Saturday, May 21, 2011


This blog is dedicated to TV shows that aired in the United States during the 1960s. The plan is to cover as many different shows as can be found on DVD, online, or syndicated on cable TV. For readers interested in seeing which shows have been released on DVD, I recommend the web site, which allows you to subscribe to an Email news service for whatever shows you choose that announces when new DVD sets become available. 

So why the 1960s? Personally, it's my favorite because I grew up during the era. But obviously the decade also holds great pull for many because of the explosion of ideas and culture that still influences many aspects of our lives today--civil rights, feminism, the exploration of space, the anti-war movement, Medicare, pop art, beat music, psychedelia, garage rock, jazz fusion, and much more. Several of these ideas, movements, or genres may have begun earlier, but they reached mass appeal in the 1960s. And these cultural and political currents obviously found their way into TV programming, sometimes in subtle ways. The 60s' influence continues today in shows like Mad Men (which I personally dislike for Matthew Weiner's condescending portrayal of 60s phenomena like ubiquitous smoking and authoritarian child rearing, as if people today are so much smarter) and its imitators (the just-announced new series The Playboy Club and Pan Am--both offer 60s cool as a brand name).

This blog will cover TV shows as chronologically as possible, starting with shows from 1960 and proceeding through the decade in sequence. Because the TV season begins in the fall and runs through the spring, with re-runs or the occasional summer replacement show running during the summer, this creates a split in my admittedly arbitrary decision to begin with the calendar year of 1960. That means new shows for 1960 began running in September of that year, while other shows ended their runs in May of 1960. Among the notable new shows for the fall of 1960 (at least those whose memory has endured) are The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, Route 66, and The Flintstones (which aired in prime-time on Friday evening). However, there were at least 27 other new shows that year, some of which lasted only a year, most of which have been forgotten. However, several have made it to DVD, so I will try to cover them.

 Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, and The Untouchables had all debuted in the fall of 1959, meaning that they were in the second half of their first season in January 1960. Other shows that ended their runs in the first half of 1960 include Father Knows Best, M Squad, and The Lineup.

I have already completed viewing a few shows for 1960 and will not go back and re-watch them for the purpose of this blog, other than to offer some general observations in this introduction. The already-viewed shows are:
  • Perry Mason 
  • Route 66
  • The Andy Griffith Show
  • M Squad
  • Man With a Camera

The last two shows in this list were in their final half seasons in the first half of 1960. M Squad was a crime drama set in Chicago starring Lee Marvin as Captain Frank Ballinger of a special detail of the Chicago Police force initially described as being dedicated to hard-to-solve murder cases, though later they branched out to include other types of cases as well. The only other recurring character was Paul Newlan as Captain Gray, Ballinger's boss, whose role was largely to say "O.K." to whatever Ballinger wanted to do and occasionally tell him to be careful. Ballinger was the stereotypical tough, wise-cracking cop who seemed to enjoy mixing it up with criminals but who also had a soft side for the ladies and children. DeForest Kelly played his sidekick in a few early episodes, and Leonard Nimoy played a couple of different villains later on. There are a few other recognizable stars mixed in throughout the 117 episodes that aired over 3 seasons from 1957-60. The complete series is available on DVD from Timeless Media Group.

This clip features a scene with Marvin, pretending not to be a cop, and Kelly.

Man With a Camera ran for two seasons from 1958-60 and starred Charles Bronson as freelance photographer Mike Kovac, who implausibly always managed to get drawn into criminal investigations, sometimes even at the request of the police. The show also had its share of star appearances by the likes of Angie Dickinson, Sebastian Cabot, and Yvonne Craig (a.k.a. Batgirl) but was largely a vehicle for Bronson to show how tough he was as a photographer who also knew how to throw a punch. The complete series is available on DVD from Infinity Entertainment.

All 29 episodes can be viewed online for free at

Perry Mason

Perry Mason is, of course, the prototypical court-room drama, which ran for 9 seasons from 1957-66 with Raymond Burr in the title role. To my mind, the show is paradoxically the most subversive and, at the same time, supportive view of the American criminal justice system.

I say the show is subversive because it shows the State of California legal apparatus, in the persons of District Attorney Hamilton Burger (played by William Talman) and lead homicide investigator Lieutenant Tragg (played by Ray Collins), trying to prosecute the wrong person 99.99% of the time. We expect our law enforcement officials to solve crimes, arrest the right people, get them convicted, and have them sentenced appropriately, but this show depicts just the opposite: Burger and Tragg always rush to judgment and create a false narrative of what happened based on only a cursory examination of the evidence. And they do it in nearly every episode. 

