Monday, February 28, 2011

Kraft Suspense Theatre; Season #1

I have now completed my reviews of each of the first season episodes. (Click here to see each of these reviews or consult the "Episode List" on the left side of this page.) Before beginning Season #2, I want to review some of what I have learned from reviewing Season #1. The posting format has developed over the course of the past few months in a way that would benefit from summary and explanation. So here is my section-by-section summary/explanation of what I have written from Season #1.

Title: I use the the title of each post as Google fly-paper. Each "title" is composed of a series of names, words and phrases with little apparent coherence. But it is the title that attracts Google traffic. Google users are not searching for clever phrases or sentences. Google searches look for keywords. I try to pick the most likely searched words and dump them into the title. If you peruse the "Site Meter" data, you will see that this approach works to a certain degree. You can see what the visitors typed into Google that landed them into a particular post.

The opening link: Each post begins with a link to the previous episode review. The most important feature of a blog is the ability of the viewer to move quickly from one post to another. This or any blog contains ongoing references to overlapping information. The more quickly a reader can move to another post, the more likely he is to obtain all of the available information. Readers that find their way to this blog (via Google) because of the information in one post should be able to look around and get to other posts without delay. The closing link for the next review at (or soon to be at) the bottom serves the same purpose. These links supplement the "Episode List" for that purpose.

Episode Number: I occasionally place additional commentary here to help place the episode in context. (Example here)

Episode Title: I place the title of each episode in boldface and larger letters so the reader will know at a glance which episode is at issue. This is especially important since the post title is full of miscellaneous phrases.

Original Air Date: This component often merits additional commentary that focuses on speculation regarding the original schedule, news events from the time in question or other contextual matters (example here and here).

Setting/Time: Most of the episodes take place in the present. There are a few examples from World War II or other situations (example here), many of which are presented through flashbacks (example here).

Plot/Review/Discussion: Obviously, this is the most important part of each review. I try to convey with each review my appreciation for the realism of each plot. I have stated repeatedly how the best plots feature the characters facing a choice instead of simply bed hopping or performing surgery or facing danger. A Hero for our Times (1.04) is a good example of one such plot.
Episode #1.05 is another good example. Episodes 1.25, 1.26 and 1.27 are also good episodes to watch the characters face difficult choices.

Some episodes involve variations on the "facing a choice" theme - such as where the choice is made at the beginning and the character(s) must live with the consequences. (1.06, 1.14, 1.16).

Other episodes with political agendas have plots that are more muddy (1.15, 1.28). Some episodes have mixed political/legal messages that now seem out of date and that make the plot somewhat implausible (1.07, 1.23).

Some episodes are more crime or action oriented with an element of mystery (1.11, 1.13, 1.18, 1.20, 1.22). These episodes vary in quality, with the best of them forcing the main character to struggle with some choice or come to terms with choices in his or her past.

My reviews seem vague because I try to be less specific as the episode goes on so as to avoid plot spoilers. I try to set up the characters and the conflict in a way that avoids any hint at the resolution. I also try to avoid spoiling the opening teasers, as the action in the KST openings sometimes contains a twist that is worth seeing without knowing what to expect.

In some cases, I try to identify the author of the story and explain how the story fits into the author's other work.

Sometimes the story also is based on Biblical, Shakespearean or other references (that are hinted at in the episode title). In the review I try to identify these references and how those references add meaning to the story.

I try to do more than simply establish the basic storyline and invite the reader to "find out" what happens by watching the episode. Much of today's advertising for television programs uses the "find out" approach to attract viewers. Even many of the summaries that appear online describe television and film in this way. This approach assumes that people watch television solely for the purpose of finding out what happens instead of enjoying the story as a whole. The resolution becomes the whole reason to watch the program. The flaw in this approach becomes apparent once the viewer has seen the program. The story is now over. The viewer knows how it ends. The viewer retains no interest in the story or in watching the episode again unless the story itself presented an interesting conflict. In the most enduring programs, it is just as interesting to watch the characters struggle for the conclusion as the conclusion itself. These programs achieve lasting success and are watched in syndication for decades. Viewers watch the same episodes again and again even though they know the outcome. They are not watching simply to "find out" what happens.

