Thursday, October 4, 2018

The TV Series Naked City Turns 60

It was on September 30 1958 that the TV series Naked City debuted on ABC. The show would prove to be very innovative. Along with Dragnet it was one of the earliest police procedurals to air on American television. It also had what was a very popular format from the mid-Fifties into the Sixties. Naked City was a semi-anthology series, essentially a show with continuing characters whose episodes often centred on guest stars rather than the show's main characters. Other examples of semi-anthology shows are Wagon Train, The Fugitive, and Run for Your Life. Naked City would also lead to another popular semi-anthology series of the Sixties, Route 66.

Naked City was developed by writer Stirling Silliphant and based upon the 1948 movie The Naked City. The movie The Naked City was in turn inspired by the 1945 book Naked City by Weegee, which collected Weegee's photographs of New York life. Originally Naked City centred on the same characters as had appeared in the feature film: experienced veteran detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (played on the show by John McIntire) and Detective Jimmy Halloran (played on the show by James Franciscus). As in the film, the two detectives worked in New York City's 65th Precinct. Naked City was one of the earliest TV shows to be shot in location, with the bulk of the show being shot on the streets of New York City. The show was produced by Herbert B. Leonard, who also served as its narrator in its first season.

In its first season, Naked City was a half-hour drama and its original title was The Naked City. Even as the season unfolded the show would undergo one dramatic change. John McIntire was not particularly happy working on the show and wanted to return to his ranch in Montana. It was then in the episode "The Bumper" (which aired March 17 1959) that Lt. Muldoon was killed off when a mob hitman caused Muldoon's car to crash with an oil truck. This made Naked City the first show to ever feature the on-screen death of one of its main characters (previously characters on TV shows usually died off-screen between season, an example being Jean Hagen's character on Make Room for Daddy). Lt. Muldoon was replaced by Lt. Parker (played by Horace McMahon).

The April 28 1959 episode "Four Sweet Corners" would serve as the template for the show Route 66. It centred on George Maharis as Johnny Gary and Bob Morris as Link Ridgeway, two ex-servicemen who decide to travel around the country. A backdoor pilot for a show that would be called The Searchers, Herbert B. Leonard was unable to find a network interested in the concept. It was decided that the title The Searchers was unsuitable for the prospective show as it could lead to confusion with the 1956 John Ford movie of the same name. The concept was then reworked as Route 66, which debuted on CBS on October 7 1960.

Unfortunately, Naked City suffered from disappointing ratings in its first season and ABC cancelled the show at the end of the season. Fortunately, one of the show's sponsors, tobacco company Brown & Williams, as well as the show's production staff, still had faith in the show. They successfully lobbied ABC to return the series to the schedule as an hour-long drama now titled Naked City. The hour long version of the show debuted on October 12 1960.

The hour long version of Naked City would see some changes to the show's cast. While Horace McMahon remained as Lt. Parker, James Franciscus as Detective Halloran was replaced by Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint. Nancy Malone joined the cast as Detective Flint's girlfriend Libby. While the show was now expanded to an hour, its format very much remained. It was still a police procedural and semi-anthology that often focused on its guest stars. As an hour-long drama Naked City proved much more successful than it had as a half-hour show. It ran for three more seasons with the new format.

Throughout its run Naked City was critically acclaimed. It was also nominated for several Emmy Awards and won a few. In 1959 it was nominated for Best Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour. In 1961 it won the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television and was nominated for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama. In 1962 it was nominated for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead) for Paul Burke, Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor for Horace McMahon, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama for Arthur Hiller. That year it won the awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Television and Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television. In 1962 it was nominated for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama, Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Diahann Carroll, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead) for Paul Burke, Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress for Nancy Malone, and Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television. That year it won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Television.

Naked City went onto a fairly successful run in syndication and is still seen occasionally today (it recently aired on ME-TV). It is a available on DVD and it has been included on streaming services such as Hulu. The show's continued popularity led to a 1998 TV movie, Naked City: Justice with a Bullet, meant as a reboot of the show. It starred Scott Glenn as Lt. Muldoon and Courtney B. Vance as Detective Halloran. It did not lead to a new series.

Naked City was a truly revolutionary series. Alongside Dragnet, it was one of television's earliest police procedurals. It was also one of the earliest shows to utilise the soon to be popular semi-anthology format. It was one of the earliest shows to be shot on location. It featured the first on-screen death of a major character on  show, a move that caused a bit of an uproar at the time. Naked City also featured top-notch writing, direction, editing, and cinematography, as well as some sterling performances from its leads and guest stars. It should be little wonder that Naked City remains respected to this day.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

I have read about but never had the opportunity to see the early season with John McIntire. In my teen years, the series ran locally in syndication and it enthralled me.

I once had what I considered a very snazzy velvet fedora-like hat. My dad told me I looked like Horace McMahon!