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Brilliant Herbert B. Leonard ("Naked City", "Route 66") produced this
interesting 1973 pilot.
Forty-three year old John Cassavetes ("Johnny Staccato") played press agent Carmine Kelly.
The show was filmed entirely on location in New York City.
The first part of the show was filmed entirely at night.
Director Richard Donner gave the episode a great, atmospheric look. Very original. It didn't look like a television show. It reminded me a little of Peter Hyams' TV movie "Goodnight, My Lady" with Richard Boone and Michael Dunn as private detectives. I don't know if producer Bert Leonard could have afforded to keep up this cool look for a series.
The cinematographer was Bennie Hirschenson, who specialized in commercials. This is his only cinematography credit. Nice work.
The writer/creator was 38-year old Pete Hamill, a hard-drinking journalist who specializes in stories about New York. Hamill was a reporter and later columnist for The New York Post. His books include "The Invisible City: Short Stories", "A Drinking Life: A Memoir", and "Why Sinatra Matters".
Hamill was a friend of Robert Kennedy, who helped subdue Sirhan Sirhan after the assassination.
Maybe Cassavetes and Hamill become drinking buddies. Six years after "Nightside" Cassavetes was in a TV movie called "Flesh & Blood", based on a novel by Hamill.
The other "Nightside" regulars would have been elegant Alexis Smith as a night club owner named "Smitty" and Mike Kellin as a private detective who sometimes did jobs for Cassavetes.
Seymour Cassel ("Faces", "Minnie and Moscowitz") was one of the guest stars. Others in the strong cast included Richard Jordan, June Havoc, Joe Santos, Fredd Wayne, and Dick Cavett.
The title "Nightside" seemed a little bland. Maybe Leonard could have gotten the rights to the title "Night and the City". Or just "Night Life". Or "I Love New York at Night".
Cassavetes did this role the year after his superb "Columbo" guest star role, which might have reminded producers of how good a series lead he could be. Cassavetes might also have been impressed with the money his pal Falk was making.
This show aired on "The ABC Sunday Night Movie" on April 15, 1973. "Nightside" was on after another hour-long pilot called "Rx for the Defense". That pilot was from another great producer of the 1960's Herbert Brodkin ("The Defenders"). Talented Tim O'Connor played a doctor turned lawyer.
Shows about press agents had been tried before. David Janssen ("Richard Diamond") played a New York press agent in a 1960 pilot called "The Insiders". This was an uncredited attempt to make "The Sweet Smell of Success" into a series with Janssen in the Tony Curtis role and Carroll O'Connor in the Burt Lancaster role. Beautiful Joan Staley played Janssen's quasi-assistant, but they would have been smarter to hire the superb Barbara Nichols. The writer/producer was Richard Alan Simmons ("The Price of Tomatoes", "Trials of O'Brien") and the executive producer was William Sackheim ("The Law").
Craig Stevens ("Peter Gunn") played a smooth press agent named Mike Bell in "Mr. Broadway", a 1964 series. Bell's assistant was a sexy Japanese woman. Horace McMahon ("Naked City") played an ex-cop friend of Bell. The creator was Garson Kanin ("Born Yesterday"). The show was filmed on location in New York. The producer was the great David Susskind ("East Side West Side", "NYPD"). Alexis Smith of "Nightside" was married to Craig Stevens.
I also seem to remember Gig Young as a Hollywood press agent/detective in an early 60's pilot. Young drove a cool sports car and had a house in the Hollywood Hills with a magnificent view of the city. But I can't find any evidence of this show except in my memory.
Edit: I recently discovered the reason I can't find any evidence of that Gig Young pilot. The 1960 pilot was called "Hollywood Angel" and starred Robert Webber, not Gig Young. Webber played a variation of the advertising executive he played to perfection in the 1957 film "12 Angry Men". The producer of "Hollywood Angel" was ambitious Dick Berg ("Johnny Staccato", "Checkmate", "The Bob Hope Chrysler Theater").
E.G. Marshall (so fine in "The Defenders" and "12 Angry Men") is David
Craig, a brilliant neurosurgeon. Craig is head of the Craig Institue, a
cutting edge medical research hospital. Joseph Cotten was originally
considered for the role of Dr. Craig.
John Saxon is Ted Stuart, chief of surgery. Saxon was my favorite of the three heroes. I was disappointed when Saxon was fired after the third season. If it had been up to me, I might have had the great David Craig die and Saxon become head of the Craig Institute.
