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The format of the series were action-packed stories on the apprehension of major criminals, taken from actual police and FBI files. The stories were presented in semi-documentary style. There was no continuing cast, but creator and writer Phillips H. Lord narrated each show. Written by
The series ran on alternate weeks with Dragnet (1951) on NBC on Thursday nights for a little more than a season. It was the highest rated show at the time NBC decided to cancel it, in favor of airing "Dragnet" weekly. The NBC episodes appeared in syndication in 1953 under the title "Captured", hosted by Chester Morris. In 1955, new first-run episodes under the original "Gang Busters" title were released in syndication by General Teleradio, following their release of the theatrical feature Gang Busters (1955). See more »
"Gang Busters" was a pioneering radio series detailing the activities of the nation's most notorious crime figures of the day. It was unique in that at the end of every episode, the announcer would inform listeners to call the local police or "Gang Busters" for information on wanted criminals still on the loose. In that respect, it was definitely a precursor of today's reality shows like "America's Most Wanted".
The television version, which premiered in 1952, stayed true to the radio format, telling stories of legendary scum like John Dillinger, Willie "The Actor" Sutton, etc. And just as on radio, viewers were informed of criminals still on the loose, and were encouraged to contact the show or the police. Yet, what worked so well on radio just didn't jell on the small screen. Despite series creator Phillips H. Lord's total involvement in the production, it all looked so disjointed and cheap, judging from the four episodes I have on DVD.
NBC obviously knew this as well, for despite very high ratings, they regarded this show as a stop gap filler for the equally successful "Dragnet" during its early years as a bi-weekly show. When Jack Webb filmed enough episodes for a weekly slot, "Gang Busters", one of the highest rated series of the 1952 season, had to go. So, what could have been a potential landmark in television history, as it was on radio, was merely a low-budget bench-hitter during the early days of TV. New episodes, however, were made for syndication under the title "Captured", apparently as not to tarnish the name that helped to pioneer the reality show. Today, the show has fallen into public domain, and has only now received a small cult status as one of crime TV's earliest offerings.
"Gang Busters" is a Phillips H. Lord Production, filmed by Visual Drama, Inc. for NBC-TV. 26 episodes were filmed, as well as a feature-length episode specially made for theaters in 1954. That, too, is in public domain.
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