Tilting At Windmills: Prologues Of Our Past
Published: August 12th, 2022
By: Shelly Reuben

Tilting at Windmills: Prologues of our Past

By now, most of you know that I love writers. It doesn’t matter that I am one, because when I put the last period at the end of the last sentence of a new book, I fall into a state of incredulity. My awe at how writers do what they do extends to myself. In some ways, I am as amazed and astonished by my own creations as I am by those of the John Steinbecks, Conan-Doyles, and Edna Ferbers of the world.

Writers entertain us. They transport us. They inspire us. They save us from dark and terrible thoughts. They give us alternative realities. They vanquish isolation and draw us into their worlds. They give us hope. Or, to repeat my opening premise: I LOVE WRITERS!

The catalyst for this particular outburst occurred when I was reading American Horror Writers, an intriguing series of short biographies by my friend, Bob Madison. In his chapter about Rod Serling, Bob recalled the prologue to Serling’s first television series:

"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area we call the Twilight Zone."

Reading that got me to thinking about old radio and TV shows, so many of which were dramatic and compelling. I’m not certain why contemporary dramatic TV is so comparatively bland. Possibly because Golden Age writers, in some indefinable way, believed that their stories conveyed eternal truths. And so good was their writing that their talent and their passion compelled us to positively hunger for what would come next.

However, even before the storytelling began, there were those wonderful prologues, and how they could draw us in!

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STAR TREK. The Original Series. Conceived by Gene Roddenberry.

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”

Prologues for The Twilight Zone and Star Trek are my favorites. Every word, a gem. Every concept, a nudge to make us think, fantasize, and dream. Others were evocative, too:


Remember Dodge City? Remember Matt Dillon, Doc, and Miss Kitty?

“Around Dodge City and the territories out west, there’s just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers, and that’s with a U.S. Marshal, and the smell of GUN SMOKE.

I was recently introduced to another western on Sirius-XM radio. Elegant. Intriguing. And original.

“Herewith, an Englishman's account of life and death in the West. As a reporter for the London Times, he writes his colorful and unusual accounts. But as a man with a gun, he lives and becomes a part of the violent years in the new territories. This is the story of J. B. Kendall, FRONTIER GENTLEMAN.”


Everybody (I hope) remembers Jack Webb’s immortal contribution to true crime detection.

Ladies and gentlemen. The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. This is the city. Los Angeles, California. Some people rob for pleasure. Some rob because it’s there. You never know. My name’s Friday. I’m a cop. DRAGNET.

Another favorite, with great scripts and an interesting premise, was JOHNNY DOLLAR:

"...in the transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account  – America's fabulous freelance  insurance investigator."

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Then, looking at crime from the perspective of the pursued instead of the pursuer, we had THE FUGITIVE.

“The name: Dr. Richard Kimble. The destination: Death Row, state prison. The irony: Richard Kimble is innocent. Proved guilty, what Richard Kimble could not prove, was that moments before discovering his murdered wife's body, he saw a one-armed man running from the vicinity of his home. Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time, and sees only darkness. But in that darkness, fate moves its huge hand.”


Nor can we forget how much fun it can be to be scared.

I...am THE WHISTLER, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, many secrets hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak!

These are just a smattering of the prologues that launched so many vintage radio and TV shows. Why did they touch, inspire, and entertain us so much? How did they get such a firm grip on our imaginations? Because, I think, they projected an undercurrent of optimism and hope. The belief that crimes could be solved, monsters would be captured, evil would be punished, and heroes would be rewarded.

Speaking of heroes, none, really, could beat the guy who worked for Perry White (“Great Caesar’s Ghost!”), his editor at the Daily Planet.


“Up in the sky!

“It's a bird!

“It's a plane!

“It's Superman!

“Yes, it's Superman—strange visitor from the planet  Krypton  who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, race a speeding bullet to its target, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice. “

Great prologues. Great writing. Great shows.

What’s not to like?

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2022. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com