And yet, the innocent are always exonerated--Perry Mason nearly always gets his client acquitted and forces the real criminal to confess either on the witness stand or from the gallery. Which is why I say it is also the most supportive view of the American criminal justice system because even though it is plagued by incompetent police work and prosecution, the system works as intended, thanks to vigorous legal defense that often relies on tricks and deception. But you have to wonder about all those folks accused by Burger and Tragg who weren't lucky enough to be defended by Perry Mason.

Through at least the first five seasons, the show developed and followed a very predictable pattern in terms of who will be the murder victim and who will be accused of the murder. The murder victim is whoever pisses off the most people in the early going, and the accused is whoever visits Mason and asks for his help on something else before the murder happens. Predicting who is actually guilty is a little harder to figure out.
The first five seasons of Perry Mason are available on DVD from Paramount, and most of the episodes from Season 1 can be viewed online for free at

This clip, from "The Case of the Wary Wildcatter" that originally aired February 20, 1960, features Barbara Bain, who would later star on Mission: Impossible.

There are several blogs dedicated to Perry Mason. Two of the most exhaustive are:

Route 66

Route 66 debuted in the fall of 1960 as a series of traveling adventures by Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis), two young men with enough money saved up to drive about the country in Stiles' Corvette convertible, occasionally taking on temporary jobs to further finance their journey. As with Man With a Camera, the two men often find themselves drawn into situations that seem outside their areas of expertise (for Maharis' character, like Bronson's, that appears to be boxing), and yet, despite their youth and, one would presume, inexperience, they often wind up resolving conflicts or dispensing advice to older or more experienced characters. Perhaps this is precisely because Stiles and Murdock have traveled far and wide and have been exposed to a broader swath of people, ideas, and situations than the people they meet, who tend to be stuck in one place. Perhaps the theme of the show, then, is the value of diversity, being less suspicious of the unfamiliar and having a larger pool of experiences and opinions to draw on when trying to solve a problem.

Route 66 ran for four seasons from 1960-64. The first three seasons are available on DVD from Infinity Entertainment.

This clip is from "The Beryllium Eater," which aired December 9, 1960, and featured Edgar Buchanan (a.k.a. Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies) and Inger Stevens.

The Andy Griffith Show

The Andy Griffith Show also debuted in the fall of 1960 and ran for 8 seasons, eventually being replaced by Mayberry R.F.D. with Ken Berry in the lead role. Probably one of the best-written and conceived comedies in the history of television, it dealt with the everyday affairs of everyday people in the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina. The series' greatness lies primarily in the characters, who are always multi-dimensional, rather than the flat, one-sided "types" one often finds in situation comedies. 

While many viewers may today think of Mayberry as an idyllic setting for old-time values like honesty and integrity, its depiction of law & order is much more liberal than one might expect. That's because the way Sherriff Andy Taylor keeps the peace in his town is the exact opposite of the "tough on crime" approach depicted in shows like M Squad. Taylor doesn't even carry a gun and shows compassion, rather than rebuke, for repeat offenders like Otis, the town drunk. When real criminals or big-city slickers come to Mayberry and try to stir up trouble, it's Taylor that outsmarts them, without having to resort to violence. In fact, the voice of "tough on crime" in Mayberry is the highly excitable and unreliable Deputy Barney Fife, who Taylor restricts to a single bullet that he must carry in his shirt pocket rather than in his gun. And when Fife feels that he needs to use the bullet (always without consulting with Taylor), disaster ensues.

The complete series or individual seasons are available on DVD from Paramount.

This clip is from the show's second episode, "The Manhunt," which aired October 10, 1960.

Going Forward...

Future posts to this blog will focus on individual series or programs, or sometimes broaden to include types of shows or themes running across multiple shows. The views and opinions expressed here are merely my personal observations. I cannot claim to be an expert, nor have I researched the topics thoroughly. And there are probably more authoritative voices who have written about the television of this era more intelligently than I can. But I hope that I can bring a breadth of viewing experience to the topic that others have not by watching and commenting on not only the most popular programs of the period but the obscure ones as well. There is a vast number of shows from this period available already on DVD or online, and hopefully many more will be released in the coming years. I'll be watching.