About two months after first appearing on the CBC’s anthology television program Playbill, in an episode penned by the great Rod Serling, Shatner would come back for a second (and apparently final time) for an episode called “The Swamp.”
It’s actually slightly surprising that I don’t see more of Shatner on Playbill, because it appears that it was an interesting proving ground for new and innovative Canadian directors, producers and actors. It’s certainly possible (and even probable) that I’m missing one or more entries for this particular series, so let’s briefly discuss what made Playbill stand out from some of its peers.
Much like the short-lived and contemporary CBC anthology series Scope, Playbill was specifically created to showcase homegrown Canadian talent. Producer Robert Allen stated that Playbill would be “based as far as possible on the original writings of Canadian authors. Additionally, producers will be given a free hand to develop and employ experimental techniques which will improve the dramatic qualities of the productions.” Unlike Scope, which aired a wide number of different types of programming including plays, opera, documentaries and original dramas, Playbill was focused solely on dramatic productions. For its first season in 1953, it was shown for a half hour each week over the summer. For subsequent seasons, it would air during the more conventionally recognized TV season, which was good for Shatner since he would not have been able to appear otherwise due to his Stratford schedule.
Another change made after the first season was that the word “experimental” basically morphed into an all-purpose term meaning “new” (rather than “odd” or “different”) once supervising producer Sydney Newman took the helm. In her book, Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama since 1952, Mary Jane Miller writes:
Playbill was an environment where fledgling producers could learn to “fly” the complex controls of live drama. The word “experimental” in this context seems to cover the try-out of new producers, actors, and writers rather than reshaping of television forms or the inclusion of challenging content. It would not be the first time the word was used to disarm criticism rather than describe a programme’s content and style accurately.
Playbill continued on the CBC until at least 1959 and possibly even longer than that. That is one of the reasons that I’m so surprised that Shatner was only in two episodes (that I can see) of this dramatic anthology program. In a way, though, this makes sense: the 1954-55 television season was Shatner’s big breakout into TV. If Playbill was truly designed to give new actors, writers, directors and producers a shot then this “first” year of the Shat would have been the best time to do so. It’s also extremely possible that he actually did appear on more episodes that I just don’t know about!
Anyway, “The Swamp.” What was it about? Who all was in it? What role did Shatner play? Unknown. Very little information on this series or this episode exists in the Google-space. Once again, may his visage above be my penance.
It’s time to detail all of the connections between Playbill’s “The Swamp” and other Shatner appearances!
I could find almost nothing about this episode at IMDB or elsewhere. In fact, I’m almost positive that Sydney Newman would have been credited as Supervising Producer for this, but since I can’t corroborate I’m going to leave him out of the web for now.
The only “solid” connection that I could find was that the writer of this episode is credited as Alf Harris, who was also the creative mind behind the series Space Command that Shatner probably appeared on at least once.
Read an excerpt from Mary Jane Miller’s book here.