Highway Patrol (U.S. TV series)

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This article is about the American television show. For the Australian television show, see Highway Patrol (Australian TV series).
Highway Patrol
Also known as Ten-4
Genre Action/Police crime drama
Starring Broderick Crawford
Narrated by Art Gilmore
Theme music composer David Rose
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 156
Executive producer(s) Frederick Ziv
Producer(s) Vernon E. Clark
Jack Herzberg
Herbert L. Strock
Location(s) California
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Ziv Television Programs
Distributor MGM Television
Peter Rodgers Organization
Original network Syndication
Picture format Black and white
Audio format Monaural
Original release October 3, 1955 – September 1, 1959

Highway Patrol is a syndication action crime drama series produced from 1955 to 1959.


Highway Patrol stars Broderick Crawford as Dan Mathews, the gruff and dedicated head of a police force in an unidentified Western state. A signature shot of the series is fedora-wearing Mathews barking rapid-fire dialogue into a radio microphone as he leans against the door of his black and white patrol car. Mathews growls "21-50 to headquarters" and the invariable response is "Headquarters by" (as in, standing by).

ZIV Television Productions was founded by Frederick Ziv in 1948. In 1960, the company was acquired by United Artists Television, which merged with MGM 21 years later. ZIV TV was a major producer of 1950s and early 1960s first-run syndicated series, including Bat Masterson, The Cisco Kid, Science Fiction Theater, Lock-Up, Sea Hunt and Ripcord. Highway Patrol was created by ZIV in response to California Highway Patrol (CHP) wanting to be featured in a TV series. However, because ZIV felt the show needed to have a broader police scope than the real CHP, the generic show name was adopted. In the four years of its run, Highway Patrol would feature many actors who would later become successful stars in their own right, among them Stuart Whitman, Clint Eastwood, Robert Conrad, Larry Hagman, Barbara Eden, Paul Burke and Leonard Nimoy.

Highway Patrol premiered October 3, 1955 with "Prison Break", an episode filmed April 11–13, 1955. Ziv Television Programs produced 156 episodes spanning four TV seasons, 1955–1959. Episodes are generally fast-paced—notable considering how a typical episode was filmed: two days on location and one day at the studio. The budget for an episode ranged from $20,000 to $25,000, somewhat higher when a Bell 47 helicopter was used. Producer Frederic W. Ziv said the show moved fast to match Broderick Crawford's acting pace. Ziv said Highway Patrol introduced quick cutting to television, which started a new trend.

Highway Patrol is famous for its location shooting around the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley, then mostly rural. Other notable Los Angeles area locations include Griffith Park, and Bronson Canyon just above Hollywood. Today the show provides a historic look at mid-1950s California, cars, fashion (men wear fedoras), and lifestyle. For example, train travel is a common show element; the second-season episode "Hired Killer" prominently features the Chatsworth, California, train station in its opening scene.[1] The show also filmed at railroad stations at Glendale, California, identified by a large sign, and Santa Susana, California.

While back lots were not used for exteriors, interior scenes were often filmed on sets at ZIV Studios, 7950 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Over the years the Highway Patrol office set changed several times, featuring rearranged activities, improved set decoration, and background actors (early episodes referred to Mathews coming to a Highway Patrol district office on an inspection visit and taking charge of a case).

Unlike the California Highway Patrol, the agency featured in the TV series was more concerned with chasing criminals than enforcing driving laws. Local and county police officers were seldom if ever in evidence, only the Highway Patrol. WIth such limited budgets, there were very few car chases, crashes, and other motor mayhem that is more common in modern police dramas; scenes were often filmed on rural two-lane paved or dirt roads to save money and because Crawford's own driver's license was suspended for drunk driving. Excitement was mainly generated by Crawford's own rapid-fire, staccato delivery of his lines, frequent shootouts, and numerous plot contrivances in which time was a critical factor, such as a hostage death threat, the escape of a violent criminal, a train derailment, or other imminent catastrophe.

