured on Hulu.com as well as cable and DVD/VHS releases. Many other shows from the same era enjoy the same modern distribution, including illegal uploads on youtube.com. Suspense Theatre has, for whatever reason, missed these opportunities. Aside from some syndication in the 1960's and 1970's, the only modern revival of the show has come from its appearance on the RTV network for the past two years.
The reasons for this disparity are difficult to identify.
Suspense Theatre featured stars from virtually every Hollywood era, most of whom remain household names today. Such stars include Milton Berle, Robert Duvall, Ronald Reagan, Jack Klugman, Telly Savalas, Jack Warden, Gloria Swanson, Peter Lorre, Richard Crenna, Jack Lord, Broderick Crawford, Jack Kelly, Leslie Nielson, Gena Rowlands, Robert Goulet, Dean Jones, Leonard Nimoy, Tina Louise, Robert Conrad, John Forsythe, Robert Loggia, Ben Gazzara, Sally Kellerman and many others. These stars are instantly recognizable to a wide audience and would attract viewers. Yet whenever I read a hollywood biography or a wikipedia or IMDB bio about any of these actors, the Suspense Theatre role is barely (and rarely), if at all, even mentioned.
Stars and their biographers are quick to point out their roles on other shows of that era, including Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Hitchcock, etc. But they usually see no benefit in touting their performance on Suspense Theatre.
I consider the stories on Suspense Theatre to be usually superior to those on other shows of that era. The Hitchcock shows are usually too clever to be realistic. The science fiction shows of the era appeal to a somewhat more narrow audience. The Suspense Theatre plots are usually much more dramatic in a realistic way.
The show's name is misleading. We think of suspense entertainment today in more violent terms. While there was often a hint of violence in Suspense Theatre, the drama and suspense revolved more often around issues of right and wrong or the main character's struggles against his own insecurities or inadequacies. Even 45 years later, the viewer can still identify with the conflicts that appeared on Suspense Theatre. These conflicts reflect our own struggles and issues.
Suspense Theatre does not spoon feed the viewers. The plot requires an attention span that is longer than would be required for most modern shows. (Although it does feature the occassional car chase, fist fight or shoot-out). But the payoff is better in the end. The viewer sees a resolution to a more realistic struggle than the mere winner of a gun battle.
One thing Suspense Theatre features more than anything is class. The music is classy, the cars are classy, the women are classy. The men wear suits and ties, even when they are down on their luck. But the dialogue is not wooden and stiff - like some parody of 1950's television. The dialogue is crisp, the conflicts are real, the sets are attractive and the stories are hard to turn off, even when one has seen them before.
I will focus on all of these elements in future posts, as we explore and review many of the episodes, the stories, the characters and related trivia.
updates - click the following for discussions of:
the theme music;
connections between Kraft Suspense Theatre and Star Trek;
The cars of Suspense Theatre;
The RTV network and prior syndication.