Thu 5 Apr 2012
HONG KONG. ABC / 20th Century Fox. 1960-61, 26 episodes at 60 minutes each. Cast: Rod Taylor as Glenn Evans, Lloyd Bochner as Chief Inspector Neil Campbell, Gerald Jann as Ling. Created by Robert Buckner. Executive Producer: William Self.
The series currently is not available on DVD. I have viewed six episodes of the series. More are available in the collector-to-collector market.
Hong Kong is another unjustly forgotten treasure from television’s past. The series, with its black and white film and quality talent behind the camera, created an atmosphere reminiscent of film noir.
Among the writers were Jonathan Latimer (novel: Headed for a Hearse; film: The Glass Key, 1942; TV’s Perry Mason) and Sam Ross (Naked City). Herbert Hirschman (Perry Mason) produced many of the episodes.
But it is the list of directors that is truly impressive, Walter Doniger (Bat Masterson), Paul Henreid (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Ida Lupino (Have Gun Will Travel; The Hitch-Hiker, 1953), Fletcher Markle (Jigsaw, 1949), and Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, 1967).
The cast performed well, with Rod Taylor (Time Machine, 1960) starring in his first TV series as Glenn Davis, hardboiled reporter and ladies man. Lloyd Bochner (Twilight Zone) was perfect in his breakout role as the very British Neil Campbell.
A hidden treasure, all by itself, was the movie quality soundtrack done by future Oscar winner Lionel Newman. Take a listen.
Sadly, ABC was determined to waste the quality series on a suicide mission against NBC’s ratings hit Wagon Train. The Indians had a better chance. However, ABC, 20th Century Fox and powerful sponsor Kaiser Industries (who also sponsored Maverick) strongly supported this series.
In Broadcasting (4/11/60) ABC President Treyz claimed Hong Kong was the “most expensive weekly one-hour series in the history of ABC, and I believe, in the history of the television medium.”
Hong Kong was about the adventures of World Wide News’ foreign correspondent, Glenn Davis. Glenn drove a great car, a white convertible. He was a close friend of British Chief Inspector Neil Campbell. In early episodes Glenn hung out at Tully’s, a restaurant run by Tully, a shady character with helpful contacts (Jack Kruschen).
The ratings for the series were disappointing from the very beginning. Hong Kong‘s premiere episode (9/28/60) finished third in its time slot to NBC’S Wagon Train and CBS’ second place Aquanauts (later called Malibu Run). (Broadcasting, 10/3/60)
Despite rumors Hong Kong was to be cancelled at mid-season, sponsor Kaiser Industries continued to support the series after some changes were made by the 20th Century Fox’s new Vice President in charge of TV Production, Roy Huggins (Maverick). (Broadcasting, 12/12/60)
Glenn found a new place to hangout. Tully’s was replaced by the Golden Dagger, a supper club run by Ching Mei (Mai Tai Sing). The Golden Dagger featured popular singers (including Julie London, Anne Francis) for the occasional love interest of the week and added more music to the series.
What didn’t change were the fistfights, mysteries, and romance to appeal to all types of viewers, but who continued to watch Wagon Train.
ABC tried Hong Kong at 10pm (preempting Naked City) on January 25, 1961. The ratings were a success with a 42.1 share but lower than Naked City‘s usual 43 share. And the episodes at 7:30pm continued to fail in the ratings against the competition. (Broadcasting 1/30/61)
Thousands protested when the series was cancelled. Hong Kong was a success in syndication. There is a fan site for Rod Taylor that has some more about the series and its cancellation.
For those not wanting to bother with the link, the website’s highlight is a copy of a January 1962 gossipy styled article from newspaper syndicate NEA. It claimed the studio cancelled the series when “a big talent agency” that had brought the series to Fox raised their fees beyond what Fox was willing to pay. The “sponsor” was upset so Fox offered Rod Taylor a role in Follow the Sun. Taylor by then was in Italy shooting a movie for MGM.
The article also mentions the plans for a sequel called Dateline: San Francisco. In the pilot, Glenn Davis relocates from Hong Kong to San Francisco. To get Rod Taylor to agree to star, the NEA article claimed, 20th Century Fox gave Taylor a contract for three theatrical films.
The website also states that the archives of the University of Iowa Libraries has a copy “of the story for the pilot,” entitled “The Castle” that was written by Robert Blees and Dorothy Robinson (Hong Kong episode “With Deadly Sorrow”).
In Broadcasting (2/19/62), Dateline: San Francisco was listed as a pilot for 20th Century Fox to be produced by Jules Bricken (Riverboat) and written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts (Mannix). Filming began February 12, 1962.