Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The Mystery of the One-Season Detective
I've been binge watching "Ellery Queen" on Hulu Plus. This was an NBC mystery from 1975-76. It was a whodunnit created by/produced by Richard Levinson, William Link and Peter Fischer. These three would later create "Murder, She Wrote," another whodunnit for CBS. The difference is, one of these shows ran one season, the other … what … 12 seasons?
The only reason I can see is "Murder, She Wrote," got the sweet time slot right after "60 Minutes," which was always a top 5 show in the 70s and 80s. (and any other network would have given the show the boot after three seasons so it could build another hit). "Ellery Queen" on the other hand was on NBC in the mid-70s, a time when no one watched NBC. The network went an entire decade without a hit show.
I liked the '40s setting, they put a lot of work on the cars, sets and props. But why the late 40s? All the good movie mysteries were from the '30s and early '40s. And though the women were game in having '40s hairstyles, the men for the most part kept their shaggy '70s hair. All the period shows in the '70s did this (except for the first season of "Happy Days.") My only explanation is all the guest stars were working actors, and couldn't very well get a '40s haircut if they were due on the "Kojak" set first thing Monday morning.
And maybe Jim Hutton and David Wayne were too old for their roles. Hutton was a 42 year old guy living with his dad. And Wayne was in his 60s, perhaps too close to retirement to be a chief inspector. And sometimes Queen's absent-mindedness seemed rude. For a drinking game, take a shot every time he says, "Huh?"
Otherwise it was probably better than "Murder, She Wrote." Ellery tagging along with his police inspector dad was certainly more believable than Jessica Fletcher stumbling into murder after murder. EQ also had a better sense of humor; any joke on "Murder She Wrote" was definitely forced, or saved til the last freeze frame. EQ's humor was a little more organic, either through dialogue or the characters.
Addendum: An unused Ellery Queen script turned up in one of the "Murder She Wrote" bookend episodes (you know, the ones were Jessica Fletcher just shows up in the beginning and the end to tell a mystery Angela Lansbury contractually didn't have to show up for.) Gary Kroeger played the Ellery Queen character (names were changed for copyright purposes) and John Karlen playing the dad/chief inspector. Probably more age-appropriate.