Harry Morgan on the way TV production changed during his career

The landscape changed as his career progressed.

NBC/UNIVERSAL and DISNEY MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT DISTRIBUTION

Innovation has been key to every industry's evolution, and television is no different. The medium has retained viewers' attention by adapting to societal and technological advances. If TV was the same as in the '50s and '60s, those old formulas would be completely staid and stale by now. What was once state-of-the-art is old hat by the following decade.

What's interesting is how quickly television shifts. From the types of programs to the ways they're made, TV continues to change and invent new ways to keep our eyeballs glued between commercial airings. But unlike in some other fields, the ways television changes are measurable in the short term. Even during the career of one actor, the industry shifts are remarkable.

Harry Morgan spoke authoritatively on the ways television progressed because he observed much of the development from the inside. He was at the top of the field in several shows, notably on Dragnet and then again on M*A*S*H. With two career-defining roles in two separate decades, Morgan had a participant's view of TV's many advancements.

In 1986, Morgan spoke with the Chicago Tribune, looking back on a storied acting career and commenting on the way the current flowed beneath him. Most notably, it seemed that time and how it was utilized (or not) was a currency valued much less in the latter part of his career. 

"We used to do Dragnet in two days," Morgan said. "Sometimes one day if it was a show with a long interrogation scene. I don't know what has changed, exactly, except that we're always moving around. Hardly ever on a stage."

Maybe the difference maker was Morgan's co-star, Dragnet creator Jack Webb.

"Jack was all business, and we turned the shows out in a hurry. If we went two days, we were usually having a belt or two by noon the second day. He was a taskmaster, but TV worked a lot faster in those days.

"With a show like Dragnet, we used teleprompters so you didn't even have to memorize the lines. A show like [Blacke's Magic], well, they're big on moving around to different locations. Somebody, Spencer Tracy, I think, said that what they paid you for was the waiting around. The acting you did for free."

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7 Comments

DeputyWarren 11 days ago
Peter Bonerz, who played Jerry-the-Dentist, on "Bob Newhart" said that those shows had one on-set rehearsal and then filmed in front of a live audience, stopping only for technical glitches; Twenty years later, when he was directing episodes of "Friends", they frequently went over four hours, stopping to switch-out jokes that didn't land with the audience, alter line-readings, edit scenes, redo hair, makeup & lighting, change the endings, etc.
Bluerabbit2 1 month ago
Mr. Morgan was correct. Television has changed so much since he was in both "Dragnet" and "M*A*S*H". Not always filmed in a studio but on location. Scripts may be longer or revised more often. And, unfortunately, we no longer have Jack Webb and his fantastic creative mind. He always found the BEST talented people and you were able to follow along even when you didn't have the scripts!!
JHP 1 month ago
for my two cents Harry Morgan and Carroll O' Connor were separated at their actor birth (makes sense?)
cperrynaples 1 month ago
Morgan goes back to December Bride & its spinoff Pete & Gladys! Fun Fact: He was part of Richard Boone's repitory company on the anthology series he did after HGWT!
Between 1954 and 1988, Harry Morgan never took more than one season from being a regular on series. In some cases (e.g. between M*A*S*H and AfterMASH) there were no breaks.
WGH 1 month ago
I love the quote by Robert Mitchum. They'll keep you there 24 hours a day if you don't set boundaries. He would give you everything he had from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and then he left no matter what.
MikefromJersey WGH 1 month ago
One of the best star bio's I have ever read was "Baby I don't Care", about Mitchum.
He was also a good poet, singer and extremely well read but couldn't abide a fool.
If a reporter was talking crap to him he'd reply in the same manner, mocking
him by saying crazy things though many reporters were too dumb to get it.
Thus one of them reported he was pro Nazi in WW 2 and endorsed some of
their views, not getting Mitch's utter contempt for the reporter with his wry replies.
It was as if you were stopped on the street, asked by some reporter turd about there
being a secret Albanian base on the moon, and you said "Of course there is, next to
the secret Samoan base run by Derek Jeter" and the reporter writing the next day
that you believed Jeter was colonizing the moon.
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