A TV Review by Michael Shonk

HUNTER.   CBS / Lorimar Production. 1977.   PILOT: (never aired)   Cast: James Franciscus as James Hunter. Guest Cast: Linda Evans, Ned Beatty. Written by William Blinn. Directed and Produced by Tom Gries. Executive Produced by Lee Rich and Philip Capice.   SERIES:   Cast: James Franciscus as Jim Hunter, Linda Evans as Marty Shaw, Ralph Bellamy as General Howard Baker. Created by William Blinn. Produced by Christopher Morgan. Executive produced by Lee Rich or Lee Rich and Philip Capice.

HUNTER James Franciscus

   The fifty-four minute pilot proposed series premise featured James Hunter as a man who had spent eight years in prison for a crime (fraud and bribery) he did not commit (a popular character trait in the 70s). He now wants to find the man who framed him, his former boss Mr. Ingersoll, and clear his name.

   The weekly series abandoned that premise, James Hunter is a rare books bookstore owner and spy, and Marty Shaw (the doomed prostitute in the pilot, played by Linda Evans) is now a famous model and spy.

   It is 1977 and the seeds of our distrust in the American government are growing. Spymaster General Baker is told to start a new covert agency of six agents. His first choice is retired “Agency” spy, now Santa Barbara (CA) bookstore owner, Jim Hunter. The unnamed agency’s purpose is to watch over any activity threatening the country be it from overseas or within our own government. Marty Shaw was another agent working for Baker.

   Hunter resigned from the “Agency” in 1969 because he disapproved of our side’s methods. He works alone or is assigned someone or to a “Control” in trouble. All episodes but two has Baker assigning Marty to assist. Marty also had her own assignments away from Hunter.

HUNTER James Franciscus

   Hunter and Marty’s relationship reminds one of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in Man from U.N.C.L.E.; both are talented capable spies on their own and together. But Hunter and Marty are also unmarried lovers who live in different parts of the country and openly shared a bed during assignments. The chemistry between Franciscus and Evans worked well. It is not a surprise that their chemistry was the only part of the pilot to survive.

   Of the two covers, Marty’s modeling was the most useful. The bookstore never played a significant role in any episode. But each episode had Hunter sitting at a desk in front of a wall of bookshelves when Baker would call and give Hunter his new assignment.

   The action took place in the United States, except for a flashback to Hunter’s days as head of operations in West Berlin (“The K Group”). Exotic locales did not play a role. Gadgets were not used. Everyone seemed to drive huge Oldsmobiles rather than the latest sports cars. The series featured the usual TV action of chases, fights and gunplay. The music by Richard Shores (Man from U.N.C.L.E.) was nothing special but set the right spy genre mood.

HUNTER James Franciscus

   Hunter was no lost gem, but a better than average TV spy series that deserves to be remembered. Some of the twists were worthy of the best of TV spy shows such as using a third mystery group interrupting business between the Americans and the Russians.

   Too often the series abandoned all logic such as when Hunter would learn someone is about to kill someone, and without bothering to phone a warning, Hunter would race off so he could arrive at the last moment to save the day.

   CBS picked up Hunter in 1976 to replace any early failures in the upcoming 1976-1977 fall schedule (Broadcasting 8/23/76). It would premiere February 18, 1977, Friday at 10pm (Eastern) opposite NBC’s Quincy and ABC’s Friday’s Movie.

          HUNTER Episode Guide:

PILOT. Hunter’s search for the man who framed him leads him to a 25th reunion of Ingersoll’s former military unit. While in the hotel underground parking lot Hunter escapes a deadly attack by a tank. Later he escapes an exploding room service cart, and falls for prostitute Marty Shaw. We see the recluse Ingersoll from the back only as he gave orders to his evil minions. In the end, a killer goes to jail and Hunter is no closer to Ingersoll.

“Bluebird Is Back.” Guest Cast: Edward Mulhare. An archenemy of Hunter’s, Bluebird is a killer who enjoys his work. He leaves a trail of victims that lead Hunter and Marty to a Russian plot to discredit the American atomic electric plant design.

“Mirror Image.” Guest Cast: Diana Muldaur. A Russian double of Hunter must fool Marty in a plan to assassinate General Baker and frame Hunter.

HUNTER James Franciscus

“Lysenko Syndrome.” Guest Cast: William Windom. Windom is a wonderfully over the top mad scientist. First they program an American agent to kill Hunter. Then they program Marty to, when learning Hunter is dead, kill her Uncle, an Admiral.

“The Hit.” Guest cast: Nehemiah Persoff. When a hitman dies during the car chase, Hunter switches wallets and takes his place. Now all Hunter has to do is find out who hired the hitman and who is the target.

“Costa Rican Connection.” Guest Cast: Donald O’Connor. After the murder of a witness for a Senate Committee looking into the connection between organized crime and the “GIA” (CIA), Hunter and Marty need to convince the last witness to testify.

“The K Group” (Part One). Guest Cast: Vic Morrow. Hunter and others want to know who killed the East German spy at an L.A. film festival.

“The K Group” (Part Two). Hunter, Marty and Baker must stop the rogue American agents from assassinating an American government official.

“Barking Dog.” Guest Cast: Robert Mandan. An American scientist demands ten million dollars in 48 hours or he will poison the southern California water supply. This episode even has a scene when the villain reveals all to a tied up Marty.

“Yesterday, Upon the Stair.” Guest Cast: David Wayne. Hunter is sent to help with a spy exchange involving his favorite spy teacher. Things go wrong during the exchange and both sides’ spies disappear, kidnapped by persons unknown.

HUNTER James Franciscus

“The Backup.” Guest Cast: Leif Erickson. An American agent disappears after his attempt to escort a Chinese defector to a safe house fails. Hunter is sent in to find the agent and get the defector back.

“The Hand Is Burning.” (Note: My DVD is missing opening titles. Title from TVTango.com). An American agent with information about African nation Chand is killed in Los Angeles. Hunter and Marty save the Republic of Chand, uncover political corruption, and find the killer.

“The Lovejoy Files.” Guest Cast: Sorrel Booke. A file meant for the President’s eyes-only is missing. A group agrees to ransom it, but when Hunter and a man from government archives arrive to pick it up, a third group steals it from them.

“UFM 13.”. Guest Cast: Cameron Mitchell. Hunter goes undercover to stop an American radical conservative group from using stolen plutonium to make an atomic bomb.

   Currently there is no official DVD available for Hunter. Warner Brothers took over Lorimar so they probably have the rights to the series. The show’s introduction can be seen on YouTube here, in French.