Saturday, November 16, 2013

The NBC Mystery Movie

One--or two...or more... depending on how you look at it-- of my favorite TV series in the seventies was the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE. This was what became known as  a wheel series, offering a different series each week in rotation in a 90 minute or sometimes 2 hour movie format. The most famous, of course, was COLUMBO with Peter Falk's unique characterization of the ramshackle genius detective spinning off from an earlier TV movie and running off and on in various formats for more than 3 decades.

My favorite though was McCLOUD. It started off on another rotating series but moved to the Mystery Movie and became a staple through the decade. Dennis Weaver finally finds his niche as a fish out of water cowboy detective in Manhattan. Loosely inspired by Clint Eastwood's COOGAN'S BLUFF.

Nick and Nora Charles got an update in the form of San Francisco Police Commissioner and Sally McMillan, stars of MCMILLAN AND WIFE. Although much, much younger than star Rock Hudson, Susan St. James offered sexy, zany byplay to some taut mysteries. After a few episodes, Hudson shaved his mustache, cut his hair and began to let it go grey. By the last season, the show lost Susan and continued on as simply McMILLAN.

In movies, BANACEK's George Peppard was always rather cold and wooden but in this made to order series about a rich Boston insurance investigator (vaguely similar to radio's YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR), that comes across as the epitome of cool.  

HEC RAMSEY reunited the volatile producer/star of the fifties series MEDIC for an excellent western with a twist that the aging, rustic hero, was actually a scientific detective. Former Paladin Richard Boone returned to TV for one last hurrah in what many have speculated to be literally an updated HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL.

THE SNOOP SISTERS was a delightful short run series with Helen hayes and Mildred Natwick sort of presaging Jessica Fletcher times two as aging mystery novelists who solve murders against their police detective nephew's wishes.

Perennial sidekick James McCeachin was Tenafly, a cool cop in hot times. He was great but the series never caught on.

Jessica Walter probably guest starred in every single one of the series above and below as she was in everything in the seventies but here was her chance to shine as a lady police chief. Unfortunately, she didn't get to shine long.

After COLUMBO, Jack Klugman's QUINCY, ME, about a medial examiner who solves murders  must surely be considered the next most successful of the Mystery Movie series, graduating to its own along-running one hour show.

With McCloud and McMillan hits, NBC tried again with McCOY bringing film star Tony Curtis to TV as a reformed gambler who solves mysteries.

FARRADAY AND COMPANY starred former big screen hoofer Dan Dailey as a man who escapes from a South American prison and returns to the US many years later to find a private investigator son he never knew he had. Togetehr, they solve mysteries.

James Farentino's COOL MILLION was almost a hot blooded version of BANACEK.

And finally, film star Richard Widmark brought his 1968 movie character MADIGAN to TV for a short run.


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