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The earliest shows I remember watching were kiddie shows or things my
parents liked. I was about age 10 when "Burke's Law" came on and it was
first show I decided I really liked after I began to form my own tastes.
was a light but sophisticated murder mystery show that was more comedy
drama. It was the first of the "all-star" cast whodunits and lead to the
later "Murder She Wrote", "Matlock" and "Diagnosis Murder", which were
created by some of the people responsible for "Burke's Law". Levinson and
Link, the creators of "Columbo", also wrote may of the scripts for
Law". The show was Aaron Spelling's first big hit, so it has quite a
What really made it interesting was the eccentric characters who made up the suspects. They were played by an eclectic group of character actors taken from the usual TV "repertory" group, the stars of other shows, former and even current movie stars, silent movie stars and even people from the independent film movement and the British theater and films, who were happy at the American TV exposure and quick paycheck they got for performing a few scenes on the show. You can see oddities like Basil Rathbone listening in pain to John Cassavetes doing a "beatnik Hamlet", Sterling Holloway trying to blackmail Cassavetes, William Demarest running a hotel for ex-Vaudvillians where an acrobatic act earns their keep by cleaning the chandeliers, a convention of police chiefs, each one modeled on a famous fictional detective, (it anticipates Neil Simon's "Murder by Death"), a fake Russian aristocrat who really isn't fake but figures that no one will believe him anyway so he pretends to be a fake, etc, etc.
Gene Barry, one of several Cary Grant imitators on TV at the time, (see Craig Stevens in "Peter Gunn", John Vivien in "Mr Lucky"), is perfect for the lead role, better than Dick Powell in the pilot, which was made two years before as part of Powell's anthology series. Powell would have played the lead in the show but died of cancer before he could undertake the role. They say acting is reacting and Barry is the greatest reactor in TV history, the perfect guy to play off of all the eccentrics. Gary Conway, who should have become a much bigger star, (he was later in "Land of the Giants"), Regis Toomey, the gorgeous Eileen O'Neill and Leon Lontoc offered excellent support.
Unfortunately, somebody, (Spelling? The network?), decided to junk the show by turning it into an under-financed, back-projected spy show. Burke suddenly abandoned LA and is mansion and Rolls-Royce to become a James Bond style agent who traveled the world for a secret government organization headed by someone called "The Man". It was a tepid version of "The Man From Uncle" and was placed opposite what turned out to be the greatest of all spy shows," I Spy", which was in color and filmed in actual locations around the world. The local ABC affiliate in Syracuse declined to even show "Amos Burke Secret Agent" and from what I saw of the episode in syndication, I can't blame them.
Amazingly, the program had a third incarnation and the by now fabulously successful Aaron Spelling brought it back in 1994. Burke was back in LA chasing crooks in his Rolls, but with a son to help him. they dusted off the old scripts for the new shows. Only occasionally did we see the old spark of creativity, such as a victim freezing to death on the hottest day of the year, an ambulance chasing lawyer getting run over by an ambulance, Ephraim Zimbalist Jr. as a greedy tycoon practicing his golf drive from the rook of his building, (who cares who it falls on?), and Brian Keith as an ex-marine turned romance novelist who puts on a dress to get in the mood to write. Still is was a lot better than the other new murder mystery which followed it, "Diagnosis Murder" with Dick Van Dyke. Unfortunately, the network kept the wrong one, (I doubt they cried about it, as it went on for years).
Without the original "Burke's Law", there would have been no "Diagnosis Murder". The original remains the best whodunit in TV history and one of the most entertaining shows of all time.
TV actors, at least in the old days when they were placed in a separate
class from movie actors, often seemed to be clones of their movie brethren.
Some were singular in their associations. Nehemiah Persoff seemed to be the
Edward G. Robinson of television, getting similar roles and acting them in a
very similar manner. Carolyn Jones was the Bette Davis of TV, even to the
point of playing a set of sisters one of whom is a murderer on Burke's Law.
Other's had company in their pursuits. The western stars were all either
John Wayne or Gary Cooper, with an occasional Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda
thrown in, (including the real thing on "The Deputy"). There were a whole
selection of Clark Gables, including John Russell, Rory Calhoun, Richard
Egan , Robert Lowery and others. There were plenty of Brandos, including
Burt Reynolds, George Maharis and John Saxon. There were enough Rock Hudsons
to fill a theater, with John Gavin, Tom Tryon and Gardner McKay coming
immediately to mind. The blonde versions I call the "Redfords", a group of
thoughtful , well educated types of which Robert Redford was one along with
James Franciscus, Richard Chamberlain and William Shatner. They had varying
degrees of success with Redford emerging as the head of the class.
