Joe Mannix was the romantic idea of how you would picture a private eye – debonair and handsome. That’s why Mannix was the perfect character to lead into what would become the modern era of the TV private eye.
In the 1970s, cop shows were king. It was also the golden era of the private eye, led by “Mannix,” followed by “Cannon,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Rockford Files” and the lesser-known “Richie Brockelman, Private Eye,” “Longstreet’ and “Banyon”.
Actor Mike Connors played Mannix, the Armenian-descent high school sports star who moves from the California wine orchards to Los Angeles, and becomes a hard-boiled private eye who survives maybe too many beatings to be believed.
During the first season of the series, Mannix works for a large detective agency called Intertect, a computer-driven crime-fighting organization. Mannix’s superior is Lew Wickersham, played by veteran actor Joseph Campanella.
The idea behind the computer backdrop is that Mannix rejects what the computer says most of the time, and does things his way.
But Lucille Ball, the head of Desilu Productions, which made Mannix, thought the audience didn’t relate to the computers, so she and producer Bruce Geller shifted Mannix to his own agency in the second season.
When he goes on his own, Mannix lives and works in West Los Angeles in a mixed-use development called Paseo Verde; his home at 17 Paseo Verde has an attached office out of which he runs his agency. The design for the 17 Paseo Verde set is based on a Santa Barbara, California, building that still exists.
The success of Mannix rests with his girl Friday, his loyal, lovely secretary, Peggy Fair, a police officer’s widow played by Gail Fisher – one of the first African-American actresses to have a regular series role. He often asks Peggy to run down leads for him over the phone.
Frank Cannon is the exact opposite of Joe Mannix – a heavy-set, balding tough guy. Aside from being a private eye, the only other thing the two share is the beatings they endure, and simply continue on.
Series star William Conrad was the only main cast member. Conrad was nominated for an Emmy Award in both 1973 and 1974 as Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series, but Richard Thomas won for “The Waltons” in 1973 and Telly Savalas won for “Kojak” in 1974.
With Conrad as the only cast member, there were a lot of my “Unsung Heroes of TV” which are players you recognize, but can’t name. Some of those you might are: Willie Aames, from “Eight Is Enough”; Claude Akins, from “The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo”: Whitney Blake, from “Hazel”; Sorrell Booke, Boss Hogg from “The Dukes of Hazzard”; musicians, Johnny Cash, Leif Garrett, and Micky Dolenz; William Daniels, from “St. Elsewhere”; Dana Elcar, from the original “MacGyver”: Mike Farrell and Wayne Rogers, from “M*A*S*H”; Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, otherwise known as “Starsky and Hutch”; “The Fugitive” David Janssen, Tina Louise, Ginger Grant from “Gilligan’s Island”; George Maharis, from “Route 66”; Robert Mandan from “Soap”; Leslie Nielsen, from the “Naked Gun” movies; Nick Nolte and Peter Strauss, from “Rich Man, Poor Man”; Stefanie Powers from “Hart to Hart”; Roy Scheider from “Jaws”; Tom Skerritt, from “Picket Fences”; Vic Tayback, Mel from “Alice”; Cindy Williams, Shirley Feeney from “Laverne and Shirley”; William Windom, from “Murder, She Wrote” and Anthony Zerbe from “The Molly Maguires” and “Harry O”.
Cannon debuted in a two-hour movie on March 26, 1971 that served as the pilot. In the movie, Cannon’s wife and child are killed in a car bomb meant for him, prompting him to resign from the Los Angeles police force and become a private detective.
Frank Cannon met Barnaby Jones, played by Buddy Ebsen, Jed Clampett from “The Beverly Hillbillies”, an aging veteran private investigator who had retired and turned over his agency to his son, Hal, when Hal is killed. With the aid of Cannon and Hal’s widow, Betty Jones, played by 1955 Miss America Lee Meriwether, he hunts down Hal’s killer. Afterwards, Jones decides to come out of retirement. The premiere episode of Barnaby Jones, “Requiem for a Son” was planned as a second-season Cannon episode, but when “Barnaby Jones” was sold as a separate series the script was reworked into the premiere of that series. William Conrad appeared as a special guest star.
There was a second “crossover” between the series. The first part of the two-part episode, “The Deadly Conspiracy”, was aired as the second episode of the fifth season of Cannon on September 17, 1975. The second part aired two nights later as the fourth-season premiere of Barnaby Jones.
