Police shows are a dimebag a dozen on TV and have been ever since the dawn of the medium. The feds from J. Edgar Hoovertown show up quite a bit during prime time as well. What you may not know is that TV also has a long history of as a propaganda arm for the US Treasury Department and their role in containing lawbreakers. If you thought the only cop-type agents who worked for the Treasury Dept. were those guys charged with protecting the President against assassination, you will be in for an eye-opening surprise.
Treasury Men in Action
For five years audiences in the earliest days of TV were treated to live half-hour presentations of crime drama based on actual files from the US Dept. of Treasury. One of the most creatively education casting decisions in TV history was for the actor playing a character known simply as The Chief to be a stand-in for the head of whichever specific department within the US Treasury that related to jurisdiction over the case featured that night. In this way, audiences of the early 50s got to know how Treasury Agents were called in to investigate smuggling, counterfeiting, moonshining and, of course, tax evasion.
Special Agent 7
Sounds like a spy show, but in fact “Special Agent 7” followed the adventures of Treasury Agent Philip Conroy around the country to investigate crimes under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Dept. One week Special Agent Conroy might be working undercover at private gambling club to look into charges of counterfeiting and the next week he might find himself surrounded by carny workers as he tries to determine how a failing fair could product such huge revenue.
“The Untouchables” is probably the most famous TV show to deal with the impact of Treasury Agent on crime in America. While the actual details of the investigation of criminal activity portrayed on “The Untouchables” grew increasingly fictionalized to the point where a disclaimer was eventually tacked onto the end credits opening acknowledging this fact. Nevertheless, “The Untouchables” did give TV what is probably its greatest single moment in Treasury Dept. crimefighting history with its recreation of the infamous toppling of mob kingpin Al Capone.
O’Hara, US Treasury
The title has the terse, to-the-point feel of something like “O’Hara, Private Eye” but unless you know that Treasury Agents working for that Cabinet department have in their power to investigate crime and make arrests, “O’Hara, US Treasury” could sound as about as enticing as “O’Hara, Budget Analyst.” In fact, Jim O’Hara also went undercover at a carnival, but to heroin smuggling. This 1970s TV Treasury Agent also investigated the smuggling of guns and diamonds, counterfeiting, blackmailing and gambling.
The Wild, Wild West
A couple of TV shows present the work of the US Treasury Department in entirely different lights from the standard crime fare. Jim West and Artemus were technically two of television’s Treasury Agents. They worked for the most famous division within Treasury associated with crimefighting: the Secret Service. “The Wild, Wild West” had bigger things on its mind than showing two T-Men protecting the President every week, however. Among the crimes that these two Treasury Agents solved in this precursor to the Steampunk Movement were plots to overthrow the US government, a man threatening to artificially create earthquakes as part of his plan for blackmailing the government for ownership of the state of Wyoming as well as counterfeiting money and plots against Pres. Grover Cleveland.