Perhaps the most successful strain, however were the Cary Grants. Grant made an ideal model for the suave detective hero, able to be charming or tough as the occasion demanded. Craig Stevens was hired to play Peter Gunn specifically because of a strong resemblance to Grant. His tightlipped performance was not really very charming but it's surely how Cary would have played that character. Latern-jawed John Vivyan played a role that Grant had actually essayed in the movies, Mr. Lucky. He was competent at best. The heroes of the Warner Brother's detective shows were largely based on Cary Grant. Ephram Zimbelist Jr.'s Stu Bailey was a grant-style role with a lot more charm than Peter Gunn. Richard Long's Rex Randolph on Bourbon Street Beat was much the same. Anthony Eisley's Tracy Steele was a less convincing version of the same character on Hawaiian Eye.
But the best of the Grant clones was Gene Barry. He was male-model handsome, had good breeding and seductive whiskey voice. He was also TV's greatest reactors. He had a series of comic takes that was perfect for Amos Burke, who had to confront an unending series of eccentric subjects. Yet he could turn around and romance the ladies or get tough with the tough guys. And he was a good enough actor to hold up his end when the heavy dramatics intervened.
One wonders what the originals of these clones must have thought as they watched the boob tube in it's infancy.
Before "The Mod Squad,",before "Charlie's Angels",and before "Fantasy
Island",and "The Love Boat",a young producer named Aaron Spelling
helped mount a fun and atmospheric early 1960's mystery show called
"Burke's Law",which was basically a detective series based on the
characters created by Frank D. Gilroy. "Burke's Law" was the granddaddy
of mystery shows which depended on a weekly group of star cameos to
keep it fun and interesting. "Burke's Law" had several gimmicks that
made it successful. One was the premise: Gene Barry's Amos Burke was a
Beverly Hills millionaire who also the chief of detectives for the Los
Angeles Police Department.,who was chauffeured around to solve crimes
in his Rolls-Royce. The show had stylistic similarities to Barry's
previous series,"Bat Masterson",in which he had played debonair dandy
Bat Masterson in the Old West.
During the opening credits,as the title flashed on screen,a woman's voice was heard seductively pronouncing the words,"It's Burke's Law!" The title also reflected the character Burke's habit of dispensing wisdom to his underlinings in a professional manner,e.g. "Never asks a question unless you already know the answer,Burke's Law." Each week's show would open with the discovery of a body,then cut to Burke at his mansion,romancing some gorgeous woman--whom he would leave behind to drive to the crime scene in his Rolls-Royce. The other gimmick that made "Burke's Law" successful was the suspension of whodunnit,with a weekly "great cast" of stars from which Burke would have to find the killer. It was a light and very sophisticated murder mystery that was more comedy than drama,and not to mention plenty of action. It was the first and one of the original "all-star" cast whodunits which was created by some of the people responsible for the success of this show: Richard Levinson and William Link,the creators who were also responsible for "Mannix","Columbo",but later on for "Murder,She Wrote" wrote many of the scripts for this series along with Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts,and Harlan Ellison. The suspect mix was basically consisted of old-time movie actors(Steve Cochran, Gloria Grahame, William Demerest),and at the time newly minted people(Barbara Eden,Carolyn Jones,Paul Lynde,Anne Francis,and The Smothers Brothers),not to mention even Ronald Reagan was a suspect once. Out of the 81 episodes that were produced for ABC-TV from the premiere episode on September 20,1963 until it's demise on January 12,1966. All in classic black and white under Four Star Films.
For the first two seasons of "Burke's Law",each episode consisted of the title "Who Killed---?",and with each episode Burke provided assistance with his partner Detective Tim Tilson(Gary Conway,who would go on to become a bigger star later on in "The Land of the Giants,produced by Irwin Allen for ABC),Detective Les Hart(Regis Toomey),and Sergeant Ames(the lovely Eileen O'Neill). Only the first two seasons of the show were simply brilliant,but as the 1960's progressed,and this was during the show's third season,somebody(Was it Gene Barry? Aaron Spelling? ABC?)had the not-so-bright-idea to jettison all the guest stars and convert the show renamed "Amos Burke:Secret Agent" to compete with "The Man From UNCLE" and the like. During the 1965-1966 season the supporting cast from the first two seasons were dropped with Barry portraying a James Bond type character who worked for a secret government agency headed by someone whom they called The Man. The episodes were horrible which included "A Balance of Terror"(episode 65,airdate 9/15/65),and the series ended with a two-parter episode titled "Terror in a Tiny Town"(episodes 80 and 81,airdate: 1/5/66 and 1/12/66). The reason? During Season 3,the network put this show opposite the greatest of all spy shows, "I Spy",which was produced by Sheldon Leonard,filmed in locations all over the world and it was in color for NBC and also opposite the situation comedy series "Green Acres" which was on CBS. As a result,the show took a quick decline in the ratings thus having ABC to pull the plug after three seasons in January of 1966.