Saxon was an interesting looking guy and a very good actor. He had a great body and seemed very agile and athletic. Saxon brought a real sense of commitment to his performances. I wish he had done another series after leaving "The Bold Ones". Saxon did make a pilot movie for Gene Roddenberry called "Planet Earth" two years later. I think Steven Bochco considered Saxon for the role of Frank Furillo on "Hill Street Blues". Quentin Tarentino considered Saxon for the Robert Forster role in "Jackie Brown". Tarentino later directed Saxon in a "CSI" episode. Saxon is still a working actor.
David Hartman is Paul Hunter, chief of internal medicine. Hartman was a graduate of Duke and was a former Air Force officer. Hartman was probably smart enough to really have been a doctor. Hartman didn't look like everyone else on television, which was a plus.
Joel Rogosin was the primary producer of the series for its first two seasons. Rogosin left to produce "Longstreet", with James Franciscus as a blind detective.
Herbert Hirschman was brought in as "executive producer" for the third season although no one was given the title of "producer". Hirschman was a talented guy who produced episodes of "Playhouse 90", "Hong Kong" with Rod Taylor, "Perry Mason", "Dr. Kildare", "Twilight Zone" and the Herbert Brodkin series "Espionage".
Brilliant young David Levinson was brought in to produce the fourth season. Levinson had done a magnificent job of producing "The Senator" with Hal Holbrook. Most recently Levinson had produced "Sarge" with George Kennedy as a priest/detective. The next season Levinson would produce "A Case of Rape", an excellent TV movie with Elizabeth Montgomery.
Levinson made a good series near great.
To replace John Saxon, Levinson brought in Robert Walden as young Dr. Marty Cohen. Cohen still has a lot to learn. I can't remember any other drama series hero with a Jewish name. A quietly ground-breaking move. You have to guess Universal would have preferred a Jan-Michael Vincent type to Walden.
David Hartman became the primary focus of the series for the fourth season even though E.G. Marshall still got top billing. Robert Walden got "also starring" billing. Hartman was nominated for a Golden Globe for the fourth season. The other nominees: Peter Falk (winner), Robert Young, Chad Everett, William Conrad, and Mike Connors.
Hartman insisted Robert Walden's picture be taken down in the Universal commissary because Walden wasn't a "star" of the series. Hartman later let into Joan Lunden on "Good Morning America" when in the closing of a show she said goodbye after Hartman. Hartman insisted he say the last goodbye. Apparently Hartman was protective of his hard-won prerogatives. Or perhaps he was a little insecure despite his big education and big brain.
David Levinson's favorite directors were John Badham, Richard Donner, and Daryl Duke. In the fourth season Badham and Donner each directed three episodes and Duke did two.
In one episode you hear the hospital public address system "paging Dr. Sackheim". This was a shout-out to the great writer-producer William Sackheim ("The Law"), who was a mentor to both John Badham and David Levinson.
Some of Levinson's compelling fourth season episodes:
Donna Mills is a nurse at the hospital who is a friend of Marty Cohen. Mills is in a lesbian relationship with a woman who is a clinical psychologist. Cohen is disturbed at the relationship and believes Mills is basically heterosexual. Cohen convinces Mills to have sex with him. The sex is not that good for Mills. Cohen tells Mills that the earth doesn't always move. Mills finally leaves the hospital and also leaves both Cohen and the clinical psychologist. Written by Peggy O'Shea and directed by Jeremy Kagan.
Ross Martin is a high school teacher who is suffering psychotic episodes. Milton Berle plays a psychiatrist at the Craig Institute who is treating Martin. Berle is a close friend of David Craig, but the two doctors strongly disagree on the most effective treatment. Berle wants to focus on talk therapy while Craig insists on surgery and pharmaceuticals. Craig prevails and Martin becomes more docile and perhaps better. Berle quits in protest. Berle says Craig will cry just like he did when Ted Stuart left, but he will get over it. Written by story editor Lionel E. Siegel. Directed by Marvin Chomsky.
Susan Clark is a young woman paralyzed from the neck down in a boating accident. She wants to end her life. Robert Foxworth is her husband. Dr. Craig wants the woman to continue living. She asks why. Craig says she can see the events of her time unfold. Craig is devastated when the woman chooses to die. Written by Robert Van Scoyck and Gustave Field. Directed by Walter Doniger.
Sheila Larken ("Storefront Lawyers") is carrying a baby in her womb that was conceived by her sister Stephanie Powers and Stephanie's husband Carl Betz.
