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The Pilot was partially filmed in the California statehouse. The first day of shooting was November 22, 1963. Richard Crenna remembered being told in the middle of filming that John Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas. See more »
Democracy is a very bad form of government. But I ask you never to forget. All the others are so much worse.
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"Slattery's People" (originally called "The Lawmaker") was a big critical success, but it never got good ratings.
Richard Crenna received two Emmy nominations as well as a Golden Globe nomination for playing Francis James Slattery, the minority leader of a state legislature. "Slattery's People" also received an Emmy nomination as Best Dramatic Series of 1965-66. One episode called "Rally 'Round Your Own Flag, Mister" was nominated for an Emmy as best single dramatic show of 1965-66. Lloyd Nolan and Warren Oates guest starred in that episode.
"Slattery's People" (1964-65) was a 60-minute dramatic series about state level politics, and was a forerunner of "The Senator" (1970-71) with Hal Holbrook and "The West Wing" (1999-2006). Each episode explored a contemporary social issue such as abortion, electronic surveillance of citizens and the trashing of political candidates' reputations. The show was distinguished each week by fine writing and fine acting by Crenna and the guest stars. Some of the guest stars included Claude Akins, Barbara Eden, Arthur Hill, Martin Milner, Paul Burke, Robert Lansing, Robert Blake, Madlyn Rhue, Ossie Davis, Larry Blyden, Sally Kellerman and Vera Miles. Virtually every episode was worthwhile. This was my favorite show when it was on.
"Slattery's People" was produced by Bing Crosby Productions, the same company that made "Ben Casey". Some of the very smart people making "Ben Casey" moved over to "Slattery's People" to make an even finer dramatic series. Directors included Lamont Johnson, Mark Rydell and Sydney Pollack. Writers included Dean Riesner ("Rich Man, Poor Man") and David Rintels ("Day One"). James Moser ("Dragnet", "Medic", "Ben Casey", "O'Hara, U.S. Treasury") was the creator and executive producer. Matthew Rapf ("Kojak") produced the twenty-six episodes of the first season, and Irving Elman produced the ten episodes of the truncated second season. The executive story editor was Fred Freiberger, who performed the same function on "The Senator".
Richard Crenna was 37 when he started playing Slattery in 1964. Up to this point, Crenna was only known for situation comedies: four years on "Our Miss Brooks" (1952-56) followed by six years on "The Real McCoys" (1957-63). Richard Crenna used "Slattery's People" to brilliantly reinvent himself as a serious dramatic actor. It was really stunning how fine he was when all you knew about him was his sitcom work. TV Guide critic Clevland Amory was a big supporter of this show. Amory said Richard Crenna was so good that he belonged in the big leagues with David Janssen, Robert Lansing and Vic Morrow.
For the second season, the producers tried to sex up the show a bit and make it little more viewer friendly. We finally found out that Slattery's first name was Jim. The theme music was jazzier. Slattery's middle-aged secretary B.J. (Maxine Stuart) was replaced by voluptuous young Francine York. Sexy Alejandro Rey became Slattery's legislative assistant. Slattery even got a girl friend (lovely Kathie Browne as a reporter.) I thought the changes were all fine, and the show remained first rate in its second season. But "Slattery" got killed in the ratings by "The Man From UNCLE" and was off the air before December.
Maybe as a last ditch effort to save the show, Slattery could have been defeated for reelection and gone back home to be a defense lawyer. With this creative team they probably could have made a compelling lawyer show. But as it was, "Slattery's People" was a noble and unique achievement.
Richard Crenna was anything but lazy. After ten seasons of combined series work on "Our Miss Brooks" and "The Real McCoys", you would think he might want to take a rest. But in the 1963-64 season, the season after "McCoys" ended, Crenna directed four series pilots, two of which sold: "No Time For Sergeants" with Sammy Jackson and "Wendy and Me" with George Burns, Connie Stevens and Ron Harper. Crenna also directed two episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show". (Crenna had directed every episode of "The Real McCoys" in its final season.) Crenna also took on a challenging character role on a "Kraft Suspense Theater" episode called "The Long, Lost Life of Edward Smalley" (Crenna was Smalley). And he made the pilot for "Slattery's People". Crenna also starred that year as John Goldfarb in the movie "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home" with Shirley MacLaine and Peter Ustinov. Crenna got "Goldfarb" and a movie contract because the film's producers were extremely impressed with Crenna's performance in the "Slattery's People" pilot. They thought it was sure to make him a big star.
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