“Barnaby Jones” was introduced as a mid-season replacement on CBS, and was broadcast from 1973 to 1980. Ebsen had completed “The Beverly Hillbillies” in 1971, and apparently was not ready to retire at the age of 63.
After four seasons, halfway through the series run, Mark Shera, who had just completed a year and a half as Officer Dominic Luca on the original “S.W.A.T.” was added to the cast as the character of Jedediah Romano “J.R.” Jones, the son of Barnaby’s cousin. He had come to try to solve the murder of his father but stayed around to help Barnaby and Betty, while also attending law school.
As Ebsen aged and expressed an interest in slowing down a bit, Meriwether’s and Shera’s characters became more prominent, allowing Ebsen to reduce his role. During the last two seasons, episodes were divided evenly among the three actors, with Ebsen,
Buddy Ebsen’s real-life daughter, Bonnie Ebsen, and Lee Meriwether’s real-life daughter, Kyle Aletter-Oldham, making cameo appearances.
Charlie’s Angels are three female private investigators rescued from mundane duties like meter maid, office worker, and crossing guard, in the Los Angeles Police Department by Charles “Charlie” Townsend for his Townsend Detective Agency. They use their good looks to get into places that conventional cops cannot get into, like roller derby queen, beauty pageant contestant, maid, female prisoner, or just bikini-clad, which caused “Charlie’s Angels” to become known as “Jiggle TV”, which was seen by some as trashy entertainment.
The three originals were Kate Jackson, who was Jill Danko in “The Rookies” for four TV seasons, as Sabrina “Bree” Duncan; Jacklyn Smith, as Kelly Garrett, and Farrah Fawcett-Majors, wife of “Six Million Dollar Man” Lee Majors, as Jill Munroe.
Rounding out the cast were former “Bachelor Father” and Blake Carrington from “Dynasty” and “The Colbys”, John Forsythe, providing the voice of their boss, the unseen Charlie Townsend, who directed the crime-fighting operations of the “Angels” over a speakerphone and is never shown, and David Doyle as John Bosley, who works directly with the lovely trio.
Majors’ complaint of not seeing his wife because both were starring in hour-long television series which had long shooting schedules led to Farrah leaving the show after just the first season, but she did return for cameos during the rest of the series’ run.
Jill Munroe was replaced by her sister, Kris, portrayed by Cheryl Ladd, who was rescued from dull duty with the San Francisco Police Department.
Executives offered singer-turned-actress Ladd a screen test. Initially, Ladd refused the opportunity for a screen test, but after lobbying from studio executives, she relented.
The next cast change came after the third season, and began a change per year for the last three years of the series.
Kate Jackson, who had criticized what she considered low-quality scripts and who reportedly never got along with Ladd, was let go – as much for those reasons, as how much publicity a cast change would generate because ratings were down. It was Jackson who decided the three women would be called “Angels” after seeing a picture of three angels hanging in producer Aaron Spelling’s office.
Casting calls for Jackson’s replacement began during the summer of 1979. Several up-and-coming actresses were considered for the role, including Barbara Bach, Mrs. Ringo Starr; Connie Sellecca, from “Greatest American Hero” and “Hotel”; Shari Belafonte, “The Price is Right” model Dian Parkinson, and newcomer Michelle Pfeiffer. ABC producers auditioned Revlon “Charlie” perfume model Shelley Hack and cast her as Jackson’s replacement. She was portrayed as having been a police officer in Boston.
The following year – with ratings still down – it was time for more publicity, and another cast change.
Casting calls went out for Hack’s replacement. After a series of false commitments, Spelling and ABC selected model and former dance instructor Tanya Roberts, beating out Jayne Kennedy, from “The NFL on CBS” and guest shots on ’70s and ’80s network TV; Susie Coelho, the second Mrs. Sonny Bono, and others. This time, the ex-cop background was scrapped, and Roberts debuted in the fifth-season premiere as Julie Rogers, a streetwise fighter and model from New York.
‘The Rockford Files’
“The Rockford Files” is Bret Maverick, James Garner, as a private eye.
Producers Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell devised the Rockford character as a rather significant departure from typical television detectives of the time. Huggins produced “Maverick”. In 2002, “The Rockford Files” was ranked No. 39 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
Rockford had served time in California’s San Quentin Prison in the 1960s due to a wrongful conviction. After five years, he was pardoned. His infrequent jobs as a private investigator barely allow him to maintain his dilapidated mobile home, which doubles as his office,” in a parking lot on a Malibu, California beach.
