Saturday, August 6, 2011

Locking Up Early TV Syndication






Although the major networks provided most of the prime-time programming schedule to the growing array of TV stations during the 1950s, syndicated TV shows were a big business as well. Local stations were desperate for content to air beyond the traditional evening `prime’ time slot.


Ziv Television Programs, Inc., founded by Frederick Ziv in 1948, was probably the most prolific and successful of the independent TV producers, churning out hundreds of hours of programming every year.


The ZIV studios stock in trade were half hour, mostly male-oriented adventure dramas. As episodes were usually filmed over 3 or 4 days, and at a cost of under $40,000 an episode, it proved to be a profitable formula.

Many ZIV shows were highly successful, like Highway Patrol (1955-59), Bat Masterson (1958-61), I Led Three Lives (1953-56), The Cisco Kid (1949-56), Men Into Space (1959-60), Science Fiction Theatre (1955-57), Ripcord (1961-63), and Sea Hunt (1958-61), and are fondly remembered by the baby boom generation.


Other Ziv shows are less well remembered – like The Man Called X (1956-57) and Bold Venture (1959-60) -  which were attempts to rework successful radio dramas of the past.


Most of these syndicated shows featured decent production values, fast paced scripts, and personable stars. They also provided ample work for a generation of soon-to-be famous TV actors just learning their craft.


One of the lesser known shows was called Lock Up - which ran for two years and 78 episodes between 1959 and 1961 - and it starred MacDonald Carey as real-life Philadelphia defense attorney Herbert L. Maris.


The scripts were supposedly based on Maris’s files, although a certain amount of literary license can be assumed to have been employed. The style is reminiscent of other procedural police & crime dramas of the era, with the story told in a straight forward – almost documentary style.


Stretching credulity a bit, MacDonald Carey’s character almost always teams up with police detective Weston, played by John Doucette, to prove his client’s innocence.

The Internet Archive has more than 40 episodes of Lock Up available for viewing or download.

To see the current offerings select  THIS LINK.

While enjoyable enough in their own right, episodes of Lock Up provide us with fascinating glimpses at early TV appearances by Joe Flynn, Robert Conrad, Mary Tyler Moore, Gavin Macleod and many others.


You’ll also find established actors like John Carradine, Buddy Epsen, and Lon Chaney, Jr. showing up in guest roles.


MacDonald Carey had been a modestly successful radio, movie, stage and TV actor prior to this series. 

He appeared in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Suddenly, It’s Spring (1947), and a series of `B’ western movies in the 1950s  including The Great Missouri Raid (1951), Outlaw Territory (1953), and Man or Gun (1958)). 

While perhaps best known for playing the role of Tom Horton on Days of our Lives for 3 decades, he was also one of the most familiar faces on TV for several decades appearing on everything from Murder, She Wrote and Fantasy Island to Burke’s Law and The Outer Limits.

MacDonald Carey died in 1994 of Lung Cancer.


As a tribute, the soap opera Days of Our Lives continued to use his famous voice over during the opening of each show even after his passing.


As for the production company ZIV, they began producing shows for network clients in the mid-1950s (West Point,Tombstone Territory, Bat Masterson, Men into Space, & The Man and the Challenge), but their heyday was nearly over.


In 1960 United Artists bought flagging ZIV Tv productions for $20 million dollars and renamed it Ziv-United Artists. By 1962, the company had phased out Ziv entirely, and changed its name to United Artists Television.


And so ended an era.  





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