The First Reality Show Ever: Night Watch (Stories for the Ear #8)

Don’t freak out, dear reader. I have not stooped to the low of entertaining myself with reality shows. No “Real Housewives”, “Meet the Osbournes”, or “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” here. This old-time radio program pushed the boundaries of what was considered okay to air on national radio, and it is widely considered to be the first reality show ever used for the purposes of entertainment. Let’s have a look at “Night Watch”.

“Night Watch” premiered in 1954 and ran only 52 half-hour episodes, ending in 1955. The show centered around Don Reed, a police recorder, as he joined police sergeant Ron Perkins during his night watch assignments around Culver City, California. The show had no actors and no scripts. It also only involved Reed, Perkins, and two producers, but no crew otherwise, making it an incredibly easy show to make. Reed carried his tape recorder concealed in a flashlight, and the police car he and Perkins rode in was designed to look like a regular car, which made it easier to sneak up on the more interesting crimes.

Despite the controversy surrounding the show, “Night Watch” branded itself as educational, which is why it was allowed to stay on the air even for the year that it did, despite the fact that most everyone knew that the purpose was entertainment. Some of the scenes depicted in the show were crazily surreal, like the escaped mental asylum patient, the juvenile delinquent that Perkins had mentored and then had to send to prison, or even the crazed lady that held a gun to Perkins and Reed, all while Reed calmly narrated the events into his flashlight tape recorder. The show was as intense and genuine as a show could get. It even seriously rivaled the immensely popular “Dragnet” during its short runtime.

“Night Watch” had alot of really cool moments, and it was so interesting being able to feel like the listener himself was sitting in a police car, going around to answer all sorts of calls or break up all sorts of shady business, whether it be a drunk woman shouting profanities, or something as crazy as sneaking into a house to break up illegal gambling. I honestly have no idea how Reed did all of what he did while carrying a bulky flashlight.

I could go on talking about “that one time when”, but I don’t want to spoil the whole show for you, because you should totally go and listen to “Night Watch” for yourself! All 52 episodes have survived and are available on and YouTube. If you do actually listen to it, I’d love to hear what you think of it in the comments down below. Happy listening!


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