Regulars were Noah Beery Jr. as Rockford’s retired truck driver dad, Joe Rockford; Joe Santos as Dennis Becker, Jim’s friend on the Los Angeles Police Department; “Love, American Style” regular Stuart Margolin as Evelyn “Angel” Martin, Jim’s former prison friend. an untrustworthy, pathologically lying con artist whose schemes constantly get Jim in trouble, yet Jim remains his friend; Gretchen Corbett as Elizabeth “Beth” Davenport, Jim’s lawyer and sometime girlfriend, and James Luisi and Tom Atkins as police lieutenants over Becker who each don’t like Rockford.
Two other noteworthy actors who appear are warming up for their own careers as private eyes on their own shows.
Tom Selleck, who later became “Magnum, P.I.” appeared as Lance White, a successful private investigator with an uncynical approach to the business. Liked and admired by everyone but Jim, who considers him naive and lucky and likely to cause others to get hurt, and Dennis Dugan as Richie Brockelman, a young, idealistic and seemingly naive private investigator who seeks Jim’s help from time to time. Bereft of Jim’s cynicism and physical toughness, Richie was nevertheless a sharp operator who used his outwardly trusting ‘gee whiz’ persona to mask his dogged cleverness. This character was spun off for the short-lived “Richie Brockelman, Private Eye”.
Three other things to mention about Rockford was his car, his answering machine and the theme song.
Rockford always drove a copper-colored Pontiac Firebird. What viewers probably didn’t know was that the car, which was supposed to be the Esprit model, was actually the Formula model that eventually became the Pontiac Trans-Am. Garner got a new car every year. Although the series ran until early 1980, no Firebird was used past the 1978 model year as Garner reportedly was displeased with the restyled front end of the 1979 and later Firebird models and as such did not wish them featured on the show.
The show’s theme song entitled “The Rockford Files” was written by noted theme music composers, Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. The theme song was released as a single and spent two weeks at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, in August 1975. For more than forty years, the British soccer team Tranmere Rovers have used the Rockford theme as walk-out music for most games. Occasionally it has been dropped, and then restored by popular demand.
Each episode began with the image of Rockford’s answering machine, and the opening title sequence was accompanied by someone leaving Rockford a message. As the camera focuses on the telephone, whose number is 555-2368, it rings twice and then Rockford’s recorded voice is heard providing the following greeting:
“This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.”
The messages were usually unrelated to the current episode, but were often related to previous events in earlier episodes. They were a humorous device that invited the viewer to return to the quirky, down-on-his-luck world of Jim Rockford. The messages usually had to do with creditors, deadbeat clients, or were just oddball vignettes. Though a distinctive and clever entry device, the messages became difficult for the writers to create. Suggestions from staffers and crew were welcome and often used.
‘Richie Brockelman, Private Eye’
The limited-run series, was not technically a spin-off of “The Rockford Files”, as the character of Richie Brockelman, played by Dennis Dugan, first appeared in a 1976 TV movie produced by Cannell. However, Brockelman did appear in the 1978 Rockford episode “The House on Willis Avenue”, which was broadcast the week before Richie Brockelman, Private Eye began its five-week run in “The Rockford Files” time slot. The character of Richie Brockelman returned to Rockford in the 1979 episode, “Never Send a Boy King To Do a Man’s Job.”
The hour-long series focused on Richie Brockelman, a 22-year-old, college-educated private investigator with his own agency in Los Angeles. Dugan was actually thirty-one when cast in the role. Brockleman’s main method in solving his cases was thinking he could talk his way in or out of any situation he was in. Usually there was a woman involved in the plot that was in some kind of distress, but in the end, he solves the case though he does not get the girl.
The theme song, “School’s Out,” was written by Mike Post, Pete Carpenter, Herb Pederson and Stephen Geyer.
After its launch from “The Rockford Files”, “Richie Brockelman, Private Eye” performed well for NBC. However, in the end, the ratings were not strong enough for NBC to order a full season of new episodes for the 1978-79 season. NBC was looking for hit shows at the time and Richie Brockelman needed to be scheduled as a follow-up after a strong lead-in, which the network did not have at the time.
