Barnaby Jones (1973–1980)
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As a retired cop, the murder of his son, a successful private investigator, would bring the elder Jones back, not only to solve the crime, but to continue his son's business, aided by his daughter-in-law, Betty (the beautiful Lee Meriwether, 38). Barnaby was a prickly old codger, more care-worn and serious than Ebsen's 'Jed Clampett', and each episode would focus more on the perpetrators of the crimes he would ultimately solve, than on his personal life, which would give the program an almost "Columbo"-like slant. There was nearly always an 'innocent' to save, and many episodes would climax in shootouts and foot chases, where the ancient Jones would always 'run down' the younger criminals (making the series a favorite target of contemporary humorists).
The addition of young cousin Jedediah Romano ("Call me J.R.") Jones, in the person of 27-year old Mark Shera, in 1976, while geared to attract younger viewers, actually improved the series, as it lightened the overall 'tone', and gave Ebsen a 'student' to give 'Yoda-like' advice to. Together, Barnaby, Betty, and J.R. made quite a team!
While the series would air it's final episode in 1980, and Ebsen would move on to great success as a painter and author over the next two decades, he would revive the detective in his final film appearance, in the big screen version of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, in 1993. Barnaby Jones, as prickly as ever, would still be taking cases at 85!
In a pilot that was an episode of the Cannon TV series, Frank Cannon is hired to investigate the death of Hal Jones a colleague. Hal had taken over the detective agency from father Barnaby who decided to retire as senior citizens are wont to do. But his fires are banked with the homicide of his son and Buddy Ebsen and daughter-in-law Lee Meriwether take over the agency with her as Ebsen's secretary. Thus a successful television series was born.
Ebsen was a cagey old bird who a lot of bad guys thought was past his prime. They'd always trip themselves up because they thought he was not really paying attention to what they said. The Medicare set loved Barnaby Jones.
But TV is always after that youth market and after a few seasons Mark Shera was added to the cast as J.R. Jones, a nephew gone into the business with the uncle. Now the rough stuff could be dealt with in house if needed.
Buddy Ebsen as a performer reinvented himself more than Madonna. Over his 95 year life we saw him as musical dancing performer, Georgie Russell companion to Davy Crockett, Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies, Barnaby Jones, and finally Roy Houston uncle of Matt Houston. And there are a lot more single roles than that, films like Attack and Breakfast At Tiffany's which was a different Ebsen all together from the rest. Was this man ever versatile.
An inspiration to senior citizens everywhere.
Buddy was right about that. This show is well done & CBS had raided ABC to get Quinn Martin to do this & Cannon. CBS wanted to change it's country image & these shows became a moderately successful way to do that. Trouble is CBS execs wasted more of the number 1 networks success & by the 1908's after they forced Walter Cronkrite to retire & dumbed down & tarted up their news with Dan Rather, they had pretty much become a second rated network.
This show's success along with MASH & a few others kept them on top through the 1970's. Buddy Ebsen was so talented that he could play almost anybody & make them believable. He comes off here as a fine detective & Lee Merriwether came into her own during this show.
Ebsen is one of the few TV actors to be part of successful shows in the 1950's, 60's, & 70's. It is a fitting tribute to such a unique talent who made his first splash in movies in the 1930's. He has an enduring legacy and this show is the last piece of it.
The opening of the show was good too. And the always showed who plays the guest characters. Many 70's shows always had a title to the particular show. (Streets of San Fransico) That's one thing, which is missing about todays shows. Many shows today, don't even a have an opening or a list of credits. One must look up a show in the imdb to see who the actors are. Of course nothing can top the opening of "Hawaii Five-O", that was the best part of that show.
One thing I do remember was the late, great composer Jerry Goldsmith's excellent theme song. Strangely, the opening credit sequence made me want to see the show off and on for the seven seasons the show was on the air. I will also admit that it was nice to see Ebsen in a role other than Jed Clampett despite Ebsen being badly miscast. I just wished the show was more entertaining than when I first remembered it.
Update (1/11/2009): I watched an interview with composer Jerry Goldsmith on YouTube through their Archive of American Television channel. Let's just say that I was more kind than Goldsmith about the show "Barnaby Jones."
UPDATE! 2014. CBS released this show on DVD so I got a chance to catch up with Buddy and I realized at least one thing. This show had long legs because if you look at it when it originally aired in the 1970's, CBS ran this show at 10 pm on Sundays it's first few seasons then 10pm on Thursday nights the rest of it's run. IT WAS AN EXCELLENT SLEEPING AID! Seriously, I watched the pilot first episode with Frank Cannon (who is another hoot, the guy never misses with a snub nose .38 no matter how far away he is), and even with Frank involved this show is a serious snoozer! Then I watched the next episode from season 1 with William Shatner as the bad guy and I drew this conclusion. Barnaby got the stupid murderers with high expectations but little thought process involved. Besides being boring, this show has lame stupid villains. More power to it's long run but I'm pretty sure it was old people tuning in that felt comfortable watching Buddy while they fell asleep after 10pm with the TV on. That milk thing was probably something subliminal to put the viewer to sleep. Seriously. 4 of 10, it's so boring that the retro stuff doesn't even work here, try Cannon, Mannix, Hawaii 5 0, Hill Street Blues, Kojak, Streets Of San Francisco, Ironside, Berretta, Columbo, Starsky and Hutch, I mean any of those shows blow away watching Barnaby Jones. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.