Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Warner Brothers Detective Shows (Early TV History)

Reposted by Nicholas Stix

I just stumbled onto this guy. I have no idea who he is, or if he’s even still alive. He’s a brilliant writer and student of late 1950s and early 1960s TV detective shows who reminds me a lot of Stephen Bowie, of The Classic TV History Blog, whom I also stumbled onto a week or two ago, except that schappe1 was very sloppy, which caused me a lot of editorial work.

Bourbon Street Beat: The Warner Brothers Detective Shows
By schappe1
1 March 2002

This was one of four detective shows from Warner Brothers, four of a couple dozen series they did for ABC (that MADE that network), from the mid-50s to the early 60s, under the stewardship of William Orr, and with the creative genius of Roy Huggins (who later came up with the best show of all time, The Fugitive).

Huggins had fancied himself a detective writer in the 40s, and came up with Stuart Bailey, an Ivy Leaguer with a background in World War II intelligence, who set up his own detective agency in Los Angeles. When Huggins became a story editor for Warner’s, it was decided to create a show around the Bailey character, 77 Sunset Strip, which debuted in 1958. They gave Bailey a partner, Jeff Spencer, and created the character of Kookie, the parking lot attendant, for comic relief. It set the stage for the other three, similar shows, each with a pair (or three) handsome detectives operating in glamorous or exotic locations. Warner's learned you needed a pretty girl involved, and the comic relief. They also learned from Peter Gunn that a musical interlude would occasionally be welcome.

Bourbon Street Beat, set in New Orleans, debuted in 1959. So did Hawaiian Eye, from Honolulu, and in 1960 came Surfside Six, from Miami Beach. Each had a catchy theme tune from [Hal David’s brother] Mack David and Jerry Livingstone. The plots were not very inspired but serviceable—they serviced many episodes, being frequently reused. Sometimes, Warner's would do versions of novels they owned the rights to, or TV remakes of some of their classic movies of the past, such as Strangers on a Train, or Dial M for Murder, in the guise of episodes of these shows. Characters from one show would show up on another, either in crossover episodes, or full-scale transfers of characters to be new members of the casts. This was easy, because the shows were not shot on location: It was all done in L.A.

The real difference in the shows were the cast members themselves. 77 Sunset Strip had the charming and talented Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith. It also had the "Fonzie" of the 50s, Edd Byrnes. But it lacked a significant female regular or the musical interludes.

Bourbon Street Beat had the charming and talented Richard Long, who took his charm and talent to Sunset Strip, after BSB folded in 1960. It also had craggy character actor Andrew Duggan, young pretty boy Van Williams, and Arlene Howell, a slightly ditzy Southern belle. No one here was musically inclined but a jazz combo did a turn, from time to time.

Hawaiian Eye had it all. Anthony Eisley was a competent but slightly boring lead. Young Robert Conrad had the most charisma of any of them. Connie Stevens was a cute songbird who belted out the classic Tin Pan Alley and show tunes. Poncie Ponce was a ukulele-strumming cab driver who knew every place and everyone, or had a cousin who did.

Surfside Six was maybe the weakest entry. Lee Patterson had some presence and acting ability but Van Williams, (over from BSB) and Troy Donahue were attractive but talent-challenged. Marguerite Sierra was a clichéd Latin Spitfire songstress (who, unfortunately, died young of a heart ailment). Diane McBain was attractive window-dressing.

The other main difference was the setting. 77 Sunset Strip was about glamorous people up to no good, or international intrigue, and Stu Bailey traveled a lot more than these other guys did. Hawaiian Eye was exotic—perhaps a little too much so, with an occasional embarrassing story about witch doctors and voodoo-type curses, and such. Natives were played by guys from Jersey and Chicago in the grand tradition. Surfside Six had a beach boy look to it. Bourbon Street Beat was darker and more mysterious. New Orleans at that time was not a tourist trap but a relic of the Old South, in which Miss Havisham's cake might have seemed at home.

But they were all pretty solid entertainment. If you liked one, I'm sure you'd like them all—if you could find them. They are all in black and white, so cable stations are loathe to show them. It seems that the moment a younger audience sees those monotones, they turn the station. It's too bad. They don't know what they're missing.


David In TN said...

I watched all of them. My favorite was 77 Sunset Strip. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was a strong actor and I liked Roger Smith as well.

LBD said...

One of the greatest was Naked City. My sister recently loaned me the boxed set (all 4 seasons), all filmed in the streets of New York. It's such a kick seeing megastars when they were young and hungry--1959-1963. Dustin Hoffman as a juvenile delinquent, George C. Scott as a tortured sculptor, Peter Falk as a psychotic criminal, Nehemiah Persoff as about six different characters in six different episodes. The star, Paul Burke I guess was a "Redford" (he took over from James Franciscus after the first season) but even in black and white you can tell he has freckles and dark red hair.

Most poignant is to see the crowd scenes, how much better even the poor people dressed then. I was born in 1950. Now all the young men seem to me to be dressed as circus clowns, the young women as streetwalkers.