27 February: The beat didn’t last long enough

Frank Lovejoy. (Photo: NBC.)

Frank Lovejoy. (Photo: NBC.)

Enough of the better radio crime dramas had short lives as it was. Night Beat—in which versatile veteran Frank Lovejoy played a newspaper reporter instead of one of the usual gang of overboiled private detectives or police officers—had a shorter life than most and deserved better than most.

Randy Stone wasn’t even a hard newsman, never mind crime reporter. As he himself says in Night Beat‘s audition episode, he’s what a later generation would call the soft news type, looking for the stories “that grab your heart and shake it until it hollers ‘uncle’.” His particular forte is uncovering stories about those who’ve suffered the hardest knocks of life and caring about every individual about whom he writes.

Which isn’t to say he lacks for just a few traits you’ve discovered in the usual gaggle of crime dramaticians. At minimum, he has shards of Richard Diamond’s wit, Dan Holiday’s (Box 13) prudence, and Larry Clover’s (Broadway is My Beat) poetic empathy. But Stone has a big-picture graps the others often bypass or dismiss as an occasional presence rather than a critical element.

Lovejoy gives the invariable impression that he’s gone out of his way to inform the character with what not to do and how not to do it. It doesn’t help the noirish, deliciously understated show: Night Beat doesn’t even show up in the top fifty at the end of the 1949-50 season. It goes sustaining for its brief revival of March 1951-September 1952 and expires too quietly. Almost more quietly than the subjects of Randy Stone’s stories live their lives of desperation.

Night Beat: The Girl in the Park (NBC, 1950)

Considered one of the show’s unquestioned masterpieces, Stone (Lovejoy) takes a short cut through Lincoln Park to get to his car, when he’s halted as he lights up a cigarette and the flame illuminates a fear he’s heard in the voice of a nightclub singer (Joan Banks) he runs into . . . a girl who thinks she has only this final night to live—because a reputed flame (Paul Duboff), who thinks she loved his comic persona and not himself, has threatened her with death if he should die the same night.

It’s executed with a lot more effectiveness and a lot less proneness to cliché or triteness than you might expect from the scenario in other hands. Don’t let go.

Additional cast: Ken Christie, Georgia Ellis, Carol Richards. Music: Frank Worth. Director: Warren Lewis. Writer: Larry Marcus.

Further Channel Surfing . . .

Dark Fantasy: Spawn of the Subhuman (fantasy; NBC, 1942)
Box 13: Hare and Hounds (crime drama; Mutual, 1949)
Our Miss Brooks: Stretch Has a Problem (comedy; CBS, 1949)
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: The Life of Remley (comedy; NBC, 1949)
Quiet, Please: If I Should Wake Before I Die (fantasy; ABC, 1949)
The Halls of Ivy: Budget Problem (comedy; NBC; VOA Rebroadcast, 1952)
The Jack Benny Program: Television Wrestling (comedy; CBS, 1955)

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