Sam Benedict (1962–1963)
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This series was based on attorney Jake Erlich, who was a technical consultant. Producer/writer Gene Roddenberry ("Star Trek") had previously tried to turn Erlich's life into a series called "333 Montgomery Street", but it didn't sell. Deforest Kelley starred in that pilot as "Jake Brittin".
Talented writer E. Jack Neumann ("The Blue Knight" with William Holden) created "Sam Benedict", and he was also the executive producer. William Froug was the producer. Neuman and Froug were boyhood friends.
Directors included Richard Donner, Paul Henreid and Ida Lupino. Ida Lupino had previously directed Edmond O'Brien to fine effect in "The Bigamist" and "The Hitchhiker".
The forty-seven year old O'Brien gave a superb, forceful performance as Sam Benedict. Richard Rust was equally impressive as his dynamic young associate Hank Tabor.
Robert Lansing gave a terrific performance in one episode as a maverick high school English teacher who is fired because he has his students read a banned book. Lansing may also have less than pure thoughts about one of his vivacious students. This was a pilot for a series, but NBC chose to go with "Mr. Novak" instead, for which E. Jack Neumann was the executive producer.
Other strong guest stars included Inger Stevens, Vera Miles, Elizabeth Ashley, Diana Hyland, Ruth Roman, Hazel Court, Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, Gary Merrill, Claude Rains, Brian Keith and Michael Parks.
Voluptuos Nancy Kelly ("The Bad Seed") also guest starred. Kelly was Edmond O'Brien's real life ex-wife.
Joseph Schildkraut received a best actor Emmy nomination for a guest star role.
The stories were basically character studies of Benedict's clients. The show left mysteries to "Perry Mason" and social issue controversy to "The Defenders".
Most episodes followed two different stories. One was Benedict's case and the other was Tabor's. This was innovative, and it worked well later on "LA Law". But the Hank Tabor stories weren't usually compelling enough.
I think if Sam and Hank handled a few high stakes murder cases this show could have been more popular, since the lead characters were fine.
MGM produced this show. They were also doing "The Eleventh Hour" and "Dr. Kildare" at the same time. All three shows were literate, adult dramas about an older pro and a young apprentice.
One year after this series ended, Edmond O'Brien was nominated for an Oscar for John Frankenheimer's brilliant thriller "Seven Days in May". O'Brien played an alcoholic senator who tries to thwart a military coup against President Fredric March.
Two years after this series ended, O'Brien returned to TV as Will Varner in "The Long, Hot Summer".
"Sam Benedict" was replaced on Saturday nights by another MGM series about a young trainee and an older mentor: "The Lieutenant", with Gary Lockwood and Robert Vaughn.
Producer Paul Monash ("Peyton Place") almost did a remake of "Sam Benedict" five years later with "Judd for the Defense", starring Carl Betz and Stephen Young. "Judd" producers even asked "Sam Benedict" producers for any old scripts they might have. But "Judd for the Defense" eventually came up with some fine, provocative stories of its own.
Maybe it was the San Francisco locale, but probably more the doings of a big shot lawyer which kept my interest. I assure the reader that in 1963 I had no intention as a teen-ager of following the law . . . THAT folly had to wait twenty more years.
O'Brien was probably not the best pick for the lead, although BENEDICT was based loosely on some grandee west coast attorney, but I cannot remember who, and no doubt the stories were mostly fiction. Perhaps O'Brien enjoyed a likeness, hence his getting the role. His waistcoat was always a different colour from his suit, probably the model's trade-mark. In any case, I believe it to be O'Brien's only crack at a series as a regular, and will run him here to check my accuracy.
I recall the stories as interesting, at least to an intellectually curious boy but indifferent student who just wanted to indentify with a wheeler-dealer. The law seemed grand enough. Out of deep thoughts on this failed series, sorry, but since I stand alone it may be an indicium of the essential unworth of SAM BENEDICT.