Robert E Fitzgibbons

Film noir's evolution from the silver screen to the television screen was untidy at best; and this is nowhere more evident than in the transition from the feature-length movie The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948) to the TV show of the same title some ten years later. Although the movie was not the best of the noir genre, it was good and had many of the unmistakable classic noir markings: high-contrast black-and-white photography, stark images, severe camera angles, brutality, (a bit of) suggested sexual promiscuity, mystery, a major touch of evil, and moral absolutes. It was an exciting police story, even if somewhat stylized. But what made the movie especially intriguing for the time was that it was filmed in a semi-documentary style and shot almost entirely on location in New York City. Images of daily life in the city functioned as a backdrop for actors who intermingled with regular citizens, offering an attention-grabbing new milieu that helped The Naked City win two Academy Awards.1 The Oscar night of March 24, 1949, might very well have been the high-water mark for The Naked City, had it not been for ABC Television and Stirling Silliphant.

In television's early days, ABC typically trailed far behind both NBC and CBS badly in the prime-time ratings. But by the 1958-1959 season, this had begun to change; and one of the major factors was the introduction of ABC's new series The Naked City. The thirty-nine half-hour shows contained many of the features of their noirish 1948 feature-length progenitor, including the semi-documentary style and filming on location in New York City. But there were some significant modifications. Although they were still police stories with an element of mystery, the episodes focused much more on the (presumably) real-life stories of different inhabitants of the city than on the police—conforming to the tagline repeated at the end of each show: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. . . . This has been one of them." Stirling Silliphant wrote most of the scripts of these early shows; they were exceptionally well-done and equally popular. Indeed, contributing significantly to ABC's move toward a position of prominence in prime-time viewing, The Naked City won the 1959 Emmy for the best dramatic series of less than one hour. Then the series abruptly ended, not to be seen in the 1959-1960 season.

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