The ’80s brought us a variation on the private eye theme – the duo.
And it was done, ironically, with the second generation of the private eye.
“Remington Steele” starred Stephanie Zimbalist – daughter of Efrem Zimblast Jr., AKA Stu Bailey of “77 Sunset Strip” – as Laura Holt, a licensed private investigator who opened a detective agency under her own name but found potential clients refused to hire a woman, no matter how qualified. To solve the problem, Laura invents a fictitious male superior she names “Remington Steele.”
This sounds familiar. How many remember “Honey West” with Anne Francis? This beautiful young woman took over her father’s detective agency after his death.
Through a series of events in the first episode, “License to Steele”, Pierce Brosnan’s character, a former thief and con man whose real name even he proves not to know and is never revealed, assumes the identity of “Remington Steele.” Behind the scenes, a power struggle ensues between Laura and Steele as to who is really in charge, while the two carry on a casual romantic relationship.
Yes, dad makes a few appearances as Daniel Chalmers, a charming con man who was Steele’s mentor and, ironically, later revealed to be his biological father. Isn’t that a kick in the pants, HIS father? They use Beverly Garland from “My Three Sons” as Abigail Holt, Laura’s mother.
The series was co-created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason. produced by MTM Enterprises and broadcast on NBC for five TV seasons, from October, 1982, to February, 1987. The series blended the genres of romantic comedy, drama, detective procedures and, even international political intrigue and espionage.
Another familiar face is “Everybody Loves Raymond” mother Doris Roberts – who my daughter says reminds her of her grandmother, my mother;
Some others are: Michael Constantine and Lloyd Nolan, from “Room 222”; comedian and former “Family Feud host Louie Anderson; Delta Burke, Annie Potts, and Jean Smart, of “Designing Women”; Geena Davis, from “A League of Their Own”, “Beetlejuice” and “Transylvania 6-5000”; New York Yankee greats Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle; Conrad Janis, of “Mork and Mindy”; Jeffrey Jones, of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”; John Larroquette, Dan Fielding from “Night Court”; Judith Light, from “Who’s The Boss”; Rose Marie, from “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; Paul Reiser, from “Mad About You”; Peter Scolari, from “Bosom Buddies” and “Newhart”; Sharon Stone, from “Basic Instinct” and Barry Van Dyke, from “Diagnosis, Murder”.
“Remington Steele” is best known for launching Brosnan’s career, since he went on to play James Bond in two films, “The World is Not Enough” in 1999 and “Die Another Day” in 2002.
“Remington Steele” referenced film noir in the mystery storylines. It subverted 1970s detective show conventions by telling its stories from the point of view of an independent, professional woman. At a time when hour-long series were serious and half-hour series were humorous, Steele incorporated multiple styles of comedy into the standard detective format. It pioneered the slowly evolving “will they or won’t they” relationship arc that is now common to television drama of all genres.
Some women looked up to the character of Laura Holt as a role model. In 2005, Robin Rauzi published an article in the Los Angeles Times saying that Laura Holt was her hero.
In a subsequent interview Rauzi elaborated that Laura “was one of the only examples of an unmarried modern career woman on TV that I could identify with at that time” and that Laura “didn’t seem that far away from who I was and who I could be.” Rauzi concludes, “I’ve decided to stop being embarrassed to say “Remington Steele” changed my life. It did and for the better.”
“Remington Steele’s” initial premise was conceived in 1969 by long-time television director Robert Butler as a series featuring a solo female private investigator. Butler pitched the idea to Grant Tinker before he was head of MTM, but Tinker felt the series was ahead of its time.
In January 1980, following the success of several sitcoms featuring working women, including the groundbreaking “Mary Tyler Moore Show”, Butler and Tinker, now head of MTM, revived the concept. MTM Vice President of Programming Stu Erwin felt Butler’s concept was only “half a show” and suggested that Butler work with veteran writer Michael Gleason to expand the premise. Imagining Holt’s fictional boss, Gleason proposed to Butler, “Wouldn’t it be great if he showed up and made her crazy?” In 1981, Gleason, Butler, Erwin and Tinker pitched the series to NBC and were initially rejected by executives who failed to “get” the premise. Shortly thereafter, Tinker left MTM to become chairman of NBC, then the number-three network, and subsequently a pilot was ordered.