Frank Converse is in fine form as a young man in his prime who is suffering from sexual impotence. Shirley Knight is his wife.
Richard Basehart is a doctor suspected of doing unnecessary operations. Dorothy Malone is his wife.
Carl Reiner is excellent as a maverick doctor back from China who is an unpopular advocate of acupuncture. Written by Robert Collins. Directed by John Badham.
Thirty-nine year old Judd Hirsch was a total unknown (except for stage
work) before he starred in the fine TV movie "The Law" (1974). Hirsch
sent in a commercial he had done as an audition tape for "The Law" so
NBC executives could see what he looked like. The network would have
preferred George Segal for the apparently Jewish hero, but producer
William Sackheim held out for Hirsch. It must have been a hard sell.
When have you ever seen an unknown star in a TV movie, before or since?
The entire cast of "The Law" were unknowns at the time, including Gary
Busey, Bonnie Franklin, and John Hillerman.
"The Law" was an incredible break for Judd Hirsch, but he was still a little irritated that John Beck received more money for playing a prosecutor.
"The Law" was a major critical success. Director Johm Badham and writer Joel Oliansky received Emmy nominations. The two and a half hour movie won the Emmy as outstanding special of the year. John Badham, Joel Oliansky, and William Sackheim had previously worked together on "The Senator" (1970) with Hal Holbrook, which was also remarkable.
Hirsch played public defender Murray Stone in "The Law". The movie was a Fredrick Wiseman like view of the legal system. A three episode trial run series followed the movie. Murray Stone now worked for a fancy law firm. The hour long series didn't catch on. Hirsch said that if Murray had remained a public defender representing life's losers the show would have run forever.
"Delvecchio" (1976) was an attempt by producer Sackheim to redo "The Law" but to have a hit. Dominick Delvecchio was a young detective sergeant who had gone to law school at night. But he has flunked the bar exam - several times. But he keeps taking the exam. Maybe "Delvecchio" would have eventually become a lawyer show.
Back in 1954 Sackheim had written and produced a movie called "The Human Jungle". Gary Merrill was excellent as a police captain who has passed the bar exam and plans to quit the force and start a law practice. But his boss talks him into to taking command of a brutally lawless precinct instead. Sackheim had also written a "Playhouse 90" called "Before I Die" where the hero's name was Dr. Del Vecchio. These previous projects might have provided a little of the inspiration for "Delvecchio" (and perhaps also for "Hill Street Blues").
Fifty-six year old Sackheim was the executive producer of "Delvecchio" and thirty-two year old Steven Bochco was one of the producers. Bochco was a contract writer at Universal. It's hard to see any trace of greatness in Bochco's work before "Delvecchio". In Bochco's own opinion, he was a studio hack doing whatever he was asked to do. When Bochco saw the early scripts coming in for "Delvecchio", he thought they were pretty good. Sackheim said they were junk and had to be rewritten. Bochco says his year on "Delvecchio" was key in his writing life. Bochco's work after "Delvecchio" is of a different order.
Michael Kozoll was story editor of "Delvecchio" and wrote six episodes. Kozoll was later executive producer of "Hill Street Blues" along with Bochco. Kozoll wrote an episode of "Kojak" the next season where Kojak is offered a high paying job as chief investigator for a big law firm by managing partner Charles Aidman. Aidman turns out to be dirty and is trying to compromise Kojak. I always thought this was a planned second season episode of "Delvecchio" that was recycled when "Delvecchio" didn't come back.
William Sackheim was a tough curmudgeon who seemed to get the best out of talented young writers. David Chase ("The Sopranos") did a series early in his career with Sackheim called "Almost Grown" with Tim Daly.
The most charismatic performance in "Delvecchio" was given by Michael Conrad as Lieutenant Macavan, the boss of the precinct squad room. Charles Haid played detective sergeant Shonski, Delvecchio's overweight but tough partner. Shonski was one of the few TV cops to wear glasses. Sackheim wasn't interested in pretty boy cops.
"Delvecchio" wasn't as stylishly filmed as "The Senator", "The Law", or "Hill Street Blues". The writing also wasn't as breath taking. Judd Hirsh was later a little dismissive of "Delvecchio". He thought the only distinctive part of the show were the character interactions in the squad room.
But "Delvecchio" was a fine, very entertaining effort. It was one of the few cop shows I have ever watched regularly. I loved the opening credits with Billy Goldenberg's theme music. I wish "Delvecchio" had lasted longer than one season.
