You might want to catch these show about newspapers while you can. Because if you wait too long to watch them in the presence of kids or grandkids, you will be spending half your explaining what a newspaper was. The days of the traditional newspaper as we know it from TV shows and movies is approaching its last gasp. The effect has already been felt from Hollywood. Newspaper pictures used to be a genre unto itself. Turns out that there have been a fair number of TV shows based around the reportage and publication of a newspaper.
Perhaps the first really successful TV show about a newspaper was “Big Town” which debuted in 1950 and would not go off the air until 1956. Part of the reason for its success was that “Big Town” already had a built-in audience when it debuted, having started out a radio drama back in 1937. Aside from its place in TV history as a standard-bearer for crusading journalists not afraid to take on everything from gangsters to corrupt politicians, “Big Town” is also a notable example for what was actually a not uncommon practice in the early years of TV. The star reporter of the Illustrated Press was Lorelai Kilbourne who was played by no less than five different actresses. Her hard-driving editor, Steve Wilson, was played by two different actors, for that matter.
Of course, not all newspaper work is of the crusading journalism ilk. Come to think of it, very little newspaper work these days is particularly crusading or to be confused with actual journalism. The work of Bill Hastings at the Los Angeles Daily Blade in “Dear Phoebe” is far more resonant of the state of newspaper journalism today, despite airing in the mid-50s. Hastings was the Phoebe of the title, you see. Under the name Phoebe Goodheart, Hastings wrote an advice for the lovelorn column for his newspaper. This put him at odds with a girl named Mickey who covered the newspaper’s sports beat.
The Adventures of Hiram Holiday
Clark Kent was not the only mild-mannered employee of a newspaper who was not all he seemed to be. Hiram Holiday wasn’t even a reporter; he was a mild-mannered proofreader. As a proofreader, however, Holiday was exposed to an astounding range of knowledge and over the years he had learned how to become an expert in everything from forging great art works to scuba diving. His proofreading talents also extended to knowledge of when to properly insert a comma that saved publisher from losing a bundle during a trial. The combination took Hiram out of the proofreading department and around the world solving crimes and getting involved in tales of international intrigue with reporter friend Joel Smith chronicling it all for the newspaper back home.
Here was a TV show that offered a unique spin on the newspaper setting by focusing not a single paper’s reporters, but on three reporters who worked for Trans-Globe wire service. A lot of viewers even back in the late 50s when “Wire Service” aired probably were not aware that many of the stories they read in their local newspapers were the product of wire service reporters who had absolutely no connection at all with their hometown paper. Even the structure of the show reflected the unique role wire service reporters played in the newspaper game: each of the three reporters at the center of “Wire Service” starred in an episode of their own independent of the other two.
Target: The Corruptors
This early 60’s newspaper drama provided an interesting twist to the standard fare of the crusading reporter. Paul Marino had a very specific beat on the paper: he covered the waterfront. And by waterfront, of course, I mean the rackets. Organized crime. But how close and a reporter really expect to get to those in the rackets? Not very, I’d say. Which is where Paul Marino had one very big step up on the competition. Jack Flood worked with Marino as as an undercover agent infiltrating the rackets to get to all the meat of the matter that a famous big time reporter never could.
Saints and Sinners
What set “Saints and Sinners” apart from the rash of newspaper series that arrived at the television doorstep of viewers in the late 50s and early 60s was that it was the creation of a former newspaperman named Adrian Spies. Also setting “Saints and Sinners” apart from many other shows in the same vein was how it sought to show audiences that newspaper work doesn’t begin and end with the reporter and his editor. Major supporting characters included a photographer, copy editor and even a reporter stationed in Washington, DC despite the newspaper at the center of the story being the fictional New York Bulletin.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
In the wake of all the monsters and creepy killers and aliens and headless motorcyclists, it can be easy to forget that “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” is also very much a newspaper show. Like “The Wire” this is a look at the niche part of the business occupied by wire service reporters, but so much of the action takes place within the cramped office space of the Independent News Service bureau in Chicago that to not recognize “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” as a newspaper series is to admit your own obliviousness to detail. It is the fact that the newspaper business scenes of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” are so grounded in reality compared to the weird monster fantasies surrounding that the show is worth pointing out.
The Andros Targets
There are two kinds of newspaper shows on TV. Those that were produced before Woodward and Bernstein and those came after. “The Andros Targets” was one of the first of the latter type. Fedoras and cynicism was out and targeting corruption was in. During the half a year that he was given the chance, Mike Andros went all Woodstein for the New York Forum on not just the underworld figures in charge of everything from dealing speed to pimping prostitutes, but police department whose corruption aided and abetted the criminals.