The Perry Mason TV Show Book
The History of the Show

Is There Life After Cancellation?

But when CBS closed up shop on "Perry Mason" in May 1966 ("The Garry Moore Show" took its spot that fall), the fun was really just beginning. As The New York Times said in its final review of the show: "The Mason show has just begun the lucrative process of fading away."

Lee Van Cleef, hero of the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns, appears in "The Case of the Golden Oranges." Courtesy of Capital Newspapers

How true. By the time the last episode appeared, twenty-five stations had signed up to present the show in syndicated reruns, dumping $3 million into the coffers even before the final fadeout finally faded out. When the show left prime time for good, more local stations quickly lined up to pick up the series. At first, CBS released only 195 of the shows, holding back forty other episodes that had not been repeated by the network over the nine-year run of the show. CBS held on to them for a while, saying that they would be used if a "programming emergency" arose. One never did, and some of these shows were eventually released for syndication. However, even today, the syndication company holds on tight to a number of episodes, including several "classic" shows (one, "The Case of the Twice Told Twist," was the only show filmed in color) to make future rerun packages even more attractive.

And it wasn't just CBS that made all the money. By the time the show was canceled, it was estimated that the Jacksons and Erle Stanley Gardner, the majority shareholders of Paisano (which held 60 percent ownership in the show), had between them made $10 million.

Correctly noting that the show was in for years of reruns, and thereby, huge fortunes in residual payments, The New York Times concluded: "If you've got to go, do it the Mason way."

And how popular was the show after left the air? Very popular.

  • Six years after leaving the network airwaves, the syndicated shows were being shown in 137 markets, a number equal to two-thirds of the outlets of a national network.
  • At the time of its demise, the show had been broadcast in fifty-eight countries. It had been translated into German, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Arabic, Korean, and Thai. It had also been subtitled for Dutch, Flemish, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Greek, Malay, Polish, and Chinese TV viewers.
  • A gambling game known as "Perrypicking" sprang up in Japan and, according to an interview with a TV producer in TV Guide in 1973, had spread to many other countries as well. The game involved the players watching an episode and listing all possible suspects before the first commercial break. Then bets would be made, with each player putting a wager on which character would eventually wind up being the guilty party.
  • A Village Voice reporter tells the story about traveling to a Canadian border city in 1972 and flipping on the TV only to find "Perry Mason" rerunning on seven channels simultaneously.
  • One Sunday evening in October of 1967, Channel 11 in New York was rerunning "The Case of the Melancholy Marksman." just as Perry was about to reveal the real murderer, a mechanical failure at the station--the result of a faulty switch--caused the last minute and ten seconds of the show to be wiped out. Within minutes, the switchboards at the station were jammed. Nearly a thousand calls were received from irate viewers demanding the station broadcast the final outcome of the episode. The reaction was so swift and vocal that Channel 11 did a very unusual thing: The next night, it ran the last five minutes of the episode on the station's 11:30 news program!
  • A poll conducted by the Broadcast Information Bureau in 1975 revealed that the all-time favorite TV series among people working in or associated with the television industry was none other than "Perry Mason." ("Your Show of Shows," "Star Trek," "Playhouse 90," and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" rounded out the top five.)

So the question must be asked: Did CBS kill "Perry Mason" too early?

Seven years after the show left the airwaves, CBS programming vice-president at the time, Peter Lafferty, admitted that the network used the strength of the show to knock off big opposition shows. "We moved it around quite a bit on the schedule. Finally, it began to slip." The matter begs cross-examination. Would the show have lasted longer if CBS hadn't jockeyed it around the schedule? Was "Perry Mason" killed? A good lawyer might well prove he was.

Webmaster's Note: Myron King has pointed out that the "Peter Lafferty" mentioned in the last paragraph is actually Perry Lafferty.

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The Perry Mason TV Show Book Copyright 1987 by Brian Kelleher and Diana Merrill. All rights reserved. Presented here by permission of the copyright holder. Commercial use prohibited. Web page Copyright 1998 D. M. Brockman. Last edited 04 Nov 2004.