by Michael Shonk

   It is that time of year when children of all ages experience what collectors feel all year round. The thrill of the possibilities, the excitement of the search and finding your prey, the joy of possession – and we don’t have to wait for Santa.

   Every collector has his Holy Grails, his or her list of those that have escaped their grasp for too long and may not even still exist. I decided this season to ask Santa for some help, and I decided to share it here.

   The first is always of interest to the collector. So I have long sought the series most accept as TV network’s first weekly mystery series with a regular cast – BARNEY BLAKE, POLICE REPORTER. The series aired live on NBC from April 22, 1948 to July 8, 1948 and starred Gene O’Donnell as Barney.

   One of my favorite characters in fiction is Craig Rice’s John J. Malone of books, films, radio, and TV. I have reviewed the radio series here (and discussed the TV series in the comments)

   The TV version of Malone aired on ABC between September 24, 1951 and March 10, 1952 and starred Lee Tracy as Malone. The series aired live and alternated with MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY on Monday at 8-8:30pm. While MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY has been released on DVD, I have yet to find one episode or even clip of AMAZING MR. MALONE.

   It was common in the fifties for radio series to become a TV series and that was the fate of George Harmon Coxe’s Jack Casey. The TV series CRIME PHOTOGRAPHER aired on CBS from April 19, 1951 to June 5, 1952. In Season One Casey was played by Richard Carlyle who was replaced in Season Two by Darren McGavin. Today few remember the once popular Casey who got his start in pulps and in addition to radio and TV made it in novels and films.

   THE MASK aired on ABC from January 10, 1954 to May 16, 1954. It featured two brothers, Walter and Peter Guilfoyle (played by Gary Merrill and William Prince) as lawyers who fought crime. It was also TV’s first hour-long mystery series with a continuing cast of characters.

   21 BEACON STREET aired on NBC from July 2 to September 10 1959. PI Dennis Chase (Dennis Morgan) worked with a group of specialists to solve crime. Reportedly the series producers sued MISSION IMPOSSIBLE for stealing its idea (or one of its characters). It also may be the first TV series with a female license PI (Joanna Barnes as Lola).

   ADVENTURE SHOWCASE aired on CBS on Tuesday during the summer of 1959. The series featured four failed pilots, one airing each week. IMDb gives details of three of the four titles – BROCK CALLAHAN (episode title “Silent Kill” and starred Ken Clark, written by Stirling Silliphant and directed by Don Siegel), JOHNNY NIGHTHAWK, a lover of adventure and professional pilot with his own plane (starred Scott Brady, written by Tony Barrett and directed by Oscar Rudolph), WAR CORRESPONDENT (starring Gene Barry as Sgt Pike, written by Otis Carney and directed by Christian Nyby).

   All sound interesting, but I am a fan of writer Sam Rolfe, and he apparently wrote the second week’s failed pilot of which almost nothing is known – not plot, characters, cast, nor title — and that is what I am searching for. Santa knows all — including collectors never pick the easy ones.

   Speaking of challenges, number one on my wish list (and bucket list … I did say I was a collector) is THE LONG HUNT OF APRIL SAVAGE. The TV Movie pilot was written by Sam Rolfe, and may have had the episode title of “Home is an Empty Grave.” Everything about this show is intriguing. The pilot sold and the series was on the proposed ABC’s 1966-67 schedule. The premise was ahead of its time. Robert Lansing starred in the Western as April Savage. Savage’s family had been killed by eight men and during the series he would search for each to kill them.

   Similar to today’s arc stories Savage would find the killers one at a time over the period of the series, or so it was planned. But there were behind the scenes problems, and reportedly Rolfe quit and the show fell apart, so ABC quickly turned to another pilot also with Lansing called THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS. (A review of a made-for-TV movie cobbled together from edited episodes of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS can be found here.)

   Sometimes you wonder how a TV series with such great talent involved could disappear, an example of this is ABC’s STONE. The series aired January 14, 1980 to March 17, 1980. It was created by Stephen Cannell (ROCKFORD FILES), Richard Levinson and William Link (COLUMBO) and produced by Cannell for Universal Television. It starred Dennis Weaver (McCLOUD) a cop who writes a best seller that affects his work on the police force.

   DETECTIVE IN THE HOUSE aired on CBS between March 15 and April 19, 1985, and starred Judd Hirsch as a successful engineer who quits to become a PI and is tutored by a retired PI played by Jack Elam. This hour-long drama may have had Howard Duff in an episode or two. I wanna see Elam as a PI in a “drama.”

   LEAVING L.A. aired on ABC from April 12, 1997 to June 14, 1997. The series was about an odd group of people working at the Los Angeles morgue. The cast included Christopher Meloni, Ron Rifkin, Allison Bertolino and Hilary Swank (pre-Oscar). Someday this one will pop up somewhere and since Santa is always watching, maybe he will tell me if I’ve been good.

   Sometimes just a clip from a forgotten/lost series can add it to the wish list. Here are a few series that made Santa’s list with only a clip or theme song.

   MONTY NASH was a syndicated TV series based on a series of books by Richard Telfair. Harry Guardino played government investigator Monty Nash in this half hour series that aired in 1971.

   