It would have been cool if Steven Bochco had brought back Dominick Delvecchio as an attorney on "L.A. Law" (1986). Delvecchio definitely would have been a loose cannon at Mackenzie, Brackman.
Charming Patrick O'Neal played Dr. Daniel Coffee, the head of pathology
at a New York City hospital. O'Neal was 32 years old.
Chester Morris (the great Boston Blackie) played detective Captain Max Ritter, a colleague and close friend of Dr. Coffee.
Sexy and funny Phyllis Newman was lab technician Doris Hudson, who works for Dr. Coffee and seems to have an unrequited crush on him. I remember she scolded Dr. Coffee for messiness when she visited his plush bachelor apartment. I think Doris thought Dr. Coffee needed a wife. Phyllis Newman was also a delightful regular panelist at this time on "To Tell the Truth".
Cal Belini played Dr. Motilal Mookerji, a brilliant young assistant of Coffee from India.
Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee was perhaps television's first medical detective.
These characters all appeared in a novella and series of short stories by Lawrence G. Blochman. Blochman was a graduate of the University of California at Berkely who had a journalism background. He had a certificate in Forensic Pathology. Blochman continued to write Dr. Coffee stories after the series ended. Blochman was an early president of the Mystery Writers of America. He lived from 1900-1975.
One of Blochman's short stories, "Diagnosis: Homicide", had been made into a "Lux Video Theatre" production in 1957. Character actor Frank Albertson played Dr. Coffee, Shirley Mitchell was Doris Hudson, and Arthur Hanson was Max Ritter.
"Diagnosis: Unknown" was a summer replacement series for "The Garry Moore Show" in 1960. It was on Tuesday nights at 10:00 pm eastern time. Nine episodes were made. The producer was Bob Banner ("Warning Shot"), who was also producer of "The Garry Moore Show".
"Diagnois: Unknown" was done on tape rather than film and was made in New York. Guest stars included Zachary Scott, Gretchen Wyler, Beatrice Straight, Michael Tolan, Jeanne Bal, Telly Savalas, Barbara Baxley, Tom Bosley, and Larry Hagman.
Cynthia O'Neal, who was the wife of Patrick O'Neal, was in an episode. Cynthia O'Neal is credited in five Mike Nichols films. I remember seeing Patrick and Cynthia on the game show "He Said, She Said" in 1970. Cynthia was married to Patrick from 1956 until his death in 1994.
"Diagnosis: Unknown" used first rate writers including Ernest Kinoy, Theodore Apstein, and Bill S. Ballinger. Blacklisted writer Arnold Manoff wrote an episode under the pseudonym Joel Carpenter. Three episodes are credited to "Elliot Norman", a writer who has no other listed credits. Perhaps Norman was another blacklisted writer using a pseudonym, or maybe it was Manoff again using another false name. Manoff was married to Lee Grant.
The great Fielder Cook ("Patterns") directed the first episode. The show had a nice light touch. I remember a grinning Dr. Coffee couldn't help checking out seductive Patricia Barry's cleavage even though her evil husband Alexander Scourby was in the same room.
I would be willing to bet Glen Larson was familiar with the Lawrence Blochman characters and perhaps "Diagnosis: Unknown" when he created "Quincy, M.E.".
Patrick O'Neal had a big success on Broadway a year after "Diagnosis: Unknown". He played the defrocked priest in Tennessee Williams "The Night of the Iguana", opposite Bette Davis and Margaret Leighton.
Patrick O'Neal could have been a great series lead with the right role. He might have been a TV Cary Grant. He had great style and humor. Maybe O'Neal could have played "Mr. Lucky". Or he might have been a good Napoleon Solo or Colonel Hogan.
George Hamilton came to television in "The Survivors", a sort of
precursor to "Dynasty". The series was created by trash novelist Harold
Robbins ("The Carpetbagers").
"The Survivors" was an ambitious soap opera with a lot of top talent in front of and behind the cameras.
Other fine actors besides Hamilton in "The Survivors" included Lana Turner, Kevin McCarthy, Ralph Bellamy, Diana Muldaur, Clu Gulager, Louise Sorel, and Rossano Brazzi. Many of the writers and producers of "The Survivors" had previously worked on the fine "Peyton Place".
But a big problem with "The Survivors" was that it didn't have a strong, appealing hero at the center. There was really no one to root for. Hamilton's character seemed to be a weak jet-setting playboy who was as superficial as everyone else in the series.
