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Highway Patrol (1955-59)

Reprinted with permission from

Syndicated Television, The First 40 Years, 1947-1987

By Hal Erickson

Eventually weighing in at 156 episodes, Ziv's Highway Patrol began as a virtual throwaway, slapped together in a dark corner of Eagle-Lion studios to meet Ziv's October 1955 release commitment. Patrol starBroderick Crawford had some name value thanks to his 1949 Oscar for All The Kings Men, but his career had rollercoastered from heights to the depths with such frequency that he was hardly everyone’s first choice for enduring television success (Crawford's off-screen reputation as a premiere elbow bender helped not at all). A Screen Gems pilot for a potential Crawford vehicle, Manhunt, proved unsuccessful* but convinced Ziv Productions that the actor could carry a goodly amount of authority and conviction to the role of Chief Dan Mathews in Highway Patrol for at least 39 weeks.

Every expense was spared in keeping Highway Patrol fast and cheap. Although its stories occasionally brought in elaborate hardware like helicopters, the series' pinchpenny budget was typified by an early episode in which a three-minute robbery/murder/escape sequence was filmed in one single static take. The thriftiness extended to Highway Patrol's well-remembered theme music, which was drawn from Ziv's vast library of royalty-free tunes and had previously been used on the radio version of Ziv's Mr. District Attorney.**

Yet somehow, Highway Patrol took off. By 1956, the series was attracting big sponsors and huge ratings everywhere it played; other Hollywood producers rushed about creating imitations. Among them were, Code Three, Harbor Command, Sheriff Cochise, State Trooper, The Everglades, U.S. Marshal, and United States Boarder Patrol. Ziv Productions found itself building its entire 1956-57 ad campaign around Highway Patrol's 's track record. Fred Ziv's minor time-filler was a major smash. Ziv eventually formulated an explanation of the series' popularity. The producer insisted that it was due in part to the public's ongoing Dragnet- inspired fascination with police procedure, jargon, and state-of-the-art law enforcement hardware. But the most vital ingredient to Patrol's success, claimed Ziv, was Broderick Crawford's curt, clipped acting technique examplified by his frequent barked our radio commands of "Ten-Four!" and "Twenty-One-Fifty Bye!" Ziv noted that Crawford's style had carried over into the series' "look," resulting in tight close-ups and rapid-fire editing. In short, Brod Crawford did not act on Highway Patrol; Highway Patrol acted like Brod Crawford.

Given in later years to lampooning his Dan Mathews role on such comedy shows as Saturday Night Live, Crawford never joked about the positive effect Highway Patrol had on his life: it made him a millionaire, prolonged his career, and even allowed him to direct on occasion. Nor did Crawford feel that syndicated TV was a step below network quality; "I see no difference" he once said, "except that in syndication you get your money quicker." Highway Patrol not only benefited Crawford, but also turned out to be the biggest moneymaker Ziv ever had; it was still turning a profit in mid-60’s reruns. The series even obliged Ziv to set up a subsidiary company, Economee Films, in 1957. Ziv's policy was to sell its first-run series directly to regional sponsors; Economee handled Ziv's reruns, offering them directly to local TV stations. To avoid competition with the first-run Patrol episodes, Economee repeats were given the logical title of Ten-Four. And there was definitely a demand for those repeats: at one juncture in 1959, Highway Patrol was running on three New York channels each week. It also owned the distinction of being the first American TV series shown on Germany's commercial Television channel - conjuring up irresistible images of Broderick Crawford grabbing his radio microphone and shouting "Sehn-FIER!"

*Manhunt became a series in 1959 starring Victor Jory and Patrick McVey. It lasted 2 seasons with 78 episodes.

** Extensive research by Gary Goltz has not uncovered any evidence for this oft-repeated claim. He has found 2 theme songs for Mr. District Attorney and neither is the HP theme. With the help of old time radio show expert Jed Dolnick it appears that AFRN (Armed Forces Radio Network) rebroadcast Ziv radio program "Mr. District Attorney" in the late 1950s and used the Cyril Stapleton and his Orchestra version of the HP theme as a lead in/out. This version wasn't released until 1958 under the name The March of The Highway Patrol by David Rose - AKA Ray Llewellyn. Gary believes this was just AFRN's own doing and therefore it's now safe to say that Ziv used the Rose/Llewellyn theme exclusively for Highway Patrol.