Johnson Potter appears during an interview in the 1990s.
By Ann Snuggs
Back in the early 1950s local television stations were brand new and hungry for all types of filler programs to fill airtime. (Yes, children, there was a time when more than 200 channels did not fight for viewers 24/7.) One of the needs was for fifteen-minute shows to fill the space between the local fifteen-minute newscast and the half hour.
During that period, Johnson Potter happened upon a filler show that failed to impress him and decided he could do better. He contacted a local theatre group, the Callboard Players, and asked if anyone in the group might be interested in writing and directing short TV shows. Bob Jones stepped up. Following Potter’s guidelines, he starting writing. Potter put his producing skills to work – organizing, finding financing and locales. They shot on weekends, working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Potter even did some of the post-filming production in his living room. The result was Meet the Victim. The shows appeared on about one hundred television stations in 1952.
Now, more than fifty years later, his daughter is making some of these episodes available to fans of early television and television historians.
They are well-worth viewing.
The DVD includes seven episodes: “Ill Wind,” a look at the consequences of greed and a heist gone wrong; “Man on the Beach,” in which a woman’s fears bring about a tragic conclusion; “Trigger Man,” portrait of a hired gun having a bad day; “The Wall,” a psychological drama of conflicts, both of humans and with nature; “The Fatal Story,” which goes to show truth is stranger than fiction; “The Fabulous Pearl,” with a nice O’Henry style ending; and “Never Go Back,” especially if it leads to a twilight zone twist.
In these shows, Bob Jones uses “Robert L. Jones” as well as “Bob Jones.” Those credits are for the same man. In a few, Potter’s sister Pat appears. The same players are seen in a varying episodes. None has a name that became a household word nationally. Yet most of the actors who worked in these Potter productions are solid. Many with less skills appear on today’s screen and not just in low-budget movies and television. Potter’s sister-in-law, Inga Larsson Potter, painted the portrait that is a key part of the story in “Never Go Back.” Meet the Victim is an early example of utilizing the resources one has to put together a decent film project.
Probably one feature that most indicates budget constraints is the use of narrative rather than dialogue. My first thought was that the amateur performers were not good with dialogue but that is not the case. It simplified sound production, to a degree. It is the least appealing aspect of the shows.
An additional bonus included on the disk is an interview with Johnson Potter in his later years made by a Boston reporter. He not only talks about this series of television shows but also his background with film and some of his life experiences. He tells fun details about the making of Meet the Victim. None cited here. No spoilers.
Potter was a fascinating man who first took an interest in film at the tender age of five. Mensa member, world traveler, risk-taker, filmmaker. Footage he took in Europe was included in “The Wall.” Don’t skip the interview.
All in all, this is an interesting look at a facet of television history that has few examples extant and available to the general public. The shows are definitely dated, yet they are watchable snippets of drama. Melodrama dominates “Man on the Beach” and “The Wall,” accented by swelling music scores. All have an ironic twist. Some classify as noir, others pure melodrama, and “Never Go Back” – the only one in color – belongs somewhere in the twilight zone.
While Meet the Victim is not available commercially, it may be obtained by email from Kira Potter via MeetTheVictim@gmail.com.
(Although she has no memories of her dad discussing these television episodes she was influenced by her father’s love of all things film. Kira is currently a lighting director for CNN.)