"The Survivors" was a major critical and ratings disaster. It was canceled after 15 episodes.
ABC had guaranteed Hamilton a full season run, so "Paris 7000" was quickly put together to finish the 1969-70 season.
The producer of "Paris 7000" was talented John Wilder, who had been an associate producer of "The Survivors". This was Wilder's first chance to originate production of a series. He would later produce "The Streets of San Francisco", "Centennial", and 'Spencer: For Hire".
George Hamilton played Jack Brennan, who worked out of the United States Consulate in Paris. Brennan tried to help out Americans in trouble. Hamilton told Johnny Carson it was a Humphrey Bogart type role, and this might become his new image. Hamilton made a very good series hero. He was much more appealing than he had been in "The Survivors".
Jacques Aubuchon was Hamilton's friend on the Paris police force.
Guest stars on the Universal series included Diane Baker, Joseph Campanella, Anne Baxter, E.G. Marshall, Jack Albertson, Martha Scott, Paul Henreid, and William Shatner.
But the best guest star was Barbara Anderson, moonlighting from "Ironside". Barbara Anderson was a cool blonde beauty in the Grace Kelly mold, and she never looked sexier than opposite the darkly handsome Hamilton. They made an intriguing couple. Barbara was asked back for a sequel to her episode.
Directors included Lewis Allen ("The Uninvited"), Philip Leacock ("The War Lover"), Jeannot Szwarc, and Robert Day (the "Banyon" pilot).
Writers included Norman Katkov, Paul Playdon, Michael Gleason, and Gene L. Coon.
George Hamilton made an effective Bogart hero. Maybe Universal should have gone the whole way and let George play Philip Marlowe in a series, rather than putting him in "Paris 7000". Raymond Chandler's choice to play Marlowe in the 40's was Cary Grant, so he might well have approved of Hamilton.
Twenty-nine year old Tab Hunter was quite engaging in his only series
role. He played a cartoonist who wrote a comic strip called "Bachelor
at Large". The comic strip drew from the cartoonist's own romantic
exploits. Tab's character lived in and worked out of a very cool beach
house in Malibu.
Tab's suave boss was Jerome Cowan ("The Maltese Falcon"). His best friend was wealthy playboy Richard Erdman ("Cry Danger", "The Men", "Stalag 17"). Tab Hunter, Jerome Cowan, and Richard Erdman were real pros who had fun with this light material. They seemed to be having a good time together and it was infectious.
There were always beautiful woman around to keep Tab on his toes. Some of the beauties Tab encountered were Gena Rowlands, Elizabeth Montgomery, Tuesday Weld, Suzanne Pleshette, Mary Tyler Moore, Joanna Barnes, Patricia Crowley, Diana Millay, Linda Cristal, Mary Murphy, Joan Staley, and Lori Nelson.
Alex Gotlieb, who wrote the terrific "Susan Slept Here", is credited as one of the writers of the pilot. I wonder if he was one of the producers.
"The Tab Hunter Show" (1960-61) was on NBC on Sunday nights at 8:30 eastern time. It was on opposite "Lawman" and the second half of "The Ed Sullivan Show".
Director Arthur Penn ("Bonnie and Clyde") used to tell a great Tab Hunter story. Hunter was starring in a live "Playhouse 90" directed by Penn. Hunter played a psychotic serial murderer. In one scene Hunter had to run to escape the police. Hunter ran into a table and tipped it over. All the table contents fell to the floor. Penn thought his live play was dead. But Hunter, staying in character, picked up the fallen items and prissily put them back on the table. Penn said Hunter not only saved the show but made it better.
Jerome Cowan and Richard Erdman had been under contract to Warner Brothers in the 1940's. They both appeared in the movie "Mr. Skeffington" (1944). Erdman and Cowan also worked together in a 1959 episode of "Perry Mason".
I recently saw the terrific Erdman in a bit on a new comedy show called "Community". That's what brought "The Tab Hunter Show" to mind. Erdman was 35 when he did the Hunter show and he's now 84 and still working. Very encouraging.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The "Dick Powell Show" (1961-63) was a very entertaining anthology
Many of the episodes served as pilots.
James Coburn and and Glynis Johns were perfectly cast as the leads in an "African Queen" pilot.
Robert Vaughn played a private detective called "The Boston Terrier". Vaughn's character was a Harvard graduate with a phi beta kappa key. The creator was Blake Edwards ("Peter Gunn", "Richard Diamond", "Mr. Lucky").
