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January 03, 2014


I watch Perry Mason three mornings a week at work. "Work" is sitting in a dark room next to a sleeping lady who wakes up every now and then and likes to see the old shows she remembers from the fifties. So we watch Lucy, Leave It to Beaver, Perry Mason, Rawhide, The Rifleman, Daniel Boone....

I grew up without a TV and have no memories of these shows. I was prepared to find Perry Mason as hamhanded and amateurish as Daniel Boone, as formulaic as Beaver, as smarmy and bogus as the Rifleman (the best moment of that show is the opening crotch shots), but, gradually, I overcame my prejudice and realized that it is in fact a good show on many levels.

It's consciously noir; the opening shots particularly show an awareness of how effectively shadows and light can be used to create mood. And the plots are interesting. I play a game of trying to guess as early as possible who the victim will be, the accused and the murderer. It's surprisingly hard; sometimes the show will be half over and no one is dead yet. Of course the climax always happens at five minutes before the hour with a courtroom confession: the show is not perfect. However it is a whole quantum jump better than Ironside with its glaringly ugly colors, talentless actors, and cheesy plots.

As you can tell, I watch a lot of TV at work. In my defense, I also read a lot of books. I spent almost two hundred dollars on Kindle last month.

It's really a form of faceted classification. I wonder how many librarians they have on staff?

To me it seems obvious: there is a subgenre, "Understated Cerebral Mysteries with Ironclad Plots, Good Dialogue, Not Much Action or Romance, and on the Side of the Defense", that is popular with viewers yet *drastically* underpopulated. It's so drastically underpopulated that the show that's a best-fit for the category is *enormously* popular, much more popular than anyone realized.

This might be true but it seems very speculative and without any supporting evidence. Also, this seems like a good example of motivated reasoning.

From the article, it sounds like netflix has human viewers add a bunch of tags for every film (do they also watch all episodes?). From there, I'd guess they run some sort of high dimensionality clustering algorithm; in that case, it is totally possible that the algorithm will occasionally obsess over random parts of the clustering space. Many of these algorithms are non-deterministic (every time you run them you'll get a similar, but slightly different, result).

On their streaming video operation, Netflix does some heavy duty big data mining. Right down to the mouse click. They have, in effect, an instant response focus group the size of their customer base.

Sheer entertainment - watching the Perry Mason episodes from the 50s - 60s, then spend some time on TCM and catch the extras in their heyday (or not). The 50 Foot Woman is always a neat find.

My wife adores Perry and it is great fun finding Mr. Burr playing a heavy or a slimeball.

This is why I think Netflix is The Future of TV: because in their business model the audience is the customer.

From your lips, etc.

If they do well with it, maybe it will catch on elsewhere.

now if Netflix could convince TV and movie studios to make better movies, instead of pumping out the thousands and thousands of hours of predictable idiocy that they produce now...

Burr was the heavy in "Rear Window".

Perry Mason? Isn't that where the 5th Amendment goes to die?

Bobbyp, no one can resist Perry's giant, earnest forehead - you are bound to spill the precise incriminating details.

What I like is that occasionally Perry, Ham Burger and/or the Presiding Judge will carefully explain your rights as a defendant in the middle of some legal stategem/deposition/badgering. Fairly educational even if most cases most cases don't end with the guilty party breaking down in court.

I wasn't planning on commenting on this thread, but after reading the post and comments twice, I started thinking about the hours I spent watching the show as a kid, probably sandwiched between "The Fugitive" and "The Rifleman", and then I remembered why I watched so faithfully: Della Reese (Barbara Hale).

What was it about her that appealed to that 13-year-old, beyond an obvious crush, and now to see the Netflix list of favorite actors with her kicking Eastwood's behind and challenging Willis.

She's almost a super-hero; in fact, if she showed up in the "Thor" movies in some pivotal role, I wouldn't be surprised, even at the age of 91, which is old Hale is now.

I think it's because somehow the viewer was invited to wonder about the character's "life" outside of her job as Mason's "confidential secretary", a thrilling, intriguing job title.

