The Peabody Awards

The Peabody Awards

‘Watching the Detectives’ tours TV’s pulp fiction


Noel Holston - 1/31/2015
‘Watching the Detectives’ tours TV’s pulp fiction

In the realm of broadcasting, crime has always paid.

Radio in the 1940s was awash in private eye, cop and mystery show, among them I Love a Mystery, Crime Club, Sam Spade, Gang Busters, Bulldog Drummond, The Shadow and Boston Blackie.

And except for a stretch of the 1950s when cowpokes and frontier sheriffs were America’s gunmen of choice, crime has never stopped being a major staple of prime time entertainment.

Watching the Detectives, showing Tuesday, February 17, at 3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Russell Special Collections Library, 300 Hull St., draws on clips from shows in the Peabody archives to trace the evolution of crime and mystery shows over the course of more than six decades.

It’s a revealing survey. It’s not that the names have been changed to protect the innocent, as Sgt. Joe Friday liked to say on Dragnet, it’s that innocence itself has been blackjacked. The crime-stoppers nowadays are often as scary as the crooks.

Because the Peabody Awards were conceived to encourage broadcasters to do more public service and high-minded shows, Peabody judges in the award’s early years didn’t hold the crime genre in high regard. Suspense, a classy radio anthology that attracted big-name guest stars, was honored in 1946, but the genre went ignored for three decades until Hill Street Blues was undeniable in 1981. Since then, crime related shows have been chosen regularly. Homicide: Life on the Street, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are just a few singled out for excellence. Like all previous Peabody Decades programs, the encore screening of Watching the Detectives, originally shown last fall, is free and open to the general public as well as University of Georgia students, faculty and staff.

The documentary includes more than two dozen excerpts – almost all from programs in the Peabody Awards Collection, the largest electronic media archive in the Southeast – and covers more than 60 years of stars and shows. Hear Jack Webb as Joe Friday in a classic radio broadcast of Dragnet. Watch Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) match wits with guest murderer Ruth Gordon. See rare clips from The Lawless Years. Revisit riveting excerpts from The Blue Knight, The Rockford Files, Twin Peaks, Prime Suspect, The Shield and Sherlock.

Looking ahead, the Decades series continues on March 17 with a new documentary devoted to the history of animation on television. The excerpted programs from the Peabody archive will include Time for Beany, The Bullwinkle Show, Dora the Explorer, Rugrats, Animaniacs, Space Ghost, The Boondocks, The Simpsons and South Park. An April 21 Decades documentary will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. It will combine clips from documentaries such as Ken Burns’ The Civil War, plays and TV-movies dating back to the 1950s to illuminate the war and how our collective memory of it has been shaped.