David McLean, so fine as gunfighter "Tate", played an investigator for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Lovely Julie Adams also would have appeared in the series. The pilot was written by Allan Sloane ("Teacher, Teacher", "East Side, West Side") and directed by the great Samuel Fuller. When the pilot didn't sell, there was talk of redoing it with Robert Taylor and George Segal. The unknown young Segal raised eye brows by insisting on top billing over Taylor.
In "Charlie's Duet" Anthony Franciosa played a version of Willie Dante, the gambler turned restaurant owner who had previously been played by Dick Powell and Howard Duff.
Rory Calhoun played the captain of a "Luxury Liner". Aaron Spelling ("The Love Boat") produced this episode.
In an attempt to bring back Sam Peckinpah's "The Westerner" as an hour show, Lee Marvin and Keenan Wynn now played the roles Brian Keith and John Dehner played in the series.
Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming starred in "John J. Diggs". Powell was an adventurer/trouble shooter who also worked as a bartender in Fleming's restaurant-hotel. There was a lot of sexual tension between those two. This episode was essentially remade twice but with different leads. In the first remake the leads were Dennis O'Keefe and Dorothy Malone and in the second John Payne and Hazel Court starred. That's a series I would have watched - with any of those terrific casts. They don't make dames like Rhonda, Dorothy or Hazel any more.
Robert Cummings was an inept private detective surrounded by gorgeous women including Linda Christian, Jeanne Crain, and Janis Paige. Cummings' office was in the same building as Richard Diamond and Michael Shayne, two other Four Star private eyes.
Dick Powell played the tough commander of an air corps "Squadron" during World War ll. Pat Conway and Joanna Moore also starred.
Dick Powell played the lead in the "Burke's Law" pilot where his young assistant (Dean Jones) turned out to be the killer. Ronald Reagan was one of the suspects. The pilot was excellent but the resulting series concentrated so much on comedy that nothing seemed to be at stake. Who cared who the killer was since the murder itself was treated as a joke? Dick Powell made a much better Amos Burke than Gene Barry. Jackie Cooper was originally going to be the star of "Burke's Law", and I think he might have given the role (and the series) more gravitas.
Not all the episodes were pilots. Many of the shows were ambitious dramas.
Dana Andrews played a macho novelist who is dying. Robert Redford played his son who has just gotten his Ph.D. in mathematics. Redford hates his father for how he treated his mother. Andrews is in love with the much younger Inger Stevens. Redford makes a play for Stevens just to hurt his father. Hershel Bernardi and Norman Fell were also in the drama. Richard Alan Simmons was the writer. Inger Stevens once said Robert Redford was one of her few co-stars she didn't sleep with, even though they were good friends from back in their New York days. Inger said they had more a brother-sister relationship.
Richard Alan Simmons was also the writer of "The Price of Tomatoes", the series most celebrated episode. Peter Falk is an independent trucker who needs to get his tomatoes to market quickly to keep his business alive. Inger Stevens is a pregnant illegal alien who is determined to have her child born in the United States. The married Falk has to choose between saving his business or helping Stevens. Falk won a well deserved Emmy and Stevens was nominated. There were several other nominations including one for Simmons. Simmons later reteamed with Falk for the brilliant "Trials of O'Brien" (1965-66). Simmons also produced a season of "Columbo".
Jackie Cooper played a Korean War P.O.W. who was held by the communists for nine years after the war ended. Cooper returns to his home town with a big chip on his shoulder. Everyone thought Cooper was dead. No one wants Cooper back since he had always been a trouble maker. The only person happy to see him is his old pal David Janssen, who is now the mayor. But then Janssen apparently kills himself. Cooper suspects foul play and starts to investigate. Dewey Martin is the sheriff, Susan Oliver is Janssen's secretary, and Ellen Corby is Janssen's house keeper. Gary Crosby is a young tough who gets into a climactic fight with the martial arts trained Cooper. Jackie Coogan had a bit part in the drama.
Dick Powell's last performance before his death at 58 was in "The Court-Martial of Captain Wycliff". Harry Julian Fink was the writer and Buzz Kulik directed. Robert Webber plays Wycliff, a college professor who had been a war hero. Wycliff is accused of murdering a brilliant atomic scientist with key secrets who was defecting to the communists. Since Wycliff is a Captain in the reserves, he is court-martialed for the murder. Dick Powell is excellent as the determined but compassionate army prosecutor. Dina Merrill is Powell's sister, who is in love with Wycliff. James MacArthur is a young student of Wycliff. Ed Begley is the defense counsel. When Wycliff takes the stand, Powell asks him if he murdered the scientist. Wycliff says no. But Powell sees something in Wycliff's eyes. Finally, Powell gets Wycliff to admit he "executed" the scientist for treason and for the net betterment of the world.
