Tue 27 Nov 2012
COOL MILLION , NBC / Universal, October through December 1972. Created by Larry Cohen. Cast: James Farentino as Jefferson Keyes.
Jefferson Keyes was a World renown detective, trained by an unnamed secret agency of the American government, and able to charge one million dollars per job. But Jeff was quick to point out he paid for all his expenses, and guaranteed to solve the client’s problem or the client would owe him nothing. Also, Jeff always denied being a detective or PI, instead he saw himself more of a trouble-shooter. “I’m not a detective,” said Jeff in “Mask of Marcella,” “I simply look for solutions to rather large problems.”
“Mask of Marcella.” (10/16/72) Executive Producer: George Eckstein. Producer: David J. O’Connell. Written by Larry Cohen. Directed by Gene Levitt. Guest Cast: Barbara Bouchet, Patrick O’Neal, John Vernon, and Christine Belford. *** TV Movie pilot. When a rich man is murdered, everyone is surprised to learn he had recently changed his will to leave his entire fifty million dollar estate to his daughter, Marcella…who had disappeared as a child and been missing and presumed dead for thirteen years.
The child’s former teacher whose negligence lead to her disappearance has seen Marcella alive and wants Jeff to find her so he can find redemption (and get his teaching credentials back). The lawyers for the estate agree to hire Jeff to find the proper heiress. He has one week to find Marcella before the probate court turns her inheritance over to charities.
Cohen’s pilot script sets up the character of Jefferson Keyes well. Jeff travels the world alone, solving people’s problems. Jeff makes no apologies for his fee or lifestyle, but he does care more about people than money. In this case, we learn he is a regular contributor to a London Children’s hospital, and he even gives one third of his fee to a person in need.
NBC picked up the pilot and added it as one of three rotating series on NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie, sharing the time period with Banacek and Madigan. The series aired between 8:30 to 10pm and was opposite of ABC Wednesday Night Movie and CBS’s lineup of the last half hour of Carol Burnett, and Medical Center.
Roy Huggins took over when Cool Million went series. Executive Producer George Eckstein stayed with his other TV Movie pilot Banacek. Producer David J. O’Connell at the time was the producer of Marcus Welby M.D. (where he won an Emmy in 1972). And Larry Cohen’s Bone (1972), the first theatrical film Larry Cohen directed (he also wrote and produced) had all ready been released. Black Caesar (1973) would soon follow.
I should note here the episodes I saw were collector copies of the edited reruns aired on CBS Late Show, the credits where Executive Producer Roy Huggins and his company the Public Arts Production title would normally appear were missing, but there is little doubt Huggins was responsible for the series episodes.
Huggins made some changes to Cohen’s original idea. Jefferson Keyes no longer wandered the world alone, now he had a staff to support as well as gratuitous over the top expenses such as a special car that is flown to him anywhere in the world.
Receptionist Elena (Adele Mara aka Mrs. Roy Huggins) lived in a house in Lincoln, Nebraska where a hidden panel let you into a room full of the latest in computers. Mother of at least one small never seen child (a “Big Wheel” blocking the secret entrance in one episode), she spoke at least two languages — English and Persian. Jeff didn’t want to miss a call, so he established a trunk line in Lincoln where the lines were always clear. She would ask security questions of possible clients to confirm their id before notifying Jeff.
Tony Baylor (Ed Bernard or Felton Perry) was the pilot for Jeff’s personal plane. In the pilot, Jeff flew commercial airlines or chartered a private plane he flew himself. Now, Jeff adds to the expenses and payroll with a smart-ass pilot.
“Hunt for a Lonely Girl.” (10/25/72) Written, directed, and produced by Gene Levitt. Associate Executive Producer: Jo Swerling Jr. Guest Cast: Kim Darby and Ray Milland. *** Rich spoiled Canadian businessman with anger management problems is on trial for murder. His lawyer hires Jeff to find proof of the man’s alibi.
Worst episode. Levitt had no clue about who Cohen’s Jefferson Keyes was. In this episode Jeff did the work of a PI legman while repeatedly denying he was a PI and constantly whining about money.
“Assault on Gavaloni.” (11/22/72) Teleplay by Juanita Bartlett. Story by John Thomas James (Roy Huggins). Directed by John Badham. Produced by Jo Swerling, Jr. Guest Cast: Nehemiah Persoff, Pamela Franklin, Wilfred Hyde-White, Joanne Barnes, Ilka Chase. *** Sir Bryan Howard had lent a painting to a man so he could keep his ex-wife from getting it. But now the man won’t return it. Sir Howard hires old friend Jefferson Keyes to get it back.
Good episode capturing the style of the NBC Mystery Movies (over the top adventure with romance and high living backed by the signature soundtrack of the Universal music library). This was the only episode besides the pilot to handle the money gimmick well. Jeff puts his concern for a woman before the money and the case. He is reluctant to charge his old friend his fee until Sir Howard admits he has made a profit despite Jeff’s million-dollar fee.
“The Abduction of Baynard Barnes.” (12/6/72) Teleplay by Richard Morris. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Barry Shear. Produced by Jo Swerling Jr. Guest Cast: Barry Sullivan, Danielle DeMetz, Sharon Gless, and Nico Minardos. *** Jeff is hired to rescue a kidnapped millionaire who had left orders never to pay ransom.
Plot was typical 70s with a far-fetched rescue and long chase. The episode made good use of Jeff’s spy training and attempted to explain the need of Jeff’s fee with expensive gadgets and high priced help.
“The Million Dollar Misunderstanding.” (12/20/72) Teleplay by Juanita Bartlett. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Daryl Duke. Produced by Jo Swerling Jr. Guest Cast: Elaine Giftos, Ina Balin, Joseph Ruskin, and John S. Ragin. *** After three months of work where he convinced a daughter of a President of a small Middle Eastern country to return home, Jeff gets paid, only to have the check bounce. Jeff wants his money and orders his pilot Tony (Felton Perry) to help him steal a two million dollar diamond from his former client and ransom it for his million.
Jeff is at his most unlikable in this episode. He works for three months to convince his client’s daughter to return home, yet despite Elena and the computers security check, Jeff did not know his client was a deadbeat dictator hated by his people. So does Jeff worry about the young daughter? No, all Jeff wants is his money, and he is willing to risk others lives to get it. This was the last episode of the series.
In Broadcasting (1/15/73) the ratings for all TV Movies from the beginning of the 1972-73 season until December 3, 1972 were listed. The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie was ranked 23rd out of 66 shows with a 20.5 average. Each episode of NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie was also listed.
Most popular of the three was Banacek with five episodes (during the period covered) rated (in order) 21.2 – 22.3 – 20.9 – 19.4 – 23.5. Madigan had three episodes: 21.4 – 20.3 – 18.9.
“Mask of Marcella” was shown on NBC Monday Movie (9-11pm) and received a rating of 20.4 to finish 25th in the ratings for the week, but finished last in its time period. “Hunt for a Lonely Girl” received a rating of 19.0 for 28th in the ratings. “Assault on Gavaloni” dropped to 17.5. I was unable to find the ratings for the final two episodes.
During the 70s, PIs usually featured a gimmick to set them apart. “Cool Million” gimmick was Jeff’s fee. Too often in the series episodes Jefferson Keyes was a mercenary whining about expenses, risking others lives so he can collect his fee, and wasting too much money on unnecessary over the top expenses.
For those curious about NBC Mystery Movies I recommend you check out J. Kingston Pierce’s work in progress at his “Rap Sheet” blog. I beat him to Cool Million, but I look forward to read what he can add. While we wait, read his posts about Madigan, Banacek and McMillan and Wife.