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Harry-O was truely one of the greatest shows to ever grace the television medium. It combined superb acting (Janssen, Zerbe-who won an EMMY, Darrow, and guests), writing (Howard Rodman, Robert Dozier and others), direction (Jerry London, Russ Mayberry, Jerry Thorpe) and a brilliantly photographed San Diego and Los Angeles. Janssen took to this role like no others, and made Harry Orwell and understandable and beleivable character, someone you wanted to go out and have a beer with. This show lasted but two short years, (though it did have two pilot movies shown during the 1973/1974 season) and was cancelled in favor of "Charlie's Angels", a travesty of the greatest kind. Without a doubt TV's greatest detective, Harry O's adventures ended far too soon.
The television series,"Harry-O",which ran on ABC-TV from 1974 to
1976,was one of the best detective shows of the decade and for a very
good reason. Watching the great David Janssen was a must-see for this
would be his second best television series,and the most successful to
add as well,his first was the drama series,"The Fugitive",which was on
the same network(ABC)from 1963-1967.
The character that David Janssen portrayed is one of television's most memorable private detectives,which made it more engaging by David Janssen's extremely downbeat and weary portrayal of Harry Orwell,a man with very little in life to care about,who nevertheless cares very much. For once,the first person voice narration works in depiction to what is going on with the character in the story and the investigation into some of his cases. In other words,it helped Harry had something to say about the world around him and with good reason. A bullet lodged near his spine has gave this former police officer to seek new employment as a private detective to supplement his disability pension. He is always frequently in pain,it also limits his ability to engage in the usual combat situations when it comes to taking on the baddies. His means of transportation to and from crime scenes is by bus or taxi or on foot. He is a loner who lives in a beach house in San Diego and likes to spend his time re-building his boat "The Answer" in his yard. David Janssen made this character believable and it shows that Harry was understandable and he was someone who you could count on when the chips are down and the odds were against you in a time of crisis. And it shows in the Emmys that this show won including one for David Janssen for Best Actor In A Dramatic Series,and another for Anthony Zerbe for Best Actor In A Supporting Role.
I can recall during the first two seasons that the scripts were magnificent with some of the best writing ever produced for television and righteously so. Also to give credit to the direction as well(from Jerry Thorpe and Richard Lang)was without a doubt first-rate entertainment. It also had some of the most breathtaking photography ever witnessed and this is what made this show stand out from all the other "private eye" shows of the 1970's. And "Harry-O" was one of them. The series began as one of ABC's Movie Of The Week which was a two-hour pilot entitled "Smile,Jenny,You're Dead"(2/3/1973)and on the strength of that one came another titled "Such Dust As Dreams Are Made On",which was another ABC Movie Of The Week(3/11/1974). The series produced 44 episodes on ABC-TV from its premiere episode on September 12,1974 until the final episode of the series on April 29,1976. The guest stars that kept this show in check were first rate and some of the episodes are classics as well. Check out the guest star roster here from Jim Backus,Broderick Crawford,Sal Mineo,Robert Reed,Keye Luke,Martin Sheen,Margot Kidder,Cab Calloway to even Jodie Foster and Maureen "Marsha Brady" McCormick,and Dawn Lyn. This show also had two unknown actresses as well who after their stint who on go to bigger and bigger things(Farrah Fawcett and Loni Anderson). This show made have lasted two years,and when it was cancelled by ABC in the spring of 1976,it was replaced by a travesty of the greatest kind,"Charlie's Angels"(1976-1981). Harry-O's adventures ended too soon after the network executives pulled the plug on a show that was still in the top ten of the Nielsens in its final season.
NOTE: After years out of circulation,the series has returned after a two decade hiatus. The American Life TV Network has brought back the Emmy winning show from the 1970's,so every Monday evening "Harry-O" is broadcast in each episode and to see the great David Janssen is a welcome sight in one of his most famous roles.
This series was that rare thing in the 1970s - an original and
intelligently constructed mainstream US TV series.
This was due to two factors, the personality and performance of David Janssen (the word unique is grossly over-used, but it truly applied to him), and the way that the character of Harry Orwell was constructed around Janssen's screen persona. The idea of an ex cop taking up private detection was not new, even then, but the details were what made this one special. For example, Harry often travelled by bus, being unable to drive because his car was always hosed. Imagine, Kojak or Jim Rockford doing that? No, neither can I. Harry also had a family history (ex-partner, money problems etc)that we actually saw him dealing with. Very little gloss on Harry's life.
So, an intelligently constructed premise, a great central performer, superb performances from the recurring characters - notably Anthony Zerbe as the acerbic Lt. Trench (replacing Lt. Manny Quinlan half-way through series 1, when the series' location moved from San Diego to LA at the behest of the studio suits). And then, we had some interesting and well written scripts - but yes, there were some clunkers too. Harry O was well directed, very well cut in the styles of the time and oh! - those Foley sounds, loud footsteps in longshots - I love it! The sound on just one of the series one episodes is appalling, but for all the rest, they look and sound great.
