Mon 20 May 2013
KING OF DIAMONDS. Syndicated, 1961-1962; Ziv/United Artists. Cast: Broderick Crawford as John King and Ray Hamilton as Casey.
John King was the chief investigator for the Continental Diamond Industries. With Casey, his young handsome assistant, King led the fight against the evil IDB, the Illicit Diamond Buyers (well, at least the criminals were honest about it). Or as King explained, “… from the minute the diamonds come out of the clay until they go on somebody’s finger we protect them. The we is me.”
King of Diamonds was a typical Ziv first run TV Film syndication series with the creative talent working against the limitations of low budgets and too short a production schedule. The series fortunately didn’t take itself too seriously which gives it a charm and makes it still fun to watch.
The pace of the half hour episodes were fast enough for us to enjoy the story without noticing or caring about the plot holes. The writing featured dialog that was equally quick:
The episodes began with the narrator (probably Highway Patrol narrator Art Gilmore) setting up the story such as in “The Wizard of Ice”:
Broderick Crawford was the perfect Johnny King, tough guy detective, a man obsessed with the recovery of stolen diamonds. Murder, justice, those were the police’s problems all Johnny King wanted was the diamonds back. Crawford biggest acting challenge was trying to be convincing as a ladies man with beautiful women from his past still helpless against his charms.
It is hard to take the show seriously when King wore a trench coat and fedora in nearly every scene including at least once when he was sitting behind his office desk. Check out that outfit in this trailer for the series:
Ray Hamilton was forgettable in the stock character role of King’s young assistant. The guest cast was above average especially (in the episodes I have seen) Lola Albright, John Anderson and Gerald Mohr.
Directors such as Irving Lerner were able to overcome a lack of time and money and occasionally shoot some quality scenes such as a car chase in a high-rise parking lot involving three people in “The Wizard of Ice.”
EPISODE INDEX. (I have watched three episodes each with incomplete credits. Titles from IMdb.com.)
“The Wizard of Ice.” Written and produced by John Robinson. Directed by Irving Lerner. GUEST CAST: Lola Albright, Telly Savalas, John Anderson, John Marley, and Richard Kiel. *** A hijacking of two million in diamonds gets complicated by a woman.
“Commando Tactics.” Written by Steve Fisher. Directed by John Rich. GUEST CAST: Gerald Mohr *** King’s fun loving WWII commando buddy has decided to try the adventurous fun life of a diamond thief.
“Backlash.” Written by Edward J. Lasko. Directed by Skip Homeier. GUEST CAST: James Coburn and Nancy Kulp. *** War hero and respected citizen in a small town in Maine has his past come back to haunt him as a former army buddy arrives wanting to sell the diamonds they had stolen from the Nazis during the War.
King of Diamonds was an entertaining show despite its flaws or in part because of them, but it was the story behind the scenes I found more interesting.
It is well known Broderick Crawford had a problem with alcohol (too many DWIs cost him his driver’s license and they had to adapt filming Highway Patrol). There is an interesting story about why Crawford agreed to do King of Diamonds in Rick Jason’s (The Case of the Dangerous Robin) autobiography Scrapbooks of My Mind. (Thanks to Wikipedia for citing its sources.)
“He’d dried out, hadn’t had a drink in almost nine months, and he wanted his money from Highway Patrol. Ziv cut a deal with him: if he’d do a pilot for a new series called King of Diamonds and sign on for the series, they’d release about two million dollars they were holding and he would only have to do one show a week if the pilot sold. He signed.”
Despite being in over 185 markets including the top five markets in the country, King of Diamonds lasted just one season. TV was changing at the time. In the words of Broadcasting (9/18/61), “Production of programs for first-run syndication has virtually collapsed.”
Production costs were rising. The trade magazine reported the cost of an average first-run syndicated TV Film series had risen to $40,000 to $50,000 per episodes. With a star such as Broderick Crawford (who was also credited as associate producer) King of Diamonds’ costs were most likely even higher.
Meanwhile the market had been taken over by off-network reruns that were cheaper, had proven popular with the viewers, and could be aired on a daily basis.
In the fall of 1961, King of Diamonds competed against twenty-one newly available off-network reruns series including Peter Gunn, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Hong Kong, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, The Lone Ranger and Yancy Derringer.
Another problem facing first-run TV Film syndication was the increase in the networks’ involvement in the programs they aired. Even the weakest network, ABC had increased the amount of programs they scheduled and their series quality. Also, the hour-long format was beginning to take up more and more time of the prime-time schedule.
TV’s most successful first-run TV Film syndication company, Ziv Television would soon disappear as United Artists Television would completely take over the company (dropping the name Ziv from Ziv/United Artists television) in 1962 when Frederick Ziv sold the last part of the company he still owned and left Hollywood to teach at the University of Cincinnati.
It is hard to mourn the passing of Ziv Television with its bottom of the barrel production values, but it was responsible for a few shows such as King of Diamonds that might not have been the best television ever made, still have enough charm to entertain.