Sunday, February 28, 2016

Nostalgia Theater: David Janssen is Harry O

In the early '70s, there weren't very many TV stars bigger than David Janssen, who was a beloved figure with audiences thanks to his four-season run as Dr. Richard Kimble on The Fugitive, which wrapped up in 1967 with what was -- and remains to this day -- one of the highest rated TV broadcasts of all time as audiences finally saw Dr. Kimble clear his own name and track down the One-Armed Man (it would later get a series remake in 2000 starring Tim Daly). In the years following The Fugitive's conclusion, Janssen appeared in several films, but never quite crossed over to big screen stardom.

In 1971, he returned to the small screen as the star of O'Hara, U.S. Treasury. But while that didn't make a mark, the following year Janssen top-lined TV movie Such Dust As Dreams Are Made Of. Airing in March of '73, Janssen was Los Angeles P.I. Harry Orwell, a rumpled former cop who relies on his wits rather than his mitts. The movie, a backdoor pilot, did well enough for ABC to order a second pilot, Smile Jenny, You're Dead, which aired in February of '74, and led the network to pull the trigger on a full series, which began the next fall. Here's the quintessentially '70s intro:

Created by Howard Rodman, Harry O was similar in many ways to what James Garner was doing over on NBC at right around the same time with The Rockford Files. Nonetheless, Janssen was an unquestionably charismatic lead who was a draw all by himself, and largely on the back of audience fondness for him Harry O found a decent audience. Not huge, but decent. Still, the network saw the opportunity for ratings to improve, and retooled the show a bit, jettisoning co-star Henry Darrow and adding Anthony Zerbe as Orwell's police contact. In the process, they also switched up the theme music:

Harry O did well enough during its first year to garner a second season pickup, and ratings remained at their solid level, but it fell victim to intra-network politics. With new ABC prexy Fred Silverman looking to remake the schedule in his own image, Harry's numbers, while perfectly okay, weren't high enough to make the show "untouchable," and thus Silverman canned the series and gave its slot to Charlie's Angels. Now, given the longevity that show enjoyed, it's hard to argue with the decision, but it is a shame, because Harry O deserved longer than it got.

In fact, Janssen was so irked by the whole situation that he swore off series TV. He'd continue to appear in films and special projects (he and Zerbe would both appear -- albeit not opposite each other -- in the 1978 miniseries Centennial) before passing away suddenly of a heart attack in 1980. He was only 48 at the time, and one thinks about the many more projects he might have done if not for his untimely passage. Regardless, while Harry O is more of a footnote in TV detective history than a chapter all to itself, all 44 episodes are available on DVD from Warner Bros. If The Rockford Files is your jam and you're looking for something in that vein, it's worth giving Harry a call.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: WildC.A.T.s -- More Craptastic Saturday Morning Superheroes

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: DuckTales! Woo-ooh!

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: RoboCop: The Series -- The Future of Law Enforcement Gets Syndicated

Four Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Night Man -- Marvel's Short-Lived Media Star

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