Oh. You didn’t think I was talking about me, did you?
I can’t tell you what a thrill it was back in January of 1974 when I opened the TV Guide for the week of the 15th and found that one of the characters in that week’s episode of ‘Police Story’ was named Toby O’Brien! I even still have the original listing in one of my scrapbooks.
Taylor Lacher played that Toby O’Brien, partner to Vic Morrow’s detective Joe LaFrieda. However, what I didn’t know then and which I never bothered to research until the week of October 19th of last year, was that it was not the first time that Detective Toby O’Brien had appeared in the series. And that when he first showed up, it wasn’t Taylor Lacher who was playing him.
Grrr. Arrrgh. I hate recastaways!
Joe LaFrieda – with Morrow playing the role – was the focus of the very first episode of ‘Police Story’, a TV movie pilot entitled “Slow Boy”. And in that extra-long episode, Toby O’Brien was played by James Luisi, who would come to fame later in Toobworld as another fictional LAPD detective, Lt. Doug Chapman, in ‘The Rockford Files’.
Taylor Lacher was in that first episode of ‘Police Story’, playing the 2nd Detective at the first supermarket robbery. (I watched that scene twice, I couldn’t pick him out.)
So I started thinking about how to splain away this Zonk. I knew I couldn’t use any of the usual reasons since ‘Police Story’ was pretty much grounded in “reality”; alien impersonations, quantum leapers, and even plastic surgery just didn’t feel right as a reason for the change in appearance.
So I thought – why not find some reason for Doug Chapman to be teamed up with the racist detective “Sally Pickles” but using Toby’s name? And meanwhile Toby was still working under his own name. But even that didn’t make sense.
So then I looked through the cast lists for both “Slow Boy” and the two-part return of Joe LaFrieda – “Countdown, Parts I & II”. And save for Vic Morrow coming back as LaFrieda, none of the characters who returned were played by the original actors.
JENNY DALE LaFRIEDA
“Slow Boy” – Diane Baker played Jenny Dale, a hostage who fell in love with LaFrieda.
“Countdown” - She was now married to Joe, and as Jenny LaFrieda she was played by Laraine Stephens.
LT. DAVE BLODGETT
“Slow Boy” – Joe’s boss was played by Ed Asner, at the height of his popularity with Lou Grant in ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’; a great get for selling the series.
“Countdown” – Tige Andrews was now Blodgett, perhaps more believable as a hard-line detective.
“Slow Boy” – Sgt. Piccolini was played by Harry Guardino who was shown his comeuppance for his racist ways when he was teamed up with an undercover cop played by black actress Kim Hamilton. (And she was fantastic in the role; she should have been in more of the episode than that sub-plot.)
“Countdown” – Joe Santos, another alumnus of ‘The Rockford Files’ now took over the role.
Mel Scott as the detective known as K.T. returned for this LaFrieda sequel, but it wasn’t enough to gloss over those other recastaways.
So I had to accept defeat in keeping all three episodes in the same TV dimension. And even though the usual rule is that the first version gets to stay in the main Toobworld, there was a reason I had to ship it off to Prequel Toobworld instead. It was all due to character actor Scott Brady, who appeared in sixteen episodes of ‘Police Story’ as Vinnie – a retired cop who now operated the bar where the cops would hang out when off-duty. There was no way I was going to cherry-pick those episodes out of the line-up and team them up with the pilot movie. It was better in the long run to have the series, beginning with the second episode, remain in Earth Prime-Time while “Slow Boy” was relegated to the TV dimension of pilot episodes, Prequel Toobworld.
And so that’s why there have been three Toby O’Briens in the overall TV Universe. James Luisi’s version in Prequel Toobworld, and Taylor Lacher for the main Toobworld.
The third one? Why, you’re reading him! My fictional televersion, played by Yours Truly, was inducted into the Television Crossover Hall of Fame on this day back in 2005 as a member of the League of Themselves. To my credit I have ‘The Hap Richards Show’ and ‘The Ranger Andy Show’, two local kids’ shows in Connecticut, the TV movie “The Deadliest Season”, and I’m spotted in the audience for the 100th episode of ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ as Dave handed vacation pictures to me and Patrick Scully.
WEARING THE DEEP BLUE SHIRT
So that means…. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!