Zimbalist, an established actress with roles in several television movies, initially turned the role down after being approached. Conversly, Brosnan auditioned for the role of “Remington Steele” but was initially refused by NBC executives who were concerned that Brosnan was a relative unknown in America. MTM’s Stu Erwin stood firm in a face-to-face meeting with NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff and Tartikoff relented.
Originally, NBC asked for a pilot that imagined the series six months into its run, with the characters already working together in the detective agency. This pilot was produced in February and March 1982 and was eventually aired with revisions as “Tempered Steele”. NBC had some concerns about audience confusion over this episode, but ultimately agreed to schedule the series for the 1982-83 season. NBC also asked for a premise pilot which told the story of how Laura Holt met the man who became “Remington Steele.” This second pilot, “License to Steele”, became the first episode aired in the series.
Gleason originally wanted the characters to have a real marriage at the end of season four and had plans for how to change the series in season five to accommodate the change, but both Brosnan and Zimbalist rejected the idea.
The series was canceled at the end of the 1985-86 television season, although it still had a 28% share of the audience in its time slot. According to Gleason, Brandon Tartikoff’s decision to give an early pick-up to the Stephen J. Cannell series “Hunter” left no room on the NBC schedule for “Remington Steele.” Two months after the cancellation, NBC executive Warren Littlefield reversed the decision, responding to an outpouring of support from fans and a sharp upswing in the show’s ratings during the summer of 1986.
The cancellation and reversal affected film role opportunities for Brosnan and Zimbalist, as both had received firm offers to do films in the interim. Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli offered Brosnan the part of James Bond for the film “The Living Daylights”. Following NBC’s reversal, Broccoli stated he did not want Bond to be identified with a current TV series and instead gave the role to Timothy Dalton. Brosnan became 007 in 1995, making his debut in the film “Goldeneye. Zimbalist had accepted the role of Officer Anne Lewis in the science-fiction movie “RoboCop” and was forced to pull out of that production, to be replaced by Nancy Allen.
NBC reversed the cancellation but did not slot a full twenty-two-episode season into their schedule. The final abbreviated season consisted of six hours of made-for-TV films broadcast in early 1987, including installments filmed on location in Mexico, London, and Ireland. The circumstances surrounding Steele’s birth as well as the identity of Steele’s father are revealed in the final episode. The final scene of the series implied that Steele and Laura were about to consummate their relationship.
“Remington Steele” is also recognized a forerunner of the similar, edgier series “Moonlighting”, and was also an influential part of television history in its own right. Some evaluations suggest the show was solidly crafted, well-acted and groundbreaking in its own way. Others say the series has aged better than some other series of its time and genre.
Cybill Shepherd is Maddie Hayes, a former model who finds herself bankrupt after her accountant embezzles all of her liquid assets. She is left saddled with several failing businesses formerly maintained as tax write-offs, one of which is the City of Angels Detective Agency, helmed by the carefree David Addison played by Bruce Willis. Between the pilot and the first one-hour episode, David persuades Maddie to keep the business and run it as a partnership. The agency is renamed Blue Moon Investigations because Maddie was most famous for being the spokesmodel for the Blue Moon Shampoo Company.
The show was groundbreaking in many ways, a mixture of drama, comedy, mystery, romance, and was considered to be one of the first successful and influential examples of comedy-drama, or “dramedy”, emerging as a distinct television genre.
It was also known for its sharp dialogue and sexual tension between its two leads, introduced Willis to the world and brought Shepherd back into the spotlight after a nearly decade-long absence. The characters were introduced in a two-hour pilot episode that preceded the series.
The show’s theme song was co-written and performed by jazz singer Al Jarreau and became a hit. The show is also credited with making Willis a star, while re-launching the career of Shepherd after a string of lackluster projects.