In the first two seasons the series received technical assistance from the California Highway Patrol. The patrol cars in early episodes are actual CHP vehicles with the show's car door emblem covering the CHP emblem (sometimes a real CHP star is briefly visible). For instance, the 1955 Buick Century two-door patrol car seen in early episodes was built exclusively for CHP. Eventually California Highway Patrol dropped its support, reportedly dissatisfied with how the show had evolved. At that point the show had to create its own patrol cars using non-police models, but still outfitted in CHP-style, distinctly subdued compared with many police agencies. Notably, CHP cars did not have roof lights, instead using only a solid-red driver-side spotlight in front (known affectionately as "The Ruby"), and a flashing-yellow light in the rear window; these are barely noticeable in the black-and-white TV show.

Officer uniforms are the CHP style of the day. In seasons one to three, the shoulder patch is essentially the CHP patch with "California" and "Eureka" (state motto) removed; the California bear and other California state seal elements are retained. In season four the show adopted a uniform patch that matches its patrol car emblem. Highway Patrol chief Dan Mathews usually wears a suit and fedora, but not to be undercover—he generally drives a black-and-white patrol car.

Art Gilmore's narration gives Highway Patrol a documentary feel, but several details are never mentioned. While described as a state police agency, the actual state is never stated. It is said to be a western state, and borders on Mexico, but only eastern state Rhode Island is small enough to allow Dan Mathews to regularly drive from headquarters to every crime scene in just minutes. Towns have simple names like "Midvale", though sometimes a real place name is used because of a prominent sign. In some episodes Mathews uses an unlabeled wall map that appears to be central-east Oregon, with the towns of Bend and Redmond on the map's left. Cars in the show are always described by color and model, but never by brand name: "blue coupe", "gray sedan". Cars have the black-on-yellow California license plate of the time, but with a piece of tape covering the name of the state (usually, but sometimes "California" is briefly visible). Episode "Mistaken Identity" did show a 1957 Illinois license plate in the opening scene.

Gun handling is typical of TV shows of the time—unrealistic and sometimes absurd. Police officers often shoot from the hip, usually with amazing accuracy, even from moving cars and a helicopter. The Smith & Wesson six-round revolvers used by actor officers sometimes emit more than six shots without reloading. Other revolvers used were Colt revolvers. Patrol officers carried a 6-inch barrel, Matthews a 2 inch. All criminals carried Colts as well.

A key element of the show is two-way radio communication among patrol cars and headquarters, with heavy use of police code "10-4" (meaning "acknowledged"). While 10-4 adds a feeling of authenticity, real police use many radio codes for brevity and clarity. The Highway Patrol show radio call signs are CHP-style, except California Highway Patrol uses the first part to indicate the geographic region/office. Dan Mathews unit "21-50" would be a CHP unit at office 21, which is in Napa County, California. (Some reports claim it was the call-sign of the CHP Commissioner of the time.) The show mixes a variety of CHP office prefixes; one episode has "21-50" working with "34-27" (CHP for San Francisco) and "36-32" (CHP for Red Bluff) to chase the bad guys around a single valley.

The show's brassy music made such an impact that it was featured on record albums of popular TV show themes, and released as a single (45) by various artists. The theme is credited to Ray Llewellyn, a pseudonym for composer/conductor David Rose long associated with Red Skelton and married to Judy Garland in the early 1940s.

Highway Patrol was an international phenomenon, aired in 17 languages in 71 countries, including Argentina, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, UK. The show spawned toys, games, costumes, comic books and fan clubs.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is credited with writing five episodes, sometimes using the pseudonym "Robert Wesley". Future producer Quinn Martin is sound supervisor in the show's early years; style elements of "Highway Patrol" are evident in his later productions: (The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Barnaby Jones, The Invaders, The FBI and The Streets of San Francisco).

Highway Patrol was produced for four TV seasons. ZIV reportedly desired a fifth season, but Crawford declined. He later starred in another ZIV series King of Diamonds playing diamond insurance investigator John King for just one season.

