Grade: C+
Entire family: No
1959-61, 1006 min. (39 episodes), Black & White
Not rated (would be PG for some adult situations)
Film Chest Media
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: C+
Amazon link

It’s almost hard to remember, but before unfair cries of “fake news” journalists were widely respected. From the ‘20s through ‘50s they were even considered heroic because they did whatever it took to get a story, whether it involved immediate danger or possible repercussions. Crusading editors and reporters were the frequent subject of films and featured such stars as James Stewart (Call Northside 777), Humphrey Bogart (Deadline —U.S.A.), Kirk Douglas (Ace in the Hole), Clark Gable (Teacher’s Pet), Cary Grant (His Girl Friday), Fred McMurray (Exclusive), Alan Ladd (Chicago Deadline), and Joel McCrea (Foreign Correspondent).

The short-lived Deadline(1959-61) TV series takes viewers back to those simpler times when journalists worked alongside police and the public trusted and relied on them.

Paul Stewart, the series host and frequent “guest actor,” played a reporter in the film Deadline – U.S.A., but he doesn’t have what it takes to carry an anthology series like this. Assuming the role of various reporters from real newspaper stories across the nation, he goes about that reporter’s business with the stiff formality of Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday. In fact, Dragnet is a good comparison.

Dragnet had Friday’s voiceovers, while Deadline has Stewart’s in almost every episode. Like Dragnet, the Deadline investigations are pretty facile and stagey, which was typical of TV crime shows from the ‘50s. The “dramatizations” are, like most TV reenactments, a little hokey and decidedly melodramatic. A situation is quickly set up, there’s a brief investigation with questions asked of various people involved, and by the end of every 30-minute episode there’s a resolution. Guest stars include Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, Robert Lansing, Telly Savalas, George Maharis, and Simon Oakland, but for the most part these are unknown actors and fresh faces, because most of their careers never took off.

Thirty-nine episodes were produced, and all of them are included in this three-disc DVD set from Film Chest Media. The timing couldn’t be better, and you get the feeling that Film Chest is doing a little crusading of their own, thinking perhaps that the mainstream media have been systematically and unfairly maligned the past three years.

Why do I say so? Because accompanying this release is a 12-page booklet titled Deadline: When Reporters Were Heroes. The centerfold in this booklet reprints the full Code of Ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists, whose main tenets are to “seek truth and report it,” “minimize harm,” “act independently,” and “be accountable.” Members who work at major mainstream news outlets have been college-trained and have years of experience working under even more experienced journalists. Are they perfect? No. But they’re not in the business of deliberately creating or disseminating fake news, as has become rampant on the Internet, and they resent that their entire profession has come under fire.

The booklet included with this set reminds people, “Reporters are the first line of defense of the principles rooted in our Constitution and protected under the first amendment. They uphold everything that our civil society stands for.”

You see that in these episodes, which range from big-time corruption cases (and serious consequences faced by reporters, including acid thrown in the face) to small-time stories that still make a difference in people’s lives. Each of these episodes is taken from a real headline, based on a true story, and the newspaper where it was originally published is credited.

Fans of vintage TV will find what the episodes show of life in 1959-61 to be fascinating, from the street scenes to the shots of home life. The language is decidedly ‘50s (“Yessiree!” or “Swell” or “Weak as an old dish rag”) but that adds to the time-capsule value of these vignettes of Americana. One episode—“A Story for Christmas”—even has an O. Henry quality about it. In it, a jaded crime beat reporter (if he’s such a Grinch, why does he have a miniature Christmas tree on his desk?) has to write a Christmas story by deadline, and comes up with a tale of a naïve diner worker who was conned out of $19 by a slick grafter and it led to a chain of events that made her want to throw herself in the Atlantic in a George Bailey move. But a little nudging from the reporter (as individual community activist reporters still do on behalf of readers) and the situation improved dramatically. But that feel-good vibe quickly changes when the next episode involves a father-son playing catch and discovering the body of a woman underneath their porch. Yikes! You never know what you’re going to get from week to week.

Ultimately, this DVD collection will be for people who are fans of the old newspaper movies and TV series, or fans of vintage television. But as a time capsule it’s pretty, well, swell.