In 1997, the episode “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” was ranked #34 on the 1997 TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2007, the series was listed as one of Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-Time”. The relationship between David and Maddie was included in TV Guide’s list of the best TV couples of all time.
The series was created by Glenn Gordon Caron, one of the producers of the similar “Remington Steele”, when he was approached by ABC executive Lewis H. Erlicht. Erlicht liked the work Caron had done on “Taxi” and “Remington Steele”, and wanted a detective show featuring a major star in a leading role who would appeal to an upscale audience. Caron wanted to do a romance, to which Erlicht replied, “I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s a detective show.”
By the time he had written 50 pages for the pilot to the show, Caron says he realized he was writing the part for Cybill Shepherd. After reading the script, she immediately realized this was a part she wanted to do.
Bruce Willis is David Addison, the wisecracking detective running the City of Angels Detective Agency. Faced with the prospect of being put out of business, he convinces Maddie that they have always lost money because they were supposed to and talks her into rebranding the agency and going into business with him as her partner. Caron had to fight with ABC to put Willis in the lead role having already signed Shepherd for both the pilot and series. Caron claims he tested Willis about a third of the way through testing over 2,000 actors, knew “this was the guy” immediately, and had to fight through twice as many more acting tests and readings while arguing with ABC executives before receiving initial conditional authorization to cast Willis in the pilot. ABC, according to Caron, did not feel that anyone viewing would think there could possibly be any “believable” sexual tension between Shepherd and Willis.
Allyce Beasley played Agnes DiPesto, the extremely loyal and quirky receptionist for the detective agency who always answers the phone in rhyme. In season two, it is revealed that she lives at 6338 Hope Street. As problems arose with getting Willis and Shepherd on screen due to personal issues, the writers started to focus on the relationship between Agnes and fellow Blue Moon employee Herbert Viola. In the series finale, Agnes berates Maddie and David for not being able to figure out their nitwit relationship as the entire set is dismantled and states “if there’s a God in heaven, he’ll spin Herbert and me off in our own series.”
A lot of personalities appeared as themselves: Mary Hart, in the pilot episode; The Temptations; fight promoter Don King; model Cheryl Tiegs; TV gossip guru Rona Barrett; movie director Peter Bogdanovich; advice guru Dr. Joyce Brothers, and blues master Ray Charles.
Other notables who appeared were: Eva Marie Saint and Robert Webber as Virginia and Alexander Hayes, Maddie’s parents; Mark Harmon, from NCIS: Dennis Dugan, from “Richie Brokelman, Private Eye”; Virginia Madsen, from “Long Gone”; Tim Robbins, Nuke LaLoosh from “Bull Durham”; Barbara Bain from “Mission: Impossible”; Dana Delany from “China Beach”; Mark Linn-Baker, from “Perfect Strangers”; Whoopi Goldberg, from “Sister Act” and “Ghost”; Paul Sorvino, from “Goodfellas”; Lionel Stander as Max, his character from “Hart to Hart”; Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele; Donna Dixon, aka Mrs. Dan Aykroyd, from “Bosom Buddies”; John Goodman, from “Blues Brothers 2000”; Imogene Coca, from “National Lampoon’s Vacation”; as Clara DePesto, Miss DePesto’s mother; Jennifer Tilly, from “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and voice-overs, and Demi Moore, Bruce Willis’s wife at the time.
The show made use of fast-paced, overlapping dialogue between the two leads, harking back to classic screwball comedy films. These innovative qualities resulted in its being nominated, for the first time in the 50-year history of the Directors Guild of America, for both Best Drama and Best Comedy in the same year – both in 1985 and 1986.
Moonlighting frequently broke the fourth wall, with many episodes including dialogue that made direct references to the scriptwriters, the audience, the network, or the series itself. For example, when a woman is trying to commit suicide by jumping into a bathtub with a television playing The Three Stooges, Addison says, “The Stooges? Are you nuts? The network’ll never let you do that, lady!”