Bing Crosby Productions executive Meta Rosenberg (later executive
producer of "The Rockford Files") first offered the role of Dr. Ben
Casey to Cliff Robertson and Jack Lord before finally settling on Vince
Edwards. Edwards gave one of the 60's great series performances as Ben
Casey and the series made him a big star. "Ben Casey" was also very
well produced with literate, provocative scripts, beautiful black and
white photography, and fine guest stars. Meta Rosenberg had gotten Bing
Crosby Productions off to a fine start.
Next up was this series about a psychiatrist colleague of Dr. Casey. Meta Rosenberg offered the lead in "The Breaking Point" to Cliff Robertson, but he turned her down again. She then offered the role to Peter Falk, who wasn't interested either. Meta then found the perfect candidate: twenty-six year old Robert Redford.
Redford might have made the same kind of dazzling impression that Vince Edwards had. But he wasn't interested.
Paul Richards finally got the role of the hero psychiatrist, and he was superb. Richards gave one of that seasons most compelling new series performances, along with George C. Scott in "East Side, West Side" and David Janssen in "The Fugitive".
"The Breaking Point" was almost as well done as "Ben Casey", and that is high praise.
Cliff Robertson guest starred as a young executive compulsively making love to one beautiful woman after another in "So Many Pretty Girls, So Little Time". The script was by Robert Towne ("Chinatown").
Robert Redford was excellent in another episode as an arrogant member of a group therapy session. Marisa Pavan and Jack Weston were also in the group.
Rip Torn played a man like "The Great Imposter" who goes from job to job fooling people into thinking he is an attorney or a minister or what have you. Torn tells Paul Richards his next impersonation may be as a psychiatrist. Rip Torn is another actor who could have been fascinating as the hero of "The Breaking Point".
Lou Antonio played a sensitive young man whose masculinity is made fun of by his stereotypically hyper masculine brother (Ralph Meeker). Mariette Hartley is a lovely young woman who Antonio is tentatively drawn to. And Meeker may be overcompensating to hide doubts about his own sexuality. Written by Ernest Kinoy.
Other fine guest stars included Robert Ryan, Eleanor Parker, John Cassavetes, Joey Heatherton, Bradford Dillman, Kathy Nolan, Anthony Franciosa, Gena Rowlands, and James Caan.
"The Breaking Point" was on during the 1963-64 season, the same year as "The Richard Boone Show" and "East Side, West Side". A fine year for TV series drama. TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory said the most letters he got that year complaining about fine shows being canceled was for "The Breaking Point".
Meta Rosenberg also helped develop the marvelous "Slattery's People", where Richard Crenna gave a career changing dramatic performance as a hard nosed but idealistic politician. Bing Crosby Productions was one of the best, classiest production companies of its time. It produced three great drama series as well as "Hogan's Heroes".
Meta Rosenberg led an extraordinary life. There is a delightful interview with her on YouTube.
Forty-four year old Cameron Mitchell played John Lackland. Lackland was
an efficiency expert in San Francisco who apparently got fed up
obsessing about worker productivity. Lackland now spent his days on a
South Sea island being as unproductive as humanly possible.
This 1962 syndicated show was produced by ITC ("The Saint"). "The Beachcomber" may have been inspired by the much more dramatically ambitious "Adventures in Paradise" (1959-1962). Mitchell was almost certainly a better actor than Gardner McKay, but somehow in this show he wasn't as much fun to watch.
It might have been more interesting to follow John Lackland back in his efficiency expert days in San Franciso. I bet he lived in a great penthouse apartment, drove a cool sports car, dated glamorous woman, and solved fascinating problems for his employers. He was probably a much more dynamic hero in his working days than after he "retired" to the life of a lazy beachcomber.
The executive producer of "The Beachcomber" was Robert Stambler, who went on to be a producer of "Hawaii 5-0". The producer was Nat Perrin, who was later writer/producer of "The Adams Family". Elmer Bernstein ("The Magnificent Seven") is credited with the theme music.
