Mon 5 Aug 2013
SOUTH OF SUNSET. 1993. CBS/Paramount/Stan Rogow Productions and Byrum Power & Light. Created and executive produced by John Byrum and Stan Rogow. Cast: Glenn Frey as Cody McMahon, Aries Spears as Ziggy Duane, and Maria Pitillo as Gina Weston. “Call On Me” performed by Glenn Frey (written by Glenn Frey and Jack Tempchin).
SOUTH OF SUNSET was meant to be TV’s answer to popular action buddy movies such as 48 HRS. Poor acting, bad writing and the inability to duplicate what made the action buddy genre popular doomed this series to a quick death.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (November 13, 1993), SOUTH OF SUNSET was the fourth series in TV history to be cancelled after one episode (the first three were YOU’RE IN THE PICTURE (1961), TURN ON (1969), and MELBA (1986)). The article also stated the show’s rating (6.1 and a 9 share) was “thought to be the lowest rating ever for a network prime-time series premiere …”
Granted, October 27, 1993 on Wednesday at 9 to 10pm (Eastern), SOUTH OF SUNSET faced some strong competition from ABC’s HOME IMPROVEMENT (24.4) and GRACE UNDER FIRE (18.7), Fox’s MELROSE PLACE (9.3) and NBC’s NOW WITH TOM BROKAW & KATIE COURIC (11.5).
But as the Times article noted there were other reasons for not airing a second episode, mainly due to CBS’s lack of confidence in the show and the risk of staying with it during the November sweeps (important rating period that affected the local stations as well as networks).
An interview with Glenn Frey for the Chicago Tribune (October, 26, 1993) revealed some of the problems the series faced. Glenn Frey was not the first actor hired, Aries Spears as the comedic assistant was. Frey is best known for his work with popular rock band “Eagles” but had done some acting on TV (WISEGUY). However that was not how he got the job. The producers had been testing other actors with Spears for four months when a Paramount executive saw Glenn Frey sing on the Super Bowl pregame show and asked Frey to try out for the part.
But the teaming of Frey and Spears didn’t work. It is obvious Frey never felt comfortable in the role of Cody. Frey lacked the acting talent and confidence to make the complaining loser Cody a strong appealing character (as opposed to what James Garner did with Jim Rockford).
Cody ran the Beverly Hills Detective Agency located in the area south of Sunset boulevard in the low-income part of Beverly Hills (yes, there really is a poor section in Beverly Hills). The agency employed two people, Gina Weston and Ziggy Duane.
Maria Pitillo did what she could with the clichéd character of Gina, receptionist/assistant who was trying to find work as an actress while keeping in touch with her worried Mother in Kansas.
Aries Spears as Ziggy tried too hard to be Eddie Murphy. It didn’t help Spears the scripts forced his character to bounce between mature young man and immature idiot with a blink of a scene.
If the acting was bad, the writing was even worse. The scripts seemed to have little interest in the plots or action, instead the viewer was forced to suffer through pointless scenes featuring long-winded speeches and boring banter. The characters and stories lacked originality or appeal.
Production values were weak and often inconsistent. The gimmick of the Beverly Hills agency being in the poor part of Beverly Hills was ruined by Cody’s large office that grew larger every week (at one point it included a new pool table).
Cody often complained of a lack of money, but in addition to his large office, Cody had a home (where he held parties and had a pet duck), had an expensive wardrobe, and a bright yellow Pontiac GTO (for those endless scenes where Cody and Ziggy exchange banal dialogue). Better direction could have helped establish settings such as Cody’s home and made the car rides more visual interesting.
The series lone bright spot was an Emmy nomination for Opening Titles (Ed Sullivan and Jeff Boortz). It lost to THE X-FILES.
While CBS aired only one episode of the reported seven, VH1, during a salute to the “Eagles,” aired four more. At the moment, those five episodes are available to watch on YouTube. It is uncertain if the final two episodes, “Remember Me” and “Chalk Line” were ever filmed.
“Satyricon” (October 27, 1993) Teleplay by John Byrum Story by John Byrum and Stan Rogow Directed by Andy Tennant GUEST CAST: Wendy Benson, Season Hubley, and Richard Schiff *** Cody is working on a cheating spouse case when he is hired to find who is threatening a young tennis star, and then he is hired to find a gang leader who jumped bail.
“Dream Girl” (VH1) Written by Paul Brown Directed by Felix Enriquez Alcala GUEST CAST: Mark Blankfield, John A. Fitzpatrick and John Diehl *** A friend of Cody’s mom, Lou the toilet King of Queens is in Los Angeles and hires the agency to find a girl he has seen only in his dreams. Meanwhile Gina is hired to spend three months in the Caribbean making a movie, but overprotective Cody senses something is wrong.
“Custody” (VH1) Written by John Byrum Directed by Oz Scott GUEST CAST: Judith Hoag, Robert Torti, Julia Nickson and John Diehl *** A young mother hires Cody to get her nine year old daughter back from her ex-husband who had kidnapped her. Dad and his biker friends object when Cody grabs the kid back. Cody then discovers the kid is not eager to go back to either parent. Meanwhile, Gina goes undercover on a case of a cheating husband.
“Family Affair” (VH1) Written by Terry Curtis Fox Directed by Bruce Seth Green GUEST CAST: Carroll Baker, Amber Benson, Jeff McCarthy and John Verea *** A teen-aged girl had received postcards on her birthday for years from a man claiming to be her real father. This year he sends her an expensive jewel so she hires Cody to find the man. Meanwhile, Gina’s Mom visits.
“Newspaper Boy” (VH1) Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood Directed by Michael Schultz GUEST CAST: Jessie Ferguson, Wendy Davis, William Allen Young and John Verea *** Parents of a young black teen come to Cody for help after their son is gunned down by a cop. Meanwhile, Ziggy’s love life goes bad.
No amount of time could have overcome the series problems in front and behind the camera. SOUTH OF SUNSET deserved its quick death.