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This groundbreaking series had three rotating stars, who were featured in independent episodes tied together by a loose common theme. The commonality was Howard Publications, the self-made publishing empire of Glenn Howard. Episodes featuring Howard focused on his business and political confrontations and his flamboyant lifestyles. Other episodes featured Jeff Dillon, a crusading investigative reporter, or Dan Farrell. Farrell was a retired FBI agent who used his position as the editor of "Crime Magazine" to wage a literary war against organized crime. The series had several semi-regulars who were featured in one or more of the plot threads, including editorial assistant Peggy Maxwell, and junior reporters Joe Sample, Andy Hill and Ross Craig.Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
When this debuted in 1968, I thought it was the best TV show I'd ever seen. It had a "wheel" format of the kind pioneered by Warner Bros. a decade before, which allowed more time to film each episode and allowed the show to attain higher quality than the average TV show. You could also do any kind of story on it. Glen Howard, (Gene Barry) could get involved with boardroom battles, political scandals in Washington, could travel to anywhere in the world. He was involved in everything from a campus protest to a murder investigation in and English country house to the "Prague Spring" to a flashback episode that took place in the old west to a Phil Wylie vision of a post-apocalyptic world. Dan Farrell, (Robert Stack), was Elliot Ness with a typewriter, going wherever crimes were committed to battle the bad guys with the truth and comfort the afflicted. Jeff Dillon, (Anthony Franciosa), was more interested in afflicting the comfortable as a reporter for People Magazine, (Time/Life's version didn't exist yet), His was perhaps the most open-ended job of all. He could be doing a personality piece on a show business icon, going undercover at a paramilitary training ground, investigating a phony doctor, covering the coverage of a search for someone lost in the woods, (an updated version of "Ace in the Hole"). Susan Saint James was the real star of the show as she was assigned as the assistant to each in time for their latest adventure, (a strange practice, it seems to me, but she was always welcome).
The whole thing was packaged in a glittery covering of jazzy music and artsy-craftsy direction, (including by a young Stephen Spielberg), that made it all seem "hip" and exciting. Looking back at it now, that's one of the problems. It's so aggressively contemporary that it's now very dated, both in style and attitudes. The "Man From Uncle" doesn't date because it was never realistic to begin with. "Adam 12" doesn't date because it was never about issues. The things those cops dealt with is the same thing they'd deal with today. "Lou Grant " doesn't date as much because it was presented in a straight forward manner. "Name of the Game" seems stuck in it's own time.
Another problem is that it got more and more wordy as the show went on. it started out as that rare dinosaur, the 90 minute drama. Coming up with movie length stories on a weekly basis was tough and there was a lot of "fill" in many of the episodes. NBC, experimenting with the notion that longer shows might be cheaper because they meant less shows, eventually expanded it to a series of "special" two hour shows, which not only bloated it more but took it past many bedtimes. What finally killed it was the expense. It was the most expensive show in TV history to that time, (and probably would still be with inflation factored out). it had to be a huge ratings hit to "make it" for a long run. It wasn't and it didn't. But, for a while there, it was something special.
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