The series also embraced fantasy; in season two, the show aired “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice,” an episode that features two lengthy and elaborately produced black-and-white dream sequences. David and Maddie are told about a murder that occurred in the 1940s by the inheritor of the then-famous nightclub where the murder took place. Maddie and David feud over whether the man or woman who were executed for the crime was the real murderer. The two dream sequences present each detective’s version of how the murder took place.
They were filmed on black-and-white film stock so that they would look like true period films.
Fearing fan reaction to a popular show being shown in black and white, ABC demanded a disclaimer be made at the beginning of the episode to inform viewers of the “black-and-white” gimmick for the episode. The show’s producers hired Orson Welles to deliver the introduction, which aired a few days after the actor’s death.
In addition, the show mocked its connection to the “Remington Steele” series by having Pierce Brosnan hop networks and make a cameo appearance as Steele in one episode. The show also acknowledged “Hart to Hart” as an influence: in the episode “It’s a Wonderful Job,” based on the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Maddie’s guardian angel showed her an alternate reality in which Jonathan and Jennifer Hart from the earlier series had taken over Blue Moon’s lease. Although Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers did not appear in the episode, Lionel Stander reprised his role as the Harts’ assistant Max.
“Moonlighting” was a hit with TV audiences as well as with critics and industry insiders, with 16 Emmy nominations for the second season which saw “Moonlighting” tie for 20th place in the Nielsen ratings. In season three, the show peaked at 9th, then dropped off slightly to tie for 12th in the 4th season.
Neither of the principal stars was vested in the final season of the show. Bruce Willis, fresh from his “Die Hard” success, wanted to make more movies. Cybill Shepherd, having just given birth to twins, had grown tired of the long, grueling production days and was ready for the series to end.
In keeping with the show’s tradition of “breaking the fourth wall”, the last episode (fittingly titled “Lunar Eclipse”) featured Maddie and David returning from Agnes and Herbert’s wedding to find the Blue Moon sets being taken away, and an ABC network executive waiting to tell them that the show has been canceled. The characters then race through the studio lot in search of a television producer named Cy, as the world of “Moonlighting” is slowly dismantled.
When they find Cy, he is screening a print of “In ‘n Outlaws”, the episode of “Moonlighting” that had aired two weeks earlier. Once informed of the problem, Cy lectures David and Maddie on the perils of losing their audience and the fragility of romance. Cy was played by Dennis Dugan, the same actor who had played Walter Bishop in Maddie’s marriage storyline – however,
Dugan was also the director of the episode, so his acting credit was listed as “Walter Bishop”.
David and Maddie then admit defeat that the show is ending but not before Maddie tells David, “I can’t imagine not seeing you again tomorrow’ and then viewers are treated to a clip montage of previous Moonlighting episodes and then it ends with a message stating that “Blue Moon Investigations ceased operations on May 14, 1989. The Anselmo Case was never solved… and remains a mystery to this day.”
“Moonlighting” was nominated for a wide range of awards, including nominations for 40 Emmy Awards of which it won 7. It was also nominated for 10 Golden Globe Awards, of which it won 3.
‘Scarecrow and Mrs. King’
“Scarecrow and Mrs. King” aired on CBS from October 1983 to May 1987.
The show starred former “Charlie’s Angels” and “The Rookies” star Kate Jackson as Amanda King and Bruce Boxleitner as top-level “Agency” operative Lee Stetson, who begin an unusual partnership and eventual romance after encountering one another in a train station.
Amanda King is a divorced housewife who lives with her young sons, Philip and Jamie, and her mother, Dotty, played by “My Three Sons” alum Beverly Garland.
One morning, Stetson, code-named “Scarecrow”, hands her a package while he is being pursued. He instructs her to “give it to the man in the red hat”, but she is unable to complete the assignment, as there are many men in fezzes in the train car at the time. Scarecrow later has to track her down to recover the package, inadvertently getting her involved with his case.
When Stetson is captured by his pursuers and marked for elimination, King ends up solving the secret behind the package, finding and rescuing Stetson, and even taking down their opponents, thereby getting introduced to the Agency.
