Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Merry Christmas Matter

One of the most striking differences between British and American television is that, while British broadcasters tend to show their most popular programs around Christmas, American networks seem to act as though no one actually watches television between Christmas and New Year's. it wasn't always like this. During the golden age of radio, Christmas-themed installments of shows actually actually aired close to Christmas. 

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was no exception. Some of its most memorable, which is to say emotionally affecting stories, had late December air dates. The Rasmussen Matter, a favorite of Johnny Dollar biographer John Abbott that I've written about previously, is a key example, but it's not the only one.

Currently, WAMU's old-time radio showcase The Big Broadcast is presenting The Nick Shurn Matter, a five-part serial that originally aired between the 19th and 23rd of December in 1955. Though it was early in Bob Bailey's time as Johnny Dollar, it typified the qualities that placed that period of the show among of the best loved in the history of radio. Not only does it offer a winding plot and colorful characters but also a central character who was equal parts urbane and humane. 

That second quality always seemed especially prevalent in the Christmas stories during Bailey's run. No matter how many troubling turns a case  might take, his version of Johnny Dollar never gave in to cynicism. He may have been hard on the outside but there was no doubt that his heart was in the right place. And in that way, the Christmas stories exemplify Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar - especially in the Bob Bailey/Jack Johnstone era - hard on the outside but with their heart absolutely in the right place. Merry Christmas!