Sunday, January 31, 2016

Nostalgia Theater: Jake and the Fatman Edition

Two weeks ago I discussed the P.I. series Riptide, which lasted three seasons on NBC. That got me thinking about how series star Joe Penny landed himself a gig just two seasons later where he was once again playing half of a quirky detective team, this time as the titular
"Jake" in CBS' Jake and the Fatman. One of those patented "gimmick" detective shows that were the Eye network's bread-and-butter back in the day, Penny was Jake Styles, a roguish L.A. cop who also worked as an investigator for tough-as-nails (and big-boned) prosecutor J.L. "Fatman" McCabe (William Conrad). Together, they'd solve crimes. That was the show. Here's the pilot intro, with the characters helpfully describing each other to us:


Premiering on September 26, 1987 (one day after I turned eight), Jake and the Fatman was created by Dean Hargrove and Joel Steiger. Hargrove had previously created the Andy Griffith lawyer series Matlock the previous season, which found enormous success on NBC. As it happens, he'd used the booming-voiced Conrad (best known as the go-to "voice of God" for countless TV projects, and as star of the '70s skein Cannon) for a Matlock two-parter, and used that role as the basis for what would eventually become the Fatman (as a different character, though, so Fatman isn't a Matlock spin-off despite what some think).

Like so many of these gimmick shows, Jake and the Fatman was painfully predictable. But then again it wasn't really meant to grip you and not let go. It was TV comfort food. And like Simon and Simon or Magnum P.I. (which Jake followed to Hawaii following that show's conclusion), heck, like Riptide, the appeal of the series rested almost entirely on seeing characters we liked bring down characters we didn't. McCable was fat, tough, and mean -- with a heart of gold. Styles slick, tough and smooth -- also with a heart of gold. And their byplay was enough to keep audiences around for five seasons and a hundred-plus episodes.

While Jake and the Fatman (which also boasted Star Trek: Voyager creator Jeri Taylor and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski on its staff) ended its run in Spring of '92 (Conrad passed away two years later), its legacy would actually continue for several more years. After Dick Van Dyke guest-starred in a fourth season episode of Jake as crime-solving doctor Mark Sloan, his character proved popular enough garner a spin-off, Diagnosis: Murder, which became a weekly skein in 1993 and lasted for eight further seasons. Not a bad run for a Fatman!

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Ghostbusters Cereal -- Whatcha Gonna Eat? 

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Thinkin' 'bout Thundarr

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Oh Brother, Simon & Simon

Four Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The G.I. Joe Comic Commercials

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