Inquisitive, King seeks to learn more about the organization and ends up working for them, first in an office role and later receiving training to become a full agent, while keeping her new job a secret from her family. She works under Stetson’s boss, Billy Melrose, and with dismissive fellow agent Francine Desmond. Stetson and King work together even though he is initially reluctant to work with the “rookie” but eventually they become a good team.
The pair travel to places like Germany and England and help each other as they pose as other people, sometimes posing as husband and wife. Escapades involving cruise ships and getting “married” are some of their assignments, and the KGB or other enemies of the United States are always involved. Amanda’s ex-husband, Joe King, is still friendly with Amanda and is later suspected of murder.
Stetson and King develop a friendship that turns into a romantic relationship. While many suitors for King and Stetson appear, in the end they stay with each other. Stetson professes his love for King before going into hiding from the Agency, and he then proposes after her kidnapping. However, because of concerns for the safety of King’s family, they must keep the marriage secret from their employer, friends, and families.
Jean Stapleton, “The Dingbat” Edith Bunker from “All in the Family”; Howard Duff, from “Felony Squad”, was Stetson’s mentor Captain Harry Thornton, and TV vet John Saxon appear in the series.
“Scarecrow and Mrs. King” won a 1986 Emmy Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series Dramatic Underscore ” for the episode “We’re Off to See the Wizard”.
It was nominated for multiple awards during its four-year run, including two Emmy award nominations in 1985 for “Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series” and “Outstanding Achievement in Costuming” and another nomination in 1986 for “Outstanding Achievement in Costuming for a Series”. It was nominated for a 1985 Golden Globe award for “Outstanding Cinematography for a Series” for the episode “D.O.A.: Delirious On Arrival”, and in 1988 the American Society of Cinematographers nominated it for the “Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Regular Series” award.
Scarecrow and Mrs. King finished both the 1983-1984 and 1984-1985 seasons as the 20th most watched program on television. The program finished the 1985-1986 season as the 28th most watched program on television but the ratings dropped when the show was moved to Friday nights for the 1986-1987 television season.
‘Hardcastle and McCormick’
“Hardcastle and McCormick” aired on ABC from Sept. 18, 1983, through May 5, 1986. The series stars Brian Keith as Judge Milton C. Hardcastle and Daniel Hugh Kelly as ex-con and race car driver Mark “Skid” McCormick.
During an interview in the 1980s, producer Stephen J. Cannell referred to the then-upcoming series as Rolling Thunder.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Milton C. “Hardcase” Hardcastle, an eccentric judge notorious for being strict with the law in both his duties and towards defendants, is retiring. With file drawers filled with 200 people who escaped conviction due to legal technicalities, the judge, inspired by his childhood hero the Lone Ranger, desires to make the criminals answer for their crimes. Mark McCormick is a smart-mouthed, streetwise car thief. He faces a long incarceration for his latest theft, a prototype sports car called the Coyote X, designed by his murdered best friend. Together, the judge and the car thief strike a deal: Hardcastle helps McCormick catch the murderer; McCormick agrees to work as the judge’s agent. In addition, McCormick is allowed to keep the Coyote, which proves to be an excellent pursuit vehicle for their needs.
To give the series viability, two former “cops” are added – Ed Bernard as Lt. Bill Giles. Bernard played Det. Joe Styles, one of the squad members of “Police Woman” Angie Dickinson, and Joe Santos as Lt. Frank Harper. Santos was Dennis Becker, private eye Jim Rockford’s police pal for six years in “The Rockford Files”.
The series premise was somewhat recycled from a previous Cannell series, “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe”. It was created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell, serving as the executive producers, and produced by Stephen J. Cannell Productions for ABC.
The opening theme song during season one was entitled “Drive”. It was composed by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer and sung by David Morgan. For the first 12 episodes of season two, the theme song was “Back to Back”, also composed by Post and Geyer, but sung by Joey Scarbury.
‘Simon and Simon’
“Simon & Simon” was broadcast for the entirety of the 1980s on CBS.
The show revolves around the decisively polar-opposite Simon brothers, Rick, portrayed by Gerald McRaney and Andrew Jackson, or “A.J.”, played by Jameson Parker, who run a San Diego detective agency.
