James Franciscus and John McIntireAlmost forty years ago, a TV series was introduced that would break new ground in the medium and change the face of cop shows forever.  The Naked City, a 30-minute crime drama starring John McIntire and James Franciscus as New York detectives, premiered on ABC on September 30, 1958.  In style and substance it was based on Jules Dassin’s 1948 feature film The Naked City, a police procedural filmed on location in New York.  This film’s title, as well as its gritty, semidocumentary look, was inspired by Naked City, the 1945 book of photographs by newspaper photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig).  In its use of locations and its attention to character development, it also showed the influence of the Italian neo-realist cinema exemplified by the works of Roberto Rossellini (Open City) and Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief).

The TV series continued in this vein.  Unlike other shows of the era which were made in Hollywood backlots, The Naked City was filmed entirely in the streets and buildings of New York City.  Director of photography J. Burgi Contner captured vivid, often beautiful images of the city, depicting its parks and waterfronts as well as its alleys and fire escapes.  The location shooting was a challenging, not to mention expensive, undertaking, but crucial to the show’s character.  In many ways, the city of New York was the true star of the series.

As developed by writer Stirling Silliphant, who wrote most of the first season’s scripts, and producer Herbert B. Leonard (who later went on to produce another classic location-oriented series, Route 66), the stories centered less on the crimes than on the people involved.  Every episode was intended to be a look into the lives of real human beings.  In the words of the tagline, originally used in the feature film, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City... this has been one of them.”  Even the cops themselves, the senior detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (McIntire), the neophyte Det. Jim Halloran (Franciscus), and battered-looking Officer Frank Arcaro (Harry Bellaver), had human faces.  Showing compassion as well as the requisite toughness, they were not above becoming emotionally involved in their cases.

McIntire chose to leave the series partway through the first season.  Apparently the rigors of location filming in New York were too much for him and he wanted to return to his home in California.  He allowed Silliphant and Leonard to write him out of the show.  In the 25th episode “The Bumper”, aired on March 17, 1959, a hit man forces Muldoon’s car into a collision with an oil truck and the detective is burned to death.  Killing off the series' main star in this way was an unprecedented move and caused considerable uproar at the time. Muldoon's successor was Lt. Mike Parker, played by screen veteran Horace McMahon, who perhaps looked and sounded more believable as a New York detective. McIntire went on to take over Ward Bond’s role in the Western series Wagon Train.

Paul Burke as Adam FlintThe 30-minute series was dropped at the end of the season.  Silliphant and Leonard wanted to expand the show into an hour-long format.  A year later, on October 12, 1960, the new version premiered on ABC.  Its title was abbreviated to Naked City, it had new theme music by Billy May, and it featured a casting change:  Franciscus' Det. Halloran was replaced by young detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke, right), who had an aspiring-actress girlfriend, Libby (Nancy Malone, pictured below left with Burke and McMahon).  McMahon and Bellaver continued in their roles.

As in the previous series, the emphasis was on characterization and on depicting the often-bizarre real human drama of New York City.  Being police stories, the shows had their share of violence and grimness, but they were as likely to include humor, absurdity, even the occasional fairy-tale romance.

Paul Burke, Nancy Malone, and Horace McMahonThe new series was both a popular and critical success.  Excellent writing and direction, along with consistently fine acting, made the series one of television's most impressive artistic achievements.  Young talents such as George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, James Coburn and Diahann Carroll made memorable appearances, as did veteran actors Claude Rains, Burgess Meredith, and Hume Cronyn.   Jack Priestley, who took over from Contner as the director of photography, continued to provide the show’s distinctive visuals.  The series ran for three seasons and a total of 99 episodes before mysteriously being cancelled while still high in the ratings.

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