Fri 28 Jun 2013
JERICHO. CBS, 1966-67. MGM/Arena Productions. Created by William Link and Richard Levinson in association with Merwin A. Bloch. Cast: Don Francks as Franklin Sheppard, John Leyton as Nicholas Gage, and Marino Mase as Jean-Gaston Andre. Executive Producer: Norman Felton. Supervising Producer: David Victor. Produced by Stanley Niss (pilot episode produced by David Victor). Theme by Jerry Goldsmith.
JERICHO was set in war-torn Europe during World War II. It told the adventures of three men. American Captain Franklin Sheppard was the leader and an expert on explosives. British Royal Navy Lieutenant Nicholas Gage was a former circus performer and expert in getting in and out of tough situations. Free French Lieutenant Jean-Gaston Andre specialized in weapons, ancient and modern. Together they fought the Nazis behind enemy lines as a group, code named Jericho.
I watched this series at Warner Archives Instant (free two week trial membership) here.
Considering the talent behind this series I was very disappointed. The series first reminded me of another CBS series premiering that fall, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE for its premise and soundtrack. However, JERICHO took on the style of the two other MGM and Norman Felton’s Arena Productions, MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E.
The theme and opening featured a narrator (no on air credit) introducing the characters over the actor names with clips of each in action. The story then began with the narrator giving the date, location and Jericho’s mission.
Today, a major reason to watch this series is who created it. William Link and Richard Levinson would become two of television’s greatest creators of TV series with such series as COLUMBO, ELLERY QUEEN, and MURDER SHE WROTE. But JERICHO was before they joined Universal Studios. Link has discussed how little control they had over their freelance scripts such as their pilot script for MANNIX (in the commentary on MANNIX season one DVD).
The pilot script for JERICHO would air as episode three “Upbeat and Underground.” From the credits it can be assumed Dean Hargrove (MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) rewrote some of the script. Paris 1942, the Nazis plan to force the French National Symphony Orchestra to play Wagner on Bastille Day, so Jericho smuggles the entire orchestra (one hundred people) under Nazis guard in occupied Paris to London. If only Jericho had been available for THE GREAT ESCAPE (John Layton was in the 1963 film but sadly did not play his Jericho hero).
And who was fellow JERICHO creator Merwin Bloch? Bloch’s greatest success would come later as one of the most influential and successful producers of movie trailers. He would also produced the 70s cult film comedy THE TELEPHONE BOOK. At this time he was just starting out from advertising and had wrote one episode of BLUE LIGHT (which I reviewed here ). According to his IMDb bio, Bloch would supply many of JERICHO’s plots. At least one JERICHO plot was obviously inspired by BLUE LIGHT, in “Panic in the Piazza” Jericho was assigned to blow up a heavily guarded Nazi headquarters buried deep underground.
JERICHO’s production values for a network show were embarrassing, from inept reusing of a few studio lot exterior sets to the too many times when you wondered if anyone was paying attention or cared.
In the episode “Long Walk Across a Short Street,” action took place at night and in an area where all power was out, yet the streets where bathed in sunlight and the interiors brightly lit. The only way we knew it was dark was when the characters told us. Surprisingly, the director was the talented Richard C. Sarafian (VANISHING POINT, 1971), and the director of photography was the experienced, Emmy award winner and innovator Lester Shorr. Both of these men would have known better, leaving one to wonder how such amateur mistakes could have happened.
The scripts, because of its YA take on the plots, had problems maintaining the proper balance of believability, humor, action and suspense. For me the most successful was writer Jackson Gillis (MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) in “Have Traitor, Will Travel.” A French General and known spy is fed false information. Jericho escorts him to the front hoping to get captured, but encounter problems when the local underground rescues them. The story’s surprising twists had a darkness to them that kept the absurdity from overwhelming the drama.
The soundtrack was a cross between MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. The “Film Score Monthly” review of the record featuring the soundtrack to JERICHO (and THE GHOSTBREAKER), noted that the theme used by JERICHO was scored by Jerry Goldsmith (MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) from the second episode, and the pilot music score (and unused theme) was done by Lilo Schifrin.
Schifrin would find a place for some of the rejected music in his next series, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. JERICHO, especially episodes scored by Richard Shores (MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.), often had scenes with background music familiar to viewers of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. While one of the more noticeable MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. influences was the sound used with the graphic break for jump cuts.
This YouTube clip is from a promo sent to local stations. It is terrible visually and features a different narrator, but illustrates my point about the soundtrack (around 2:05 on the clip):
Perhaps the oddest element of JERICHO was Norman Felton producing CBS’s JERICHO while under exclusive contract to NBC. “Broadcasting” reported the story in issues December 27, 1965 and January 10, 1965. Norman Felton was one of MGM’s most successful producers until NBC signed Felton to an exclusive contract. Felton’s obligations to MGM would end June 30, 1966, but there were exceptions. Felton would continue to produce the show if either of Arena Production’s pilots for CBS went series. JERICHO did. Thus a NBC producer and company (Arena) produced a prime time series for CBS.
Don Francks’ (HEMLOCK GROVES) performance was the best of the three regulars but lacked a dramatic depth to counter the silliness of the stories leaving him at times bordering on camp such as in “Wall To Wall Kaput” where he posed as a worker wallpapering the office where the top-secret papers were kept. John Leyton had been a British pop star and appeared in films (VON RYAN’S EXPRESS -1965), but by JERICHO his career was in decline. Marino Mase went from starring in films such as Jean-Luc Godard’s LES CARABINERS (1963) to minor roles in films such as GODFATHER 3 (1990).
Fans of actors will enjoy spotting such people as Barbara Anderson, John Drew Barrymore, Billy Barty, Tom Bosley, John Dehner, James Doohan, Marianna Hill, Walter Koenig, Mark Lenard, Jay North, Michael Rennie, Mark Richman, Gia Scala, Malachi Throne, and Ian Wolfe.
The series featured one minor recurring character, Jericho’s contact Mallory played in the pilot by Ben Wright and in two episodes by John Orchard.
The ratings were never good. The hour-long JERICHO aired in color on Thursday night at 7:30-8:30PM opposite of the popular BATMAN and F-TROOP on ABC and DANIEL BOONE on NBC (which usually finished second in the time slot).
The November 28, 1966 issue of “Broadcasting” reported CBS had cancelled JERICHO, saying the series would remain on until mid-January.
There was a tie-in original paperback by Bruce Cassiday titled Code Name: Jericho – Operation Gold Kill (Award, 1967).