Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Serious Business: Perry Mason’s Inside Joke

The classic courtroom drama Perry Mason inspired generations of people to become lawyers and was the very first one hour drama filmed specifically for television. The show’s guest stars, most of whom were unknown at the time of their appearance on the show, would become a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s biggest names. From 1957 until 1966 the show saw many changes in the television landscape. One such change would inspire Perry Mason’s final words on the show’s last episode.

In the 1950’s, most television programming was seen as being disposable. After all, who would want to watch something they’d already seen? In the early years of television, most programming was never saved for posterity. If a show was lucky, maybe a kinescope was made as an afterthought. For the most part, however, much of television’s early shows were lost to the ages. Even though Perry Mason episodes were always filmed on filmstock and carefully stored away, CBS didn’t really think that the episodes had much of a future. That would change in the 1960’s, as television producers saw that there was big profit to be made by airing reruns. That’s why Perry Mason’s last spoken line was this:

“Now, it seems to me the place to start is at the beginning.”

The writers knew that when Perry Mason reruns would air on television, the first episode would run after the last one in the syndication cycle. Viewers would hear Perry talk about starting at the beginning then see the first episode the next day. A clever injoke that many people might not have even noticed.