1950s detective TV shows that originated as radio shows

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While doing research for the TV Detective Database section of this website, I was struck by just how many TV shows in the 1950s had their origins in radio dramas. But of course, when you think about it, it shouldn’t be that surprising. In the 1950s, television was very new, and so many of the shows in created in the early days of television were simply continuations of already-popular radio dramas, movie series, or novel series.

Below, I profile five detective shows from the 1950s that had originated as radio dramas. In many cases, the original radio dramas have entered the public domain, and so they can be downloaded and listened to for free via the Internet Archive.

Gang Busters

Gang Busters first premiered on CBS radio in January 1936. It advertised itself as “the only national program that brings you authentic police case histories”, and was developed in response to the surge in popularity of “true crime” magazines in the 1930s.

The show was hugely popular and ran for 21 years, until it was finally cancelled in 1957. It had a spin-off movie serial in 1942, and a spin-off comic book series from 1947 to 1958. In 1952, NBC also created a 30-minute spin-off TV series based on the radio show. As a TV series, however, the show didn’t last more than a year since it failed to compete with the even more popular Dragnet. In syndication, the TV series was re-titled to “Captured”, and several of its episodes were re-edited into two feature films: Gang Busters (1955); and Guns Don’t Argue (1957).

Where to listen/watch:

The Big Story

The Big Story continued the with the true-crime theme. Premiering on NBC Radio in 1947, the show dramatized the true stories of real-life newspaper reporters. The radio series ran for 8 years, until it was cancelled in 1955.

Not long after the radio show premiered, NBC very adapted it to television. The TV series premiered in 1949, and lasted as long as the radio series—after 8 years, the TV series was cancelled in 1957.

Where to listen/watch:


A long-running franchise, Dragnet had its debut on NBC radio in 1949. This show also played into the true crime craze, and each episode would begin with the line “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” However, a 2003 article in the LA Times that interviewed one of the show’s consultants revealed that the stories often swayed from the true facts of a particular case in order to make it more interesting.

The radio series only ran for 8 years (from 1949 until 1957). However, it spun off many other TV series and films. The first TV series ran from 1951 until 1959. During its run, a film was also released in 1954. After the radio series and the first TV series ended, the show was revived. A TV movie was made in 1966, and a TV series soon followed and aired from 1967 until 1970.

Further attempts to revive the show proved less popular. A comedy movie starring Dan Aykroyd was released in 1987; a TV series titled “The New Dragnet” ran for just two seasons from 1989 until 1990; and a TV series titled “L.A. Dragnet” aired from 2003-2004 but was cancelled after just 22 episodes were made.

Where to listen/watch:

The enduring popularity of Dragnet means that many of the old shows are still easily available to watch:

Dangerous Assignment

Dangerous Assignment is another drama that debuted on NBC radio in 1949. The show was broadcast on the radio from 1949 until 1953, and was also adapted into a TV series that ran from 1951 until 1952.

The show was more of a spy thriller which had “The Commissioner” send special agent Steve Mitchell all over the world in order to uncover some secret.

Where to listen/watch:

The Edge of Night

The history behind The Edge of Night is an interesting one. The show has the distinction of being probably the only mystery crime drama that could also be considered a soap opera. It debuted in 1956 and ran continuously for 28 years until finally being cancelled in 1984.

What is not immediately obvious from the title is that the show had its origins as the 15-minute daily radio serial “Perry Mason”, which aired on the radio from 1943 until 1955. Erle Stanley Gardner, the writer of the Perry Mason novels, apparently hated the radio series so much that he refused to support the idea of a TV series based on the character. As a result, characters from the “Perry Mason” radio series were renamed, the setting was changed, and so the TV series The Edge of Night was born.

Where to listen/watch:

  • There are approximately 75 episodes of the Perry Mason radio show available on the Internet Archive. Click here to access them. But be fore-warned that as this was a soap opera, there is no final resolution.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about the early days of mystery TV. If you’re looking for more detective shows from the 1950s, check out my page: 1950s American Detective TV Database.

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