Rick is the less-refined, but still pleasant, United States Marine Corps Vietnam veteran with a penchant for cowboy boots, denim and four-wheel drive pickups. His brother, A.J. Simon, is a college graduate with a Wall Street look, a polished fellow with a taste for classic cars and tailored suits. A.J. was a practicing Catholic; Rick was not. Rick lived on a boat in A.J.’s waterfront property. A.J. preferred to follow the rules, while Rick was much more of a free spirit, using a classic P.I. type of approach. Rick’s Dodge Power Wagon is notable for its dull paint and conspicuously large metal bumper/ramming device. A.J. could afford to be more fashionable in his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible or a customized Chevrolet Camaro Z28, or a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro RS convertible.
The contrasting ways in which the brothers go about their investigations and the subsequent personality conflicts between them provided much of the drama in each week’s episode.
Although Rick Simon is a few years older than A.J., in fact McRaney and Parker were both born in 1947 and have only a three-month age difference.
The original 1978 pilot, called “Pirate’s Key”, was set in Florida. When CBS picked up the show, the characters’ home was changed from Florida to San Diego, California, where the show was filmed for the first season. Due to the production costs and low ratings, filming and production moved to Los Angeles, although the show continued to be set in San Diego for the course of its eight-year run on CBS.
The series was created by executive producer Philip DeGuere, who credited his inspirations as a request from a CBS executive to create something like a modern “Butch and Sundance”, and a spec pilot DeGuere had recently read about a divorced husband and wife detective team written by Bob Shayne, whom DeGuere hired to write during the first two seasons. Shayne continued to write episodes for the series during its run, and together, they went on to create the CBS series “Whiz Kids”.
- What husband and wife team were members of the supporting cast on “Simon and Simon?
- What role is Tim Reid best known for?
- What was significant about who played Amanda King’s ex-husband on “Scarecrow and Mrs. King?
- Joey Scarbury sang one theme song for “Scarecrow and Mrs. King”. What otrher TV series did Scarbury sing the theme for?
Q: What two actors famous for other TV series appeared as private investigators in “Murder, She Wrote”?
A: Jerry Orbach, who later became the wisecracking detective in “Law and Order”, portrayed as Harry McGraw, an old-school private investigator who befriends Jessica Fletcher. The character popular enough to garner his own, short-lived spin-off series in 1987, “The Law & Harry McGraw”, starring Orbach and Barbara Babcock. The other PI was Wayne Rogers, Trapper John from “M*A*S*H” who played Charlie Garrett, a disreputable private investigator who usually gets into trouble and needs Jessica’s help.
Q. Only the voice of Robin Masters was heard on “Magnum, P.I.” Who provided it?
A. The voice of Robin Masters, heard only in five episodes, was provided by Orson Welles, and in one case, by Red Crandell.
Q. What other series did John Hillerman star in before “Magnum”?
A. Hillerman played Mr. Connors, Ann Romano’s boss, in “One Day at a Time”. He didn’t know how to pronounce “Ms”, so he used to call her “M-S Romano.”
Q. In what other series did Joe Santos play a detective?
A. Santos was Dennis Becker, with varying ranks, who was Jim Rockford’s friend in th LAPD in “The Rockford Files”.
Q. Who played Grady Fletcher’s wife in “Murder, She Wrote”?
A. After many romantic disasters, Grady gets married later in the series. In real life, Horton is married to actress Debbie Zipp, who played Grady’s eventual wife Donna Mayberry in several episodes. The two were married before working together on “Murder, She Wrote”.
Q. Colonel “Buck” Greene: A Marine Corps aviator and intelligence officer, was played by Lance LeGault, often Magnum’s nemesis. In what other series does LeGault play a military officer?
A. LeGault played Army Col. Decker, was the leading team leader pursuing “The A-Team”. Gen. Harlan “Bull” Fullbright, played by Jack Ging, was the other pursuer.
Jim Dino is the business writer for The Standard-Speaker, Hazleton. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.