Sat 4 Jun 2011
THE CASES OF EDDIE DRAKE
by Michael Shonk
This is Part Two of a series of posts about the vintage TV private eye series The Cases of Eddie Drake. If you haven’t already done so, click here to read Part One, in which the show itself is discussed: the actors, actresses, and the program’s antecedent on radio, The Cases of Mr. Ace. In the radio version George Raft played the role of PI Eddie Ace.
Part One ended with some questions that have yet to be answered. Virtually all sources agree on the history of TV version of The Cases of Eddie Drake, but are they right? Today it is accepted CBS filmed nine episodes in 1949 and then never aired it. In 1952, DuMont filmed the final four episodes and aired the series March 6, 1952 through May 29, 1952.
Internet Archives states that NBC aired the series June 4, 1951 through August 27, 1951, all 13 episodes. If true why would DuMont film four episodes and let NBC stations show it almost a year before it aired on the DuMont network?
None of it makes any sense.
Over at Google e-bookstore, I found an edited archive of Billboard magazine available. Billboard covered the television business during the years in question, 1948 through 1952.
The August 28, 1948 issue of Billboard had a news item about “one of the biggest tele-pix deals on record.” CBS had agreed to pay $300,000 “for a series of three 13-episode half-hour films”.
It added, “Series will be tagged The Cases of Eddie Drake scripted by Jason James, who penned the original Eddie Ace.” The news item further stated CBS owned half of the series with IMPPRO Productions. The budget for each episode was $7,500. Plans were to shoot four episodes simultaneously in a 10-day period. Filming would be in Los Angeles and use 35mm film.
The November 20, 1948 issue reported that IMPPRO VP Harlan Thompson would deliver the first five episodes of Eddie Drake to CBS executives in New York during the week of November 13th. Four other episodes were being finished in editing. Filming for the four remaining episodes of the 13 episode series would start Wednesday, November 17, 1948.
It is important to know that there was concern in 1948 that there were not enough writers to make enough TV dramas to fill the needs of all the TV stations. Any type of drama was in huge demand.
Nearly all network series, for budget reasons, were live or kinescoped. During this period TV Film was used mainly for local syndicated programs. TV Film allowed advertisers to shop TV series wherever they wanted, and the local stations to program the shows whenever they wanted.
Because Eddie Drake was a TV Film series, I don’t believe CBS ever intended it to be a network series, but instead always planned for it to be syndicated to local stations. Could Eddie Drake have aired in 1949?
Billboard suddenly has nothing to say about The Cases of Eddie Drake until 1951. However, this does not mean the series was shelved. Between 1948 and 1952 was a wild period for television.
In 1948, radio was still King, but TV was making it sweat. TV stations were popping up all over the country. Things were happening too fast, it was making people nervous. So nervous, the FCC put a temporary freeze on new TV stations. The freeze was supposed to last six months, but lasted instead until 1952.
The national media at that time paid little attention to local TV programming and syndication. It is possible Eddie Drake was on the air in 1949 and ignored except in small local markets.
By 1952, TV Film syndication had become a highly successful business. Everyone, including CBS and NBC, were selling non-network syndicated programming. CBS Television Film Sales had become a separate unit from CBS-TV network. According to Billboard, in 1952 The Cases of Eddie Drake was one of CBS Television Film Sales syndicated series.
While I have found no other reference suggesting that NBC stations ever showed Eddie Drake, I did find one item of interest. In the August 25, 1951 issue of Billboard, the local syndication coverage mentioned Virginia Dare Wines would sponsor The Cases of Eddie Drake on WENR-TV, Chicago starting September 7, 1951. This meant Eddie Drake was syndicated and on the air at least six months before DuMont aired the series.
Patricia Morison was in the first nine episodes, but then replaced by Lynne Roberts. Why?
Nine episodes had been filmed when CBS met with producer Harlan Thompson. Could CBS have asked for a casting change before IMPPRO filmed the final four episodes in November 1948? Why would CBS shelve any TV series during a time when there was a huge demand for any TV drama?
We need to see an episode with Lynne Roberts. As far as I know only one episode still exists, “Shoot The Works” which co-starred Patricia Morison. However, according to the Paley Media Center website, it has a copy of “Sleep Well Angel”, an episode with Lynne Roberts. Comparing the episodes should help give us some answers about the past of Eddie Drake. Are the writer, director and producers the same? It is unlikely all would return after a three-year layoff to film four episodes for DuMont. Has the set for Eddie’s office changed? Does Eddie still drive his three-wheel 1948 Davis Divan? What is the copyright date on the screen?
Finally, it is commonly thought The Files of Jeffrey Jones first aired in 1954 and was somehow connected to Eddie Drake. But Jeffery Jones first aired in 1952 and had no connection to Eddie Drake beyond star Don Haggerty and CBS Television Film Sales. Though in 1955, CBS Television Film Sales offered Eddie Drake as a “bonus arrangement” to any station buying Jeffrey Jones.
THE CASES OF EDDIE DRAKE. Syndicated; 13 episodes at 30 minutes each. CBS Television Film Sales. IMPPRO Productions. Produced by Harlan Thompson and Herbert L. Strock. Directed: Paul Garrison. Written: Jason James. Star: Don Haggerty. (Billboard, February 27, 1954)
THE FILES OF JEFFREY JONES. Syndicated; 39 episodes at 30 minutes each. CBS Television Film Sales. Lindsley Parsons Production. Produced: Lindsley Parsons. Directed: George Blair and Lew Landers. Star: Don Haggerty (Billboard, May 28, 1955)
While some Pop Culture historians take it personally when their findings are questioned, I am the opposite. If you have any questions or information to correct any mistakes I might have made, please post them in the comments.
The years between 1946 and 1952 were when network television truly began. We need to know the facts and understand the context in which those facts existed, before we can understand the true history of television.