The creator of "The Beachcomber" was Walter Brown Newman, who was nominated for an Oscar three times. Newman's films included "Ace in the Hole" (1951), "The Man With the Golden Arm" (1955), "Crime and Punishment, USA" (1959), "The Interns" (1962), and "Cat Ballou" (1966). He is said to have worked on the script for "The Magnificent Seven". He also received an Emmy nomination for an episode of "The Richard Boone Show" (1963). A very interesting talent. I'd like to know more about him.
"The Beachcomber" ran for 39 episodes. Each episode of the adventure series was 30 minutes.
What the series needed was a strong co-star for Cameron Mitchell to play off of. In episode 18, forty year old Don Megowan joined the cast as Captain Huckabee. (Huckabee had been played in an earlier episode by Adam West.) Near the end of the run, Megowan was starring in episodes alone. Apparently Mitchell got tired of the series. Megowan was 6 feet 6 inches tall and ruggedly handsome. Megowan looked a lot like Rod Cameron, whose brother he played in "The Man Who Died Twice" (1958). "The Beachcomber" was one of Megowan's rare leading man performances, and he was very good.
Cameron Mitchell had been a bombardier during World War ll. In 1948 (at age 30) he was in the original Broadway production of "Death of a Salesman" with Lee J. Cobb, Mildred Dunnock, and Arthur Kennedy. He was a fine contract player at 20th Centuury Fox during the 1950's. One of his best films there was in Martin Ritt's "No Down Payment", where he played Troy Boone, Joanne Woodward's disturbed husband.
Perhaps Mitchell's greatest performance was in "Monkey on My Back" (1957). Mitchell played boxer Barney Ross who develops a drug habit during World War II. Andre De Toth directed the film based on Ross' book.
In the early 1970's I saw Mitchell on "The Merv Griffin Show" where he claimed he had turned down the lead in "The French Connection" because he didn't like the script. But it is hard to believe Cameron turned down much work. Unlike beachcomber John Lackland, Cameron Mitchell never stopped working.
Forty-five year old Hal Holbrook played Senator Hays Stowe with great
style, grace, and intelligence. It was a stunning series performance.
Holbrook reminded me of Henry Fonda in "Twelve Angry Men" and Gregory
Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird". All three men projected quiet decency
and great humanity. All three gave hints of what an American man could
be at his best. Hal Holbrook became my favorite actor.
"The Senator" didn't quite look or sound like any other show on television. There was no background music which was fascinating. The show was visually interesting and skillfully edited. There wasn't the usual over-lighting. And they seemed to avoid the tired old Universal sets or at least made them look a little less like sets.
The producer of the series was David Levinson. Levinson's ambition was amazing. "The Senator" was head and shoulders above any other drama series on television. The series was tops in all departments: acting, writing, directing, editing and art direction. Somehow this great show came out of nowhere. It was far above the usual Universal product. The unofficial executive producer was William Sackheim, who was the godfather of many fine writers and many interesting projects at Universal.
John Badham was the associate producer. He became a director for the first time on this series. Badham's two episodes were brilliantly directed and he got an Emmy nomination for his second episode. Other fine directors included Jerrold Freedman, Daryl Duke, and Robert Day.
But what really made "The Senator" stand out was the superb writing. The brilliant writers included Joel Oliansky, Ernest Kinoy, David Rintels, Leon Tokatyan, and Jerrold Freedman.
Michael Tolan was excellent as Jordan Boyle, Stowe's tough adviser. Sharon Acker was delightful as the senator's beautiful wife.
Strong guest star performances were given by James Wainwright, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, Will Geer, Burgess Meredith, and Logan Ramsey.
Holbrook had beautifully played a beleaguered university president in the Universal TV movie "The Whole World is Watching". He got an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor. That must have given Universal the idea to put him in a series.
Holbrook won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series for "The Senator". The series won as Best Drama Series. Daryl Duke won for directing and Joel Oliansky won for writing. Michael Economou won for film editing. There were several other nominations.
The series had already been canceled. But after the many Emmy wins, NBC wanted Universal to make a couple of World Premiere movies of "The Senator". However, Hal Holbrook (who was always terrified of type casting) turned the offer down. Very disappointing. It might have been fun to watch Hays Stowe run for president.
Director John Badham, writer Joel Oliansky, and producer William Sackheim later reteamed for the fine TV movie "The Law".
The only other drama series in the same class as "The Senator" that season (70-71) was "The Psychiatrist" with Roy Thinnes. "The Psychiatrist" was produced by Jerrold Freedman. Freedman also made big contributions to "The Senator" as the director of one episode and the writer of another.
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