was one of the all-time classics of radio, running for some 21 years (1936-1957)
on various networks. However, its history on television was short, for unusual
was the same as in the radio version. Action-packed stories on the apprehension
of major criminals, taken from "actual police and FBI files," were
presented in semi-documentary style. There was no continuing cast, but Phillips
H. Lord, creator and writer of the show, appeared each week as narrator. At the
end of each telecast, a photo of one of the nation's most-wanted criminals was
shown, and anyone having knowledge of his whereabouts was asked to phone the
local police, the FBI, or Gangbusters
direct. (Over the years, the "most-wanted" feature of the radio Gangbusters
resulted in the apprehension of several hundred criminals.)
premiered on TV in March 1952, alternating on Thursday nights with Dragnet.
Both shows were phenomenally successful, completely overwhelming their competition.
(In fact, the other three networks virtually gave up trying to compete, and
scheduled political-discussion programs opposite them). During the fall of 1952, Gangbusters
averaged a 42 rating, garnering virtually all of the audience available in its
time slot and ranking number eight among all programs on TV. Nevertheless, it
left the air in December - making it probably the highest-rated program ever to
be cancelled in the history of television.
reason for the cancellation appears to be that
was never intended to be a full-time TV show, but merely a stopgap provided by the
sponsor to fill in the weeks when Dragnet
wasn't on. Jack Webb even appeared at the end of each telecast to plug the next
week's Dragnet episode. Webb
could not at first provide a new Dragnet
film every week, but when he could, Dragnet
(which was even more popular than Gangbusters) went weekly and Gangbusters
had to make way.