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The NBC Tuesday/Wednesday/Sunday Mystery Movie (1971 - 1977)

Author: Abner_Kadabner from United States
3 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First off I want to comment on the fact IMDb has this listed under "The NBC Tuesday Mystery Movie". It isn't appropriate since the Tuesday episodes were only on for HALF of a season. If all of the different versions have to be listed on one listing (why, I don't know) then the umbrella title should be just Mystery Movie or The Sunday Mystery Movie, since that it what everyone tends to think of.

Anyway, the series began as simply The NBC Mystery Movie, debuting in 1971 on Wednesday's nights (preceded by Adam-12 and followed by Night Gallery). The show was a hit, buoyed by the popularity of Columbo, McMillan and Wife, and McCloud. (McCloud was not a new show, as it had debuted the year before in another "wheel" program called Four-In-One. Unlike Mystery movie, that program showed it's program in blocks, so that every episode of a particular show was shown for several weeks, then the next one, and then the next one. So if you were a fan of McCloud you'd have to wait until summer reruns. When that one was cancelled, only McCloud survived and moved to new series.) Apparently NBC figured that if one Mystery Movie was good then two were better (so if you want to blame someone for all of the CSIs and Law and Orders, you know who's responsible). In Sep. 1972 the original Wednesday show was moved to Sunday (which included a new show Hec Ramsey, an interesting show that tried to meld Matt Dillon to a modern day detective, at least as much as possible around 1910), where it became an even bigger hit and lasted for another five years. The new Wednesday lineup that replaced it included Banacek, Madigan, and Cool Million.

Banacek was an insurance investigator, who took on impossible cases in exchange for exorbitant fees. Banacek's cases were the kind that could only happen on TV, like a train car that mysteriously disappears while on a cross-country trip, or when a player in a football game vanishes into thin air when his group of tacklers get up off the ground. Cool Million was about a former secret agent who could do just about anything and charged a million for his services (equivalent to about 4.5 million in today's inflation ravaged dollars). Madigan was a New York cop was sent to other cities (like London, Paris, Lisbon) to show them how N.Y. cops get business done. Only Banacek survived to the next season.

Joining Banacek in Sep. 1973 were a trio of new shows: The Snoop Sisters, two elderly women played by Mildred Natwick and Helen Hayes, who solved mysteries; Faraday and Company, a P.I. wrongfully imprisoned for 25 years and once released, had to catch up on modern day know how; Tenefly, a somewhat unusual detective who wasn't a gritty loner but a dedicated family man. In January 1974 NBC moved them to Tuesday night where they clung by their finger tips until cancellation at the end of that season. No real loss there.

So starting in Sep. 1974 it was just the The Sunday Mystery Movie with the Big Three still going strong. Joining the lineup just before Christmas was a new show called Amy Prentiss, a show originally introduced to the world as a backdoor pilot on Ironside. She was the first female chief of detectives, so in addition to fighting crime she was also fighting male chauvinism in the police force. Make it she did not - The Force was not with her.

Sep. 1975 saw another show join the Big Three: McCoy, starring Tony Curtiss. McCoy was a con man and Curtiss was the perfect actor to play a con man (in one show he convinced a mark that the US Govt. was going to withdraw the greenback and replace it with a different currency to fight inflation). But even Tony couldn't con NBC in renewing the series and it vanished.

1976-77 was the last year of the Sunday Movie. One change was that since Susan St. James left her show McMillan and Wife lost the "and Wife" from the title. Joining it and Columbo and McCloud (did you notice there three shows starting with a "Mc"?) was a new called Quincy, ME (thankfully it wasn't McQuincy). Quincy became very, very popular, and perhaps with NBC sensing The Mystery Movie was not long for this world, decided to make it a weekly hour long show starting in January 1977. This was a good idea as Quincy was among the living until the summer of 1983. Replacing it was Lannigan's Rabbi, about a small town sheriff who relies on the help of his rabbi to solve crimes. Hey, it could happen. The late great Art Carney played the sheriff, and one change from the pilot of that show was that Stuart Margolin did not continue in the role of the rabbi, probably so it wouldn't interfere with him playing Angel on The Rocking Files. One wonders what might have been.

These shows are generally available on DVD and are still syndicated. Nowdays they seem more like curious artifacts from early 70s. Of all of these shows Columbo seems to have made the most lasting impression, even managing to be briefly revived in the 1990s.

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