‘Longstreet and Banyon’
Longstreet starred “Naked City” and “Mr. Novak” star James Franciscus as insurance investigator Mike Longstreet. After a bomb hidden in a champagne bottle kills his wife, Ingrid, and leaves him blind, Longstreet pursues and captures the killers. He then continues his career as an insurance investigator despite his blindness. Longstreet’s seeing eye dog was a white German Shepherd called Pax. The series was set in New Orleans, but was actually filmed in Los Angeles.
“Longstreet” was broadcast on the ABC in the 1971-1972 season. A 90-minute pilot movie of the same name aired prior to the debut of the series as an ABC Movie of the Week.
Banyon is a detective series set in the late 1930s in Los Angeles. It concerned the life of private investigator Miles C. Banyon, played by Robert Forster, a tough-but-honest detective who would accept essentially any case for $20 a day.
Banyon was broadcast by NBC as part of its 1972-73 television schedule, though a standalone two-hour television movie was broadcast first in March 1971. The series was a Quinn Martin Production, in association with Warner Bros. Television, the first-ever show Martin made for the NBC network, though he did not produce the pilot. The series was unable to find an adequate audience and lost in the Nielsen ratings to ABC’s “Love, American Style”and movies on CBS and was canceled midseason.
It is one of the few Quinn Martin shows not owned currently by CBS/Republic Pictures; the series rights remain with Time Warner. It is also one of only two QM shows to bill a cast member
above the title. The other is A Man Called Sloane, featuring Robert Conrad.
- Q: What star of a then-recently-completed TV series appeared in the Mannix pilot?
- Q. William Conrad used his deep voice to narrate 23 different projects during his career. Can you name any of them?
- Q. What was the original name of “Charlie’s Angels”?
- Q. Who was supposed to be Charlie?
- Q. Who was originally supposed to be “Charlie’s Angels” leader?
- Q. What star of a later TV series appeared in “The Rockford Files” pilot?
- Q. What actor who had success in both dramatic and comedy roles was cast in the pilot of “Richie Brockelman, Private Eye?”
Q: What other series did Herschel Bernardi star in?
A: Bernardi was also Arnie Nuvo, a loading dock worker whose life gets turned upside down when he is made an executive after he invents the “phlange” in “Arnie”.
Q. What other series was Paul Burke in the second casting of?
A. Burke was also Major, then Lt. Col., then Col. Joe Gallagher, the commander of the flying unit in “12 O’Clock High”, succeeding Gen. Frank Savage, played by Robert Lansing.
Q. Who starred in “Judd for the Defense”?
A. Carl Betz, right after he was Dr. Alex Stone on “The Donna Reed Show”.
Q. At the beginning of the episodes of “Police Squad!” and the “Naked Gun” movies, a red light atop a police car is shown. What is that light being shown spoofing?
A. The series’ opening credit sequence of N.Y.P.D. prominently features a closeup of a police car emergency light as the vehicle drives through the streets of New York, would later be spoofed in the 1980s comedy series and subsequent movies.
Q. What other television show did Ben Alexander star in?
A. Alexander’s role in the series was not only onscreen but also off-screen as a technical adviser. His earlier work with Jack Webb in the original “Dragnet” was the basis for this added position. He died of a heart attack less than six months after “Felony Squad” left the air.
Q. What famous producers were involved in the production of “Highway Patrol”?
A. “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry wrote five episodes, sometimes using the pseudonym “Robert Wesley”. Future producer Quinn Martin is sound supervisor in the show’s early years; style elements of “Highway Patrol” are evident in his later productions – “The Untouchables”, “The Fugitive”, “Barnaby Jones”, “The Invaders”, “The FBI” and “The Streets of San Francisco”.
Q. What stars of “Highway Patrol” were also stars of “Adam-12”?
A. William Boyett became a regular in the fourth season of “Highway Patrol” as Sgt. Ken Williams. Boyett went on to play Sgt. MacDonald in “Adam-12”. Art Gilmore as the heard but unseen narrator of “Highway Patrol”. Gilmore narrated many movie trailers and was the announcer on “The Red Skelton Show” and had a recurring role as Joe Friday’s commanding officer, Lieutenant and Captain in Dragnet, both the original late 1950s version and the series’ reprise in the late 1960s, and in “Adam-12 “and also had a recurring role as L.A. County Battalion Fire Chief Sorensen in “Emergency! “in the early and mid-1970s.
Jim Dino is the business writer for The Standard-Speaker, Hazleton. Reach him at email@example.com.