She was so stolid and loyal, and so unruffled and competent in case after case where bodies lay everywhere.

Did she go home and read after work. Did she stop and have a drink at a piano bar? Were there boyfriends, and was Mason one of them?

"From Gardner's "The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito", culled from a comments section somewhere or other:

'Mason turned to Della Street. "Know something?"
"I bet the preacher would make a reduced rate on marrying three couples instead of two."
She looked up at him with wistful tenderness. "Forget it, Chief."
Her eyes looked out over the long reaches of the desert that stretched out far below. "We're happy now," she said. "You can't tell what marriage would do to us. We'd have a home. I'd be a housekeeper. You'd need a new secretary.... You don't want a home. I don't want you to have a new secretary. Right now you're tired. You've been matching wits with a murderer. You feel as though you'd like to marry and settle down. Day after tomorrow you'll be looking for a new case where you can go like mad, skin through by a thousandth of an inch. That's the way you want to be, and that's the way I want you. You'd never settle down and I don't want you to. And besides, Salty couldn't leave the camp all alone tomorrow."
Mason moved to her side, slipped his arm around her shoulders, held her close to him. "I could argue with you about all that," he said softly.'

Was Della's personal life a bit messy, as opposed to her magnificent control in the workplace?

Inquiring 13-year-old male minds wanted to know.

I don't think Paul Drake was a love interest, because I don't remember her ducking out the back entrance of Mason's office with him. Well, maybe a time or two, but she was all business.

From rooting around on Wikipedia, I learn that Erle Stanley Gardner employed three sisters as his factotums and, after his wife died, he married one of them, which I guess made her a confidential factotum after the fact and one is given to wonder about the confidentiality before the fact, one is.

And then there is this, which I had forgotten: the victims of the murders in each case were for the most part smarmy, nasty characters who frankly could have used a braining with a blunt object and so the viewer was instantly thrust into the position of sympathizing with Mason's client.

From Wikipedia:

"Each episode's format is essentially the same: the first half of the show usually depicts a prospective murder victim as being deserving of homicide, often with Perry's client publicly threatening to kill the victim."

The strict structure of each show (as pertained to "The Fugitive" as well, God, I loved that show), one after the other, gave the viewer the satisfaction of dependability. Even Hamilton Burger stopped being surprised when he lost every case, except three.

Some things I didn't know:

Hale's son is actor William Katt, the good-looking, dimpled nice guy who took Carrie to the prom and didn't live to regret it. He also played Paul Drake Jr. in some of the later Mason made-for-TV movies.

William Hopper (Paul Drake), son of Hedda Hopper, was originally up for and auditioned for the role of Perry Mason. I'm always fascinated by the fact that actors who play iconic roles, in this case, Burr, are more often than not the second, third, or forth choices for the role.

William Talman, the dependably stumped Hamilton Burger, was fired from the show in 1960 after being arrested on morals charges (smoking marijuana with a group of naked people in a private home raided by police) and later reinstated because of a fan-based letter-writing campaign.

Talman was acquitted, much to the chagrin to whomever the prosecuting district attorney happened to be, who I imagine took some ribbing down at City Hall for not being able to legally nail Hamilton Burger in flagrantly delicto, just like Hamilton Burger.

Count, I love the idea that Ham Burger can win . . . but on defense. Never** as a prosecutor.

** Actually, I have a vague recollection that Mason actually lost a couple of cases. But his win percentage was amazing.


"It's really a form of faceted classification. I wonder how many librarians they have on staff?"

Yes, it is. And I think that number is zero.

So...this intersects with my [current] industry. And I think they're doing it wrong.

It's a clever scheme --- for being invented from scratch. But that's a ludicrous number of categories. Ludicrous. Unwieldy to the point of uselessness.

For example -- or for starters, take your pick -- "Raymond Burr" and "xxxxx genre" should be different tags, and both applied to the content. Super-over-postcoordinating the categories isn't useful.

I'd love to take a look at their scheme.

I never watched Perry Mason, but have been a lifelong fan of Rumpole of the Bailey and would argue that it falls into the same subgenre that you described.

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