The 64 black and white hour-long episodes of "Burke's Law" were
originally broadcast from 1963-65 on ABC. The show then morphed into
"Amos Burke, Secret Agent" for another 17 episodes during the 1965-66
season. And one episode "Who Killed the Jackpot" served as the
introduction of the "Honey West" characters played by Anne Francis and
John Ericson. Gene Barry played police captain Amos Burke, who headed
up homicide while maintaining a lavish lifestyle; not because he was on
the take but because he was already extremely rich and was just working
for whatever intrinsic value the job provided. This was the main hook
or novelty of the show, which was a weekly showcase of his lavish
lifestyle (chauffeured limo with fully stocked bar, mansion, and a host
of gorgeous women clamoring for his affections).
Although technically a mystery-adventure series there was a significant comedy element generated by the reactions of his detectives and his superior to Burke's displays of wealth and indulgence.
Barry was perfectly cast as the suave and sophisticated working playboy. Unfortunately the supporting cast was quite marginal and the writers never developed these secondary characters beyond the most superficial level. But this did allow room to showcase a multitude of guest stars and like "The Wild Wild West" many of these were Hollywood's hottest starlets. Especially memorable was former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley whose unexpected chemistry with Barry led to multiple appearances during the course of the series.
Unlike "Columbo", the series withheld the identity of the killer from viewers until the end although it was not disclosed in the standard "Murder She Wrote" moment of revelation. The huge popularity of "James Bond" and "The Man From UNCLE" caused producer Aaron Spelling to introduce a secret agent formula into the final season. Unfortunately what had been a unique cop show became just another silly spy series and it expired after just half a season.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I already commented on an episode of "Burke's Law," which had Jill St.
John as a guest. Those comments basically apply to this show. This is a
really superb show that deserved a lot better. This show was perhaps
the granddaddy to "Columbo," "Murder She Wrote" and "Diagnosis:
Murder," though the first one had already been created as early as
As I mentioned in my other review, "Burke's Law" was truly an ensemble effort. Gene Barry carried quite a bit of his Bat Masterson persona over into Amos Burke, and does so with his usual flair. I would rather have him arrest me than Joe Friday anytime!!! Gary Conway, Leon Lontoc and Regis Toomey are also fun, as are Eileen O'Neal and Michael Fox.
Unlike "Bat Masterson," though, there is a fair amount of comedy as well as mystery and mayhem. Amos Burke and his crew certainly run into their share of kooks and nuts, and it provides welcome comic relief.
My only gripe about the series is that it was not shot in colour. Had the show been in colour, and had it retained its glitzy/kooky élan, it would have stayed on the air longer. And I think the show could have adjusted well to the late 1960s and to the growing counterculture environment. Changing the format to a spy series in 1965 was a huge mistake. Ironically, it last ran on Wednesday, 12 January 1966, the same night "Batman" premiered.
Still, this is one show that did Aaron Spelling proud, and it was ahead of its time as well as of its time, for its unconventionality. It is also of its time in portraying the Los Angeles of the 1960s, and it is a sort of successor of "77 Sunset Strip" when it came to mystery shows.
This show deserved better!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Okay, Amos Burke just has to look at a woman and she becomes consumed with wanton desire. Never mind that he has a studley twenty-something assistant, Tim Tilson, who has a great smile with acres of white capped teeth ,athletic physique, and perfect hair. The girls never notice him... He's invisible. All they want is Amos. All these martini-sippin', skinny-dippin', hair flippin' chicks want is to jump in bed with that suave, sophisticated, Rolls Royce chauffeur-driven middle aged,sleepy-eyed Adonis. When Amos Burke isn't in his tux hosting a party at his mansion, he's on duty, interviewing beautiful female suspects of the latest homicide.I think Amos Burke bedded more women than Lucas McCain,aka The Rifleman, shot bad guys. In other words, hundreds.
I have just purchased the complete first season DVD of "Burke's Law". It was so good that I immediately wanted to get the second season only to find it is not yet available. Produced in 1963/4 by the highly creative Aaron Spelling, So far as memory serves me it has never aired in the UK & certainly not since colour TV was developed in the late 1960's. An old-fashioned murder mystery series of the "whodunit" variety, it boasts a tremendous cast list & is exceptionally entertaining. Suave & debonair, cool-as-a-cucumber Gene Barry is great in the title role. Having now sat through and watched every season 1 episode it seems that Mr. Spelling believed in making a show as glamorous as possible in both locations & women. When off duty, usually at the start or finish of an episode, Amos Burke (Mr. Barry) gets to kiss some of the most gorgeous ladies in Hollywood at that time. Young starlet Mary Ann Mobley (who had one of the loveliest faces I ever saw in my life), Elizabeth Macrae, Debra Paget, Janice Rule, Francine York, Charlene Holt, Elizabeth Allen & Elaine Stewart. He never got to kiss Tina Louise (aw shucks, ain't life a bitch?.) Anyway, nice work if you can get it. To whom it may concern, PLEASE make seasons 2 & 3 available!.
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