Perhaps because it came in at the middle or latter end of the US boom in detective series, Harry O ran for only two seasons. A great shame, it had a lot more potential to realise - and without Janssen it can never be recreated.
2013 UPDATE: The first series is available now as a box set from the Warners online shop!
2014 UPDATE: No longer a rare series! Warners have put out box set of both series now. You can buy on Amazon or direct from WBshop.
Excellent! Just ordered mine!
Harry Orwell was a gumshoe that Dashiel Hammet would appreciate (though
he talked a bit more like Philip Marlowe, and his Southern California
felt more like Ross MacDonald's.
It's been decades since I saw an episode of Harry O. I remember it having 70's cop show production values (everybody drove Fords). I can't really recall any of the stories. But I remember dialog and mood and characters with many layers. This show's success had less to do with the mystery and more to do with people and fantastic story-telling. You *liked* Orwell and Manny Quinlan. You wish you could meet people like that. You like to think they're out there somewhere, holding up some kind of code of decency in a dirty world. And if you had to have an adversarial relationship with a guy like Trench (the great Anthony Zerbe), at least you knew he was honest and fair and smart.
Those passages of narration were poetry! With Janssen's world-weary delivery it was like a ballad by Sinatra. Sure wish I could see some of these again.
This was one of the best shows on television. The writing and the photography was outstanding. David Janssen was one of my very favorite actors and I really miss him. He had "mumbling" down to an art form and his understated style of acting was second to none. Harry-O made me feel good every time I would sit down and watch. Harry Orwell was an everyman's type of guy. You could relate to him. I think it was because you could sense his vulnerability. Episodes did not always end on a happy note and that added some credibility to the character and his profession. Warner Brothers needs to hurry up and release this series to DVD. I would buy the entire series in a heart beat. A classic!!
If ever a series deserved a better fate, it's this one. A quirky,
main character, interesting plots and smart dialogue. It should have
years, lasted 44 episodes. Janssen was terrific (better than in The Fugitive, a show where you only had to see the first episode and the last), his supporting players were almost as good and the writing, particularly by creator Howard
Rodman, was a cut above the typical TV fare. Yes, it was just another detective show and it did follow some of the typical cliches, but hey, it also provided a poignancy and adult (not X-rated, but intelligent) point of view rarely seen on the little screen. Hey, Warner Brothers (I think)! Where's the DVD collection?
Only 2 comments so far? That can't be right!
I can't believe how rarely shown this show is, I've only ever caught 2 episodes! But even just 2 episodes were enough to tell that this was a series of quality, in all departments. David Jansen brought something special to every role he played and definitely gives extra depth and believability to the character of Harry O, compared with most other shows of this type. I've always had a soft spot for The Rockford Files and Harry O reminds me of it in some ways, but there seems much more to Harry O that would keep me watching over and over, if only the TV companies would actually show it! All 44 episodes on DVD would be even better of course. Soon Please, come on.
I first remember seeing this show in the late '70s on BBC - I was (and
am) a big fan of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Harry Orwell was
as close to a modern-day version as I could imagine.
Taciturn and laconic, David Janssen's portrayal of the world-weary detective was far above the quality of many other shows of the day, and a marked contrast to one of my other favourites, The Rockford Files, where every week Jim got knocked on the head, argued with Dennis and got in a car chase, although, granted, his car was always in good shape.
The stories were intelligently-written, the supporting cast always first-class (Henry Darrow and Anthony Zerbe providing excellent foils for Janssen), and guest artists either well-established or up-and-coming stars.
'Harry O' is a show that deserves a DVD release - when one considers the availability of more obscure shows it's difficult to understand why it hasn't had its turn.
Like Harry, I'm a patient man, but I'd like to see this show again before I die...
Harry O is being rerun on cable channel Good Life on Monday nights at 8:00pm and again at 11:00pm. They are still doing the Lt. Quinlan days. This is as of November 29, 2005. Harr O was a great show (actually, still is). It was David Janssen at his best. His rapport with Anthony Zerbe as Lt. Trench is wonderful. Les Lannom had David/Harry down to a "T". Question: Did Harry ever wear anything other than the tweed sport coat, blue button down shirt, dark tie, and khaki pants - or - the shorts and jacket? And yes, a DVD of the show would be great! The show always had the cream of the crop guest stars from the 70's. Many of the younger ones became stars in their on right. What ever happened to Les "Lester" Lannom and Paul Tulley as Sgt. Roberts?
My wife and I watched the show when it first went into syndication. 78-79? We both enjoyed it. I particularly liked the way David Jansen portrayed this character. Smooth and cool. David's smirk really worked portraying Harry. Very low key approach that works. Farrah Fawcett was very low key and actually funny in her roll. Another gem in the show was Anthony Zerbe. The verbal barbs and sparring with 'Harry' were excellent. The original fugitive series was pretty good but over time the plots grew weak and the show seemed to crawl along. I check every now and then to see if 'Harry O' is available anywhere EVEN on VHS! great show!
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