THE MANHUNTER. CBS, 1974-75. QM Productions; developed by Sam H. Rolfe. Cast: Ken Howard as Dave Barrett, Robert Hogan as Sheriff Paul Tate, Ford Rainey as James “Pa” Barrett, Claudia Bryar as Mary “Ma” Barrett and Hilary Thompson as Lizabeth “Sis” Barrett.

   THE MANHUNTER was Quinn Martin’s second attempt at doing a series about a PI in 1930s Depression. His first was NBC’s BANYON [reviewed here ] set in Los Angeles that ran from 1971-73.

THE MANHUNTER Kenneth Howard

   Developed by Sam H. Rolfe (HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, DELPHI BUREAU), THE MANHUNTER featured ex-Marine Dave Barrett returning from fighting in China to find the Depression had changed his hometown of Cleary Idaho and the fortunes of his family’s farm.

   Dave was a man of few words, a man experienced in action. After stopping one infamous group of bank robbing gangsters, he decided to keep the family farm financially safe with the money he would collect tracking down wanted criminals. With the superfluous help of friend Sheriff Paul Tate, Dave showed rural America could handle those city gangsters. At least that was the way it started.

   The characters were drenched in Americana folklore from the good hardworking locals to his family with Pa, Ma, and little sister. This GUNSMOKE meets THE UNTOUCHABLES told in the Quinn Martin style of straight forward action had one major flaw.

   In the book Quinn Martin, Producer by Jonathan Etter (McFarland, 2008), Ken Howard discussed the series THE MANHUNTER.

   â€œI was playing a role that I wasn’t suited to,” explained Howard, “If you were to pick somebody to play the Manhunter, it would be Clint Eastwood. Kind of a stony-faced man of few words, which is not my own measure of what I had done as an actor up to that point. I tried to be that as best I could.”

   Quinn Martin and the writers began to change the character of Dave Barrett. Howard remembered Quinn Martin comparing him to more like Jimmy Stewart, more verbal and laconic:

   â€œLater in the year, they brought in this guy, this funny, hard-nosed guy, and he started changing it around. The Manhunter became more verbal, and this guy had me wearing kind of a three-piece, tweed suit… This writer was making me more of an FBI type, not a country guy.”

   I have seen the TV Movie pilot and three episodes. All four episodes had a different producer, not a sign of behind the scenes stability, but if Ken Howard’s point of view is correct, Quinn Martin was the showrunner.


THE MANHUNTER Kenneth Howard

“The Pilot.” (February 26, 1974) Written by Sam H. Rolfe. Directed by Walter Grauman. Produced by Adrian Samish. GUEST CAST: Gary Lockwood, Stefanie Powers and Tim O’Connor *** It is 1934 and ex-Marine Dave Barrett returns home to find things have changed. Due to the Depression, the Barrett’s farm is in financial trouble. Dave is at the local bank when its robbed by a gang made infamous by an opportunistic reporter. Things go wrong and Dave’s ex-girl friend (wife of Sheriff Tate) and Dave’s loyal dog are killed. Dave goes after the bad guys and girl and discovers reward money might be an answer to keeping the family’s farm.

   The pilot had moments when writer Rolfe’s wit lifted the TV Movie above the standard action TV Movie but the story was burdened with clichéd characters and predictable twists.

“Death On the Run.” (October 2, 1974) Written by Robert W. Lenski. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Produced by Sam H. Rolfe. GUEST CAST: Harry Guardino, Bo Hopkins and William Schallert. *** Gangsters take a wounded member to the local hospital. On the run for multi-murders and other crimes, the gangsters take everyone in the hospital hostage just as Dave and the Barrett family arrive with a seriously injured Pa. One of the gangsters recognizes Dave as the famous Manhunter.

   This episode featured the original version of Dave Barrett. The episode was standard TV action drama that was mindless, if not also, mildly entertaining.

“Flight To Nowhere.” (December 18, 1974) Written by Robert I. Holt. Directed by Lawrence Dobkins. Produced by Arthur Weingarten. GUEST CAST: Christine Belford, Tom Skeritt and Norman Alden *** PI Dave Barrett is hired by an insurance company to investigate a jewel robbery in a small town near Los Angeles.

   This was a generic TV PI episode more suited for BANYON than THE MANHUNTER. Why send a PI from Idaho to solve a simple jewel robbery in Southern California? The mystery is obvious. The action keeps things moving, but leaves no time for the romance between Belford’s character and Dave to be more than a kiss at the end.

“To Kill A Tiger.” (February 26, 1975) Teleplay by S.S. Schweitzer. Story by Mort Fine. Directed by Bernard McEveety. Produced by Mort Fine. GUEST CAST: Kevin McCarthy, Robert Loggia and JoAnn Harris *** The Governor hires Dave to uncover a conspiracy to assassinate him.

   Ken Howard is looking more Ivy League than Idaho farmer. The original premise of rural hero versus Chicago type gangsters has been replaced with just another Quinn Martin style action TV PI. The one thing that was not changed was the gunfire, chases, and fistfights.

THE MANHUNTER Kenneth Howard

   In Broadcasting (September 16, 1974) excerpts from various reviews of the first episode were printed.

   John J. O’Connor of the New York Times wrote, “It’s still action adventure, but it works better than most. The production is good, the period details are attractive, and [Ken] Howard and other cast regulars are pleasantly effective. As escapist fluff, it could settle into the plausible category.”

   Kay Gardella of the New York Daily News wrote, “This is a good, weekly bread-and-butter series.”

   Dick Adler of the Los Angeles Times had a different view. “There might have been the germ of a workable idea in THE MANHUNTER … but the same Quinn Martin trash-compacter which has already turned CANNON and BARNABY JONES into interchangeable hours of mindless motion seems to have been at work here…”

   THE MANHUNTER lasted only one season, but ratings, while not Top 30 worthy, were not bad. The show aired on CBS, starting September 11, 1974 on Wednesday night at 10 to 11pm, opposite ABC’s GET CHRISTIE LOVE and NBC’s PETROCELLI. After two weeks, THE MANHUNTER average rating share was 36.5 compared to GET CHRISTIE LOVE 29.5 share and PETROCELLI’S 28 share. (Broadcasting September 30, 1974). But that would change.

   In April 1975, CBS cancelled THE MANHUNTER. Broadcasting (April 14, 1975) reported the series had an average of a 33 share from September through December, but in January the audience began to turn to NBC’s PETROCELLI. THE MANHUNTER also lost on average five shares from its lead-in CANNON.

   Timing doomed THE MANHUNTER from any possibility of a second chance. Public opinion was in one of its anti-violence moods. For the next season, the FCC had ordered the networks to adopt the “Family Hour,” where between 8 and 9pm only family entertainment could air. In Broadcasting (May 5, 1975), CBS President Robert Wood admitted that for the upcoming season, when offered a choice he’d pick a tame melodrama or variety show rather than an action series.

   Despite its early potential, THE MANHUNTER could never overcome the changes in premise and character nor the growing anti-violence public. The series was watchable but so ordinary and flawed that when gone few noticed or cared.