My goal is to provide enough context that the reader will want to see the episode for reasons other than the simple desire to "find out" what happened. I believe that the viewer will want to explore the issues created by the conflict and will enjoy seeing the issues play out. I believe that KST possesses the enduring qualities that would create the type of loyal following that would cause viewers to want to see these episodes more than once despite being aware of how the episode ended.

Cars: This portion of the review is often the most fun. I am not an expert on vehicles of the 1950's and 1960's, but I can get a good idea of what I am seeing on the screen. Once I have a rough idea of the year and make of the car, I can narrow it down by searching Google images. Even then, I am sometimes guessing as to the year. If KST had been broadcast 25 or so years later, distinguishing among the various years would be impossible.

Before I began this blog, I was under the impression that the 1963 Mercury Monterey made more appearances than it actually made throughout the series. After paying attention to the extent necessary to write these reviews, it seems that that model makes only a few appearances (although more than most cars of that era and as many as any other model). The 1960 Mercury Monterey is almost as prominent, as is the 1964 Ford Galaxie, various Lincolns and various years of the Ford Thunderbird.

The best season # 1 episodes for cars are 1.04, 1.06, 1.19 and 1.27, (with honorable mention to 1.05, 1.11 and 1.28.) These choices are based on the best variety of cars and the best use of those cars during the episode.

Each discussion of cars begins with a link back to the original "cars" post so that a reader can learn the context of my "cars" discussion.

Actors: Kraft Suspense Theatre has been relatively unknown compared to other shows of its (or any) era. Syndication has been rare until the recent RTV era. I think this relative obscurity is unjustified given the stories and the actors in each episode. As I have tried to make clear in my reviews, each episode featured well-known actors who remain recognizable today. I try to point out the famous actors that appear in each episode.

KST remains a lesser known work in the careers of many actors that would later find fame in movies or television. KST also featured actors that were legendary at the time, thus revealing that KST was somewhat more important during its first run than its later obscurity would indicate.

KST also featured many character actors that made a career from guest appearances in famous television programs of the past six decades. Despite KST's obscurity, these appearances help place KST on a par with those other series.

The same is true of directors that later became famous for major movies or other TV series.

By pointing out these connections, I hope to raise KST's status from that of an obscure television show not popular enough for its own DVD release to that of a classic series from television's golden age.

Star Trek connections: I have written about this feature here. I have several reasons for making the comparison between these shows.

  1. To promote KST: Star Trek enjoys a very loyal following. Star Trek fans know the Star Trek actors (including the guest stars). Even the guest stars are popular speakers at the Star Trek conventions. Broader knowledge of the large role that Star Trek actors played in KST would undoubtedly attract Star Trek fans to KST.

  2. To promote Star Trek: Star Trek is already popular and will continue to do very well even without my contribution, but its popularity has its limitations. Star Trek is viewed as the territory of science fiction fans and middle-aged "kids" that never grew up. By showing the connection between Star Trek and a respectable, non-kid oriented show from the same era, I hope to transfer some of that respectability to Star Trek.

I am primarily a Star Trek fan. There are already too many sites devoted to Star Trek. I have very little to say about Star Trek that has not already been said or written. Discussing KST allows me to write about an underappreciated, quality show while pursuing an unexplored connection to Star Trek.

Lessons - I began including a list of "lessons" of particular episodes only when the plot is weak, when there is an agenda or when the story involves some implausible or bizarre scenario. Eventually, I began including lessons whenever I saw an opportunity for a joke. Episodes that include a list of lessons are 1.15, 1.22, 1.23, 1.25 and 1.28.

Labels - The labels at the bottom serve a specific blog related function. I include in the "label" section only those terms or names that will appear in other posts on this blog. This usage will allow the reader to click on that term and find other posts that use the same term. I will not include the most prominent name in each episode if that name does not appear in other episodes or other posts - even if I have written extensively about that name in that particular post. In this way, the labels allow the reader to move easily from post to post in search of information about a particular topic.