Friday, August 31, 2012


Guess what, Team Toobworld?  I'm going on vacation again!

I'll spare you the sight of that trippy can of mushroom soup this time out......

So the last few days of our salute to 'Centennial' and to TV Westerns in general will wind down to the end of the month.  I'll conclude the vacation with the spotlight on a 1999 TV movie based on a classic British novel which - like 'Centennial' - featured some farmers.  

But in between those two themes......

In the book "The Best Of Crime & Detective TV (The Critics' Choice)", it was bemoaned by author Max Allan Collins that today's audiences would not get a chance to see the 1961 police procedural '87th Precinct' because there weren't enough episodes for syndication.

That book was copywright 1988. Although the home video market was just getting underway, the real boom began with the arrival of DVD boxed sets. And as of August 7, this critically-praised series (based on the novels of Ed McBain) finally hit the street.

From Wikipedia:
'87th Precinct' is an American crime drama starring Robert Lansing, Gena Rowlands, and Ron Harper, which aired on NBC on Monday evenings during the 1961–1962 television season.

The program was based on a number of detective novels by Evan Hunter (under the pen name Ed McBain) that featured Lansing as Detective Steve Carella, who worked in the fictional city of Isola, patterned on Manhattan, New York City. Rowlands played Carella's deaf-mute wife, Teddy. Ron Harper played rookie detective Bert Kling. Other detective roles were portrayed by Gregory Walcott as seasoned veteran Roger Havilland and Norman Fell as the eccentric Meyer Meyer.

'87th Precinct' premiered on September 25, 1961, and concluded its first-run episodes on April 30, 1962. Repeats continued until September 10, 1962. It was a creation of Hubbell Robinson Productions.

The program faced stiff competition on CBS from 'The Danny Thomas Show' and its spin-off, 'The Andy Griffith Show'. At the time, ABC aired the second and last season of another detective program, 'Surfside 6', starring Troy Donahue and Van Williams.

Although Isola was the location in the books, I think Manhattan served as the setting in the series. I could be mistaken on this (as I am on so many things), but at the very least, plenty of online sites make the assumption that it did take place in Manhattan.

According to the fantastic TV blog Classic TV History, 'Kraft Mystery Theatre' produced two live adaptations of McBain novels about the 87th Precinct.  In the first, Michael Higgins played Detective Carella, to be followed a few weeks later by Robert Bray in the role.  (Martin Rudy played Meyer Meyer in both productions.)

Because it eventually went to series with Robert Lansing, Norman Fell, Ron Harper, and Gregory Walcott in the main roles, that will be considered the official version of '87th Precinct for Toobworld.  As for the other two, they are the rare prequels that are banished to alternate TV dimensions.  (And because of the recasting on at least Steve Carella, they go to separate alt-Toobworlds.)

From the review by Skees of Sitcoms Online:
It is worth noting that there is a bit of irony in the novel series written by Ed McBain, which by the way were still written all the way up through his death in 2005. By his own admission, he received his inspiration from 'Dragnet'. Over 20 years after the first 87th Precinct novel was published, elements of this novel series inspired another TV show on NBC... 'Hill Street Blues'. And reportedly, this didn't exactly thrill McBain, as he felt that his ideas had been stolen (although he didn't make a big deal over it, because by his own acknowledgment, he, too, had used ideas of others).

Skees also provided a breakdown of each episode available on the DVD set, comprising the entire first (and only) season of the series:

The set begins with "The Floater," where Carella is on the hunt for a sadistic man (played by Robert Culp) preying on lonely women. In "Lady in Waiting," a woman decides to wait for her husband's release from prison by bringing a gun into the precinct and threatening to use it. The detectives follow up on an anonymous note about a death threat in "Lady Killer." A disgruntled ex-cop keeps committing the perfect robberies in "The Modus Man." In "Line of Duty," Kling is forced to shoot (and kill) a suspect, and can't help but to feel badly about it. A pregnant wife keeps a man from cooperating with the police in "Occupation, Citizen." Beverly Garland and Jack Albertson guest star in "Killer's Payoff," where a blackmailer is murdered. Meyer arrests an old friend for a robbery in "The Guilt," but things get worse for the man when he escapes police custody. In "The Empty Hours," a woman (Pat Crowley) decides to pretend to be a deceased friend for financial gain, unaware that the friend is wanted by a killer. A young man is suspected of murdering a coed in "My Friend, My Enemy."

Leonard Nimoy guest stars in "The Very Hard Sell," where a used car salesman is found dead, 
slumped over a steering wheel. In "'Til Death," an about-to-be-married couple is getting some anonymous threats. A crook (played by Robert Vaughn) sets off false alarms everywhere to commit a more serious crime, hopefully unnoticed, in "The Heckler." In "Run, Rabbit, Run," a condemned gangster has much more planned beyond his death. The detectives investigate death threats toward a boxer in "Main Event." In "Man in a Jam," a man arrested for murder has some creative ways of trying to get out of trouble. A hand found in a dumpster leads to a murder investigation in "Give the Boys a Great Big Hand." Dawn Wells guest stars in "Out of Order," where telephone booths (what are those, again?) are the target of explosions. In "The Pigeon," a man (played by Peter Falk) is a smalltime criminal but wants to pretend to be bigger... making him the perfect fall guy for some serious criminals. Frank Sutton also guest stars. A 10-year-old may be helpful in solving a murder in "A Bullet for Katie."

A kidnapping doesn't go as planned in "King's Ransom." Both John Astin and Nancy Reagan (in one of her very last appearances as "just another actress" in a TV series) guest star. Meyer needs some rest while feeling ill in "Feel of the Trigger," but he just can't stop working hard. The detectives have a lot of clues to go through in the murder of a beautiful woman in "Killer's Choice." In "Square Cop," one officer is about to retire and the other one is a rookie being trained by the veteran... and one of them is shot by the others son during a burglary. Carella needs extra cash and takes a job as a night security guard at a bank in "Step Forward." A baseball star risks everything by hiding his fugitive brother from the cops in "Idol in the Dust." Havilland's new friend wants to kill a South American dignitary in "Ramon." In "New Man in the Precinct," there is a new guy at the 87th, and isn't quite used to being at such a rough and tumble precinct. Another detective ends up at the precinct after being demoted in "The Last Stop," and he isn't quite well-received after he drives everybody crazy. The series ends with "Girl in the Case," where Havilland becomes attracted to a stenographer who is being threatened.

As you can see from above, the detectives of the '87th Precinct' also found themselves in the four-color world of comic books, making them true multi-versals......

While I'm on vacation, I had a slot open up in the As Seen On TV feature at Inner Toob between the conclusion of our August feature on James Michener's 'Centennial' and a production based on the greatest Cold War allegory ever written. I figured a quick look at the detectives in the '87th Precinct' would "cleanse the palate", as it were, between the two courses........

I'll be back "live" after September 11........


No comments: