Peter Falk gives one of the 1960's great series performances
Peter Falk won an Emmy for "The Price of Tomatoes", an episode of "The Dick Powell Show" written by Richard Alan Simmons. Inger Stevens, Falk's co-star, was also nominated for an Emmy. In reference to Simmons, Falk said "the man is a mountain." Falk and Simmons continued their partnership with "Trials of O'Brien", and Simmons proved Falk was right.
Falk was superb in the role of Daniel J. O'Brien, a disheveled, odd-ball, humorous attorney, who happened to be very effective. The hour-long series was a comedy/drama/murder mystery. There was no trenchant analysis of social issues as in "The Defenders". Indeed, minimal time was spent in court. The series attempted to capture the sparkle of old movies like "The Thin Man". At the end of most episodes, Falk would gather all the suspects and determine the killer. The consistently high quality of the writing was amazing.
This show was all Falk, but the supporting regulars were also extraordinary. Joanna Barnes was his ex-wife, Ilka Chase was his ex-mother-in-law, David Burns was his investigator, and Elaine Stritch was his secretary. Sexy, sophisticated, smart Joanna Barnes was at her very best here, but she wasn't used anywhere near enough. She could have been a break-out star if she had been given more screen time.
The show was set in and filmed in New York, which almost seemed to be a requirement for quality drama series in the 60's. Many of the guest stars had stunning work ahead of them: Alan Alda, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Roger Moore, Robert Blake, Angela Lansbury, David Carradine, Martin Sheen, Frank Langella and Jessica Walter, to name a few.
"O'Brien" was on Saturday nights after Perry Mason, another detective-lawyer. The line producer was Jon Epstein ("Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law", "Rich Man, Poor Man").
Richard Alan Simmons later produced a season of the 1970's Columbo, and Jon Epstein produced some Columbo episodes in the early 1990's shortly before his death. A Columbo episode is dedicated to Epstein's memory.
TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory said the best series performance of 1965-66 was given by Patrick McGoohan ("Secret Agent"), but Amory gave honorable mention to Ben Gazzara ("Run For Your Life") and Peter Falk ("Trials of O'Brien"). None of those three actors was nominated for an Emmy that season. Amory said some of the later episodes of "O'Brien" were truly magnificent.
"Trials of O'Brien" may have been a business failure, but Peter Falk and executive producer Richard Alan Simmons achieved greatness with this show.
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