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'Twelve O'Clock High', the television version of Gregory Peck's classic war
film, was a remarkable achievement when it debuted, in 1964. While utilizing
stock war footage for bombardment and dogfight scenes, the story lines
addressed the timeless issues of warfare (heroism and cowardice, integrity,
loyalty) on an intimate scale that 'the big screen' couldn't match. It also
made a star of Robert Lansing, the rugged, pensive actor who had previously
garnered rave reviews in the series, '87th Precinct'. His 'Frank Savage' was
a man of courage and a conscience, and he lifted each episode far above the
'typical' TV war show of the era.
With a soaring, beautiful theme (by the versatile Dominic Frontiere), the strong production values of Quinn Martin, and a veteran supporting cast including Frank Overton and John Larkin, the series garnered rave reviews, and was poised for a long, award-winning 'life' on the small screen.
Unfortunately, ABC stepped in, however, and decided to 'improve' the series...
The network produced figures that indicated that younger audiences weren't watching in big enough numbers, and that the show didn't provide enough 'action' for fans craving battle scenes. Lansing wasn't 'pretty' enough to attract female viewers, and there were no 'hunky' co-stars to fill the gap. As for offering a 'Message'? Sure, that was okay...as long as it didn't interfere with the bullets flying, the plane crashes, and the mostly happy endings.
So the program was retooled for the second season. Robert Lansing was killed off, shot down over Europe, and Paul Burke was brought in as his replacement. Best known from the cop show, 'Naked City', Burke was actually two years older than Lansing, but he had a more 'classic' leading man 'look', and had gotten a lot of female fan mail during the run of the earlier show. Most of the older cast also got the ax, and young Chris Robinson was brought in, as another potential 'heartthrob'.
The result of the changes was a diluted show, with less 'heart', if more 'glamor' and 'action'. While Burke tried to provide Lansing's subtlety and depth, he simply wasn't as good an actor, and the series lost the very qualities that had made it, initially, so memorable.
When 'Twelve O'Clock High' was canceled, after struggling through two seasons with the new cast, ABC downplayed the event, choosing to ignore the fact that the series had begun so promisingly, and that they had 'killed' it.
But for those of us who remember that first season with fondness, it is a reminder that creative minds make 'Classic TV', not network demographics!
Robert Lansing was brilliant as Brigadier General Frank Savage.
Lansing's superb performance elevated a fine war series to classic
Executive producer Quinn Martin decided to fire Lansing because he was difficult to work with. Lansing never worked for Quinn Martin again. To Quinn Martin's credit, he told Lansing he was through before the first season was over, and to Lansing's credit his acting continued to be first rate.
The official reason given at the time was that ABC wanted a younger actor, since the show was moving to an earlier time slot. But this was just a smoke screen. Quinn Martin wanted to replace Lansing with an actor as much like Lansing as possible-but one who was easier to work with. Martin basically hoped no one would notice the change. This was similar to what happened when Michael Moriarty left "Law and Order". Sam Waterson was as close as you could get to Michael Moriarty without hiring Moriarty.
Paul Burke was about the same age as Lansing and he had a similar bearing. Like Lansing, Burke was a highly respected dramatic actor and had mature, matinée idol looks. Burke was fine as Colonel Joe Gallagher, but he just wasn't as fascinating to watch as Lansing had been.
Quinn Martin might have been shrewder to hire someone totally unlike Lansing as the replacement, perhaps someone younger and more volatile. Maybe someone a little less pensive and less together. Someone who had to grow to fill Savage's shoes. Nick Adams ("The Rebel") might have been an interesting choice. Adams could have played the new Colonel a little like Steve McQueen in "The War Lover". Or maybe Robert Duvall could have given us a younger version of the great Santini. Or Peter Fonda, who had guest starred the first season, might have been appealing as a decent boy from the farm learning to be a leader of men. Or James Caan or Bruce Dern (also a first season guest star) as a brash young man being mellowed by the responsibilities of command.
People die in war time, so Quinn Martin's decision to kill off Savage could have deepened the show and made it more realistic and exciting. If they killed off Savage, was anybody safe? But whoever tried to make us forget Robert Lansing had an unenviable task in front of them and maybe an impossible one.
This is one of the great television shows of the sixties that needs to be brought back. I don't know if the problem was popularity, subject, or because it was in back and white. Color would have killed it. The show took a minor dive when Robert Lansing left, but it was great entertainment and an example of great television they don't do today. I can still catch myself humming the theme.
I recently had a chance to see this show again after many years. I
thought that it was a great show before, and I feel the same way now (I
refer to the Robert Lansing/season one show -- I agree completely with
the comments that head this list).
Robert Lansing, and the writers, show how leadership happens, when the commander doesn't have the option of starting over with someone else. He knows that his unit is only as strong as the weakest member, and he uses his knowledge and his leadership ability to get his men to do their best, even when it may cost him personal popularity.
The combat scenes are well done, but so are the scenes when the airmen are back at the base, or off duty, in wartime England, socializing with the civilians before risking their lives on another day time bombing run deep into Germany.
I had never heard of this series, yes I had seen the movie, it was
now my husband and I are really enjoying this Series.
No one could play the part of Frank Savage, like Robert Lansing does. He
all the Human Passion, that a man in his position requires. I am in awe at
how he always gives a man the benifit of the Doubt, the men want to be
he wants them to be, and do what is expected of them.
A very well done Series as far as I have seen. It is one that I want on video, as it shows us how fear must have engulfed the men in the air force. Little do we know how their necks would have been raw from turning their heads constantly, searching for the enemy, a heartwarming series, that make us say "Thank You" to all the men and women in World War11, whether on the ground or in the air, or in the boats on the ocean.
