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Beloved film legend James Stewart made his much-anticipated, highly-publicized series TV debut in this domestic comedy about the frequently chaotic home and professional lives of a small-town college professor.
Samuel "Sarge" Cavanaugh is a priest at the St. Aloysius Parish in San Diego. He is known as Sarge because of his police background of working for nine years as a homicide detective in the area in which he tries to help out with guidance to his parishioners in their struggle to cope with the problems of a metropolitan environment. Written by
A cop turned priest, one of the great far-out premises
Detective Sergeant Samuel Cavanaugh resigns from the force when his wife (lovely Diane Baker) is murdered. Sarge enters the priesthood and is assigned to lead a San Diego parish near where he had served as a cop. Somehow Sarge keeps getting involved in solving crimes, even though he is no longer a cop.
This was a brilliant, audacious concept for a detective series that didn't apologize for the melodrama or for stretching credibility. The premise was so weird and original that the show could well have become a classic.
Casting the lead must have been daunting. Who could believably fill the role of a cop turned priest? David Janssen, Vic Morrow, Chuck Connors, Martin Landau, Anthony Quinn, Glenn Ford, Ben Gazzara, Richard Kiley, James Whitmore, Robert Lansing, Roy Thinnes? The producers found the perfect choice in George Kennedy. Kennedy had served many years as a soldier/officer in the army and eventually made the career switch to character actor and finally to quasi-leading man. Kennedy was very convincing and charismatic as the career-changing Sarge.
The supporting cast was also first rate with pretty Sallie Shockley as his live-in housekeeper, Harold Sakata ("Odd Job") as his laconic but martial arts skilled cook, and Ramon Bieri as the chief of detectives who was an old friend of Sarge.
Emmy winning producer David Levinson ("The Senator") did a fine job of coming up with intriguing, well written crime dramas for Sarge to investigate. Directors included John Badham, Richard Donner and Jeannot Szwarc. Guest stars included Vic Morrow, Martin Sheen, Jack Cassidy, Leslie Nielsen, Don Johnson and Carol Lawrence.
TV Guide critic Clevland Amory said the show failed because viewers couldn't believe in that priestly a cop or that coply a priest. But George Kennedy was totally believable. The real problem was the brutal time slot. "Sarge" was on opposite "Hawaii 5-0" and the "ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week". NBC should have given "Sarge" a second chance with a slot on the mystery wheel with "Columbo".
Sarge was a terrific character, superbly embodied by Kennedy. Sarge could have been a great cultural icon, on a par with Perry Mason, Paladin or Sergeant Saunders.
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