When asked why the popular show ended, Broderick Crawford said, "We ran out of crimes." In fact, Crawford had his fill of the show's hectic TV schedule (two shows per week), which had caused him to drink more heavily than ever, and he had decided to leave Highway Patrol to make films in Europe.[2] ZIV held up Crawford's ten per cent share of the show's gross (some 2 million dollars) until Crawford agreed to sign for a new ZIV pilot and TV show, King of Diamonds.[2] After returning from Europe, Crawford signed his new contract with ZIV and would later star in King of Diamonds playing diamond insurance investigator John King.[2] King of Diamonds lasted only one season before being cancelled in 1962.

Like most ZIV series, Highway Patrol repeats were syndicated for many years, sometimes with name Ten-4. In 2010, ThisTV began airing the series.

Episode closings[edit]

Similar to the contemporary ZIV Television action/adventure series, Sea Hunt, each episode ended with a gratitude from Broderick Crawford himself for watching and an invitation to view again next week. Highway Patrol's style was different, however, he would deliver an aphoristic comment on traffic safety, including these:

  • The laws of your community are enforced for your protection ... obey them!
  • Leave your blood at the Red Cross, not on the highway!
  • Leave your blood at the Red Cross, or your community blood bank, not on the highway!
  • The careless driver isn't driving his car, he's aiming it!
  • It isn't the car that kills, it's the driver!
  • No matter how new, the safest device in your car is you!
  • It isn't what you drive, but how you drive that counts!
  • The clowns at the circus, they're real funny, but on the highway they're murder!
  • Reckless driving doesn't determine who's right, only who's left!
  • If you care to drive, drive with care!
  • Try to be as good a driver as you think you are!

The style of these closings evolved slightly over time. In early episodes, Crawford promised next week's viewers a "different", "unusual", or "exciting" case; toward the end of the series this verbiage was dropped.


The only constant regular on Highway Patrol is star Broderick Crawford as Dan Mathews. Crawford won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1949 for All the King's Men. William Boyett became a regular in the 4th season as Sgt. Ken Williams. Boyett went on to play Sgt. MacDonald in Adam-12

Another constant is the voice of Art Gilmore as the heard but unseen narrator. Gilmore narrated many movie trailers and the Red Skelton Show and played Lieutenant and Captain in Dragnet, both the original late 50's version and the series' reprise in the late 60's, and in Adam-12 and also had a recurring role as L.A.County Battalion Fire Chief Sorensen in Emergency! in the early and mid 70's.

The show does not feature other actors, but some appear several times, sometimes in different roles. A few actors appear somewhat regularly as officers, but often their character names are not stated, or they have different names in different episodes.

The names of actors with speaking roles are listed equally on a single screen at the end of the episode, many of whom later became famous.

Guest stars[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Crawford makes a cameo in the 1977 episode "Hustle" of CHiPs, which is also about the California Highway Patrol. After chatting about Highway Patrol, Officer Baker says, tongue-in-cheek, "they don't make TV shows like that anymore."[4]

Show's availability[edit]

All the 156 episodes are now available on DVD from the 35mm masters. The rights to all the 156 episodes are held by Ziv Television Productions' successor United Artists Television under MGM Television and since late 2010 episodes are shown on its ThisTV, a network which features classic shows and movies. ThisTV is broadcast by many local television stations as a subchannel which are rarely carried on cable systems. In most cities, subchannels must be received using an antenna. Some episodes of Highway Patrol have been provided online via [Hulu.com]. MGM Home Entertainment released the first season of Highway Patrol on DVD on August 11, 2010 via Amazon.com's CreateSpace program. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release, available exclusively through Amazon.com. On April 2, 2013, TGG Direct released seasons 2, 3, and 4 on DVD. Most episodes are also available, for free, via youtube.


  1. ^ Daniels, Saul. "Looking Back on Chatsworth Through the Flickering Eye of Television". Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Jason, Rick, Scrapbooks of My Mind: A Hollywood Autobiography
  3. ^ "Passings: Noel Harrison, Jon Locke, Jamalul Kiram III". Los Angeles Times. 2013-10-22. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  4. ^ "Episode Guide: Season 1: Hustle". CHiPs Online. Adequate.com. 2016. Retrieved May 15, 2016. 

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