Thanks to everyone of you, we have freedom, let us be Thankful.
A First Time Viewer Joy
This was a not only a thinking man's series about WWII but also one
that had a psychological approach to the fatigue and emotional stress
that these men had to face in the line of duty. This was one of the
best if not the greatest television shows of its day that depicted the
outcome of the challenges of the 918th Bombardment Group of the United
States Air Force during the horrors of battle in WWII.
When "Twelve O'Clock High",premiered on ABC in the fall of 1964,it was like a show unlike no other since it was based on the classic 1949 war film that starred Gregory Peck. The television show was a remarkable achievement that lasted three years on the air from 1964 until 1967,and produced 78 episodes,with the last 17 episodes in color in its final season. The black and white episodes lasted only two seasons from 1964 until 1966,while the color episodes ran from 1966 until 1967(the 61 episodes were in black and white from 1964-1966;the 17 episodes were in color from 1966-1967,in its final season). "Twelve O'Clock High" was head and shoulders above its competition and it is ranked to "Combat!" as one of the most intense dramas to ever depict about the horrors and scars and emotional traumas in the line of duty,that was World War II. While utilizing stock war footage for bombardment and astounding dogfight scenes,the brilliant story lines really addressed the timeless issues of the warfare and the effects on some of the individuals who were in the line of battle both on the ground and in the air. Issues and subject matter like heroism and cowardice,and integrity along with compassion and commitment were the order of the day. And it was brought to life on a intimate scale.
It also made a huge star out of actor Robert Lansing as General Frank Savage. His character during the first two seasons of the show brought more depth and integrity to the character than any other actor I have ever seen and it shows in the earlier episodes of the series. With a beautiful soaring theme by composer Dominic Frontiere,the strong production values of legendary producer Quinn Martin("The Untouchables", "The Fugitive","The FBI","The Invaders")along with long time QM associates Charles Larson,Phillip Saltzman,and fellow executives Howard Alston,Adrian Samish,and John Conwell as well as the supporting cast of the series including Frank Overton,John Larkin,and Andrew Duggan. The series garnered rave reviews,and was poised for a long network run on the small screen. However,the network executives over at ABC stepped in to make improvements which killed it. When the program was retooled for the second season,Robert Lansing's character of General Savage was killed off.....reportedly his plane was shot down somewhere over in Europe in hostile German country(in a gripping second season opener episode titled "The Loneliest Place In The World",which aired on September 13,1965).
However,Paul Burke(from the 1950's cop show Naked City)was brought in as his replacement and from there the results to the changes really killed it. Paul Burke to me was never the right choice for the role and simply out he was not a very good actor. The show took even a major dive when the episodes were in color. When the show was cancelled in the summer of 1967,after struggling for two seasons with the new cast,the network downplayed this show just to ignore the fact the this series had promise after it received rave reviews and a Golden Globe Nomination during the first season of the series.
The first season of 12 O'clock High was a credit to all involved. As a
10 year old watching in 1965 there was not enough action. However, the
story lines were good and the acting and production seemed believable.
You really felt an empathy for COL Savage as one of his planes and 10
men took a hit and went down in flames. Filming in Black & White added
that "look" that was also the trade mark of that great TV series
"Combat". It is a shame that Lansing did not get along with Quinn
Martin (mentioned above) as the series went down hill when he left. I
still recall the episode when he did'nt come back from a mission.
Twelve O'clock High is a memorial to those Pilots and Aircrew of the US
8th/5th Air Force as the majority of the young men did not make it
through to their 20 odd missions and return to the States. Imagine
sitting in a B-17, cold and miserable, freezing to death for up to 8
hours or more then having to fly through the wall flak on that final
run to the target. Being jumped by enemy fighters on the way in and out
of the target with nowhere to hide. They were sitting ducks. The
British gave up daylight Bombimg.
Regrads Pete H, Sydney, Australia
I like military shows especially the ones with airplanes, so this program was just fine with me. I liked both Robert Lansing and Paul Burke but I liked Lansing better as he seemed more the kind of leader I would like to have. (I spend 4 years in the Air Force in the early 60's and Paul Burke's cousin was my roommate). I used to like the clashes between the commanders and TSGT Komansky. I wish this show would be brought back in reruns somewhere.
I watched this program with my dad, who was a WWII vet and former POW,
when I was very little. Recently, I purchased the entire set and began
to watch all over again. I, too, did not accept the death of General
Savage and always thought they would find him somewhere and bring him
back. The naiveté of the young....
I always felt Colonel Gallagher was a poor replacement until I began to really watch these episodes as an adult. I think people tend to compare the two and there is just not a comparison to be made. Frank Savage was a maverick and a very decisive character. You didn't see him delving out too much sympathy or being overly sentimental. Joe Gallagher had a lot of baggage to carry around with an overbearing General (Max Gallagher) for a father and issues with his self worth. Each character should be judged for their own merit. We knew a lot more about Joe than we did about Frank.
I don't think Robert Lansing should have been replaced and I do think the program would have fared very well had he been allowed to continue the role. However, since the powers that be decided to replace him, we should judge Paul Burke for the person he was portraying and not for his ability to play like he was Frank Savage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first season starring Robert Lansing as General Savage was,
head-and-shoulders, the finest WWII TV series ever produced -- even
better than Combat!, which ranks a close second. ABC cut the heart out
of the series when Lansing was replaced and Savage was killed off.
Nothing against Paul Burke, but he was not right for the role. Changing
to color also hurt the series because all their stock footage was in
black & white.
I would snap up the first season on DVD in an instant. The "first season" would include episodes 1-33, including the final episode "The Loneliest Place in the World" in which Gen. Savage is killed (aired 9/13/1965). After that, no interest in later episodes.
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