The CBS Radio Mystery Theater: An Episode Guide and Handbook to Nine Years of Broadcasting, 1974-1982
by Gordon Payton
Review by Nick Sauer
Mcfarland Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780786418909
Date: 26 January 2004 List Price $45.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In 1974 veteran radio producer Himan Brown launched The CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It was a 45 minute anthology program that featured mystery and suspense stories but also made regular journeys into the supernatural as well. This series would represent the last serious attempt to bring dramatic story telling to radio. This book by Gordon Payton and Martin Grams is a concise guide to all of the series' episodes with a brief overview of the show’s history and production.
The CBS Radio Mystery Theater was produced for nine years. During this time, there were a total of 1,399 episodes created. Some of these were dramatizations of famous works of literature but the vast majority where original stories. I listened to this series for a good number of years as a child but, until looking at this volume had no appreciation of the sheer magnitude of the production. Given its nine year run, this meant an average of three new episodes being produced each week which is a truly impressive accomplishment.
As a result, the book's subtitle describing itself as an episode guide is quite literal with most of the 447 pages being precisely that. Episodes of the series are presented in broadcast order with a cast list and short synopsis for each one. Episode entries are numbered sequentially with repeat episodes being included in the count. The reason this needs to be mentioned is that all of the episodes are available for download from the site: http://www.cbsrmt.com/synopsis.html. This site does not include the repeats in their count so, if one wishes to find an episode listed in the volume, you have to go by the broadcast date to correlate the book with the website.
Eight pages of the book are a brief introduction which gives a short look at how the episodes were produced. The rehearsal overview was not terribly surprising. Scripts would get one read through in the morning, during which time, scenes would be edited out to bring the episode to the correct length for broadcast. After this there would be a short break followed by the actors and actresses being moved into the studio to do the recording for the actual broadcast with sound effects being included in studio as part of this process.
One thing that I was surprised to learn was that the series had competition from a number of other radio drama shows being produced at the time. The success of Radio Mystery Theater and a boom in nostalgia for old time radio dramas combined to cause other companies to take a stab at competing series. The book names a number of them which will lead to a good deal of further research and content hunting on my part.
This volume is a must have for serious fans of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater program. The history section of the book, even as short as it is, has a surprisingly large amount of useful information. The plot synopses, while short, deliver enough key points that I was able to easily recall whether I had heard an episode and also allowed me to find specific episodes of the series that I remembered. In addition, there are also two appendices covering a spin-off series plus a 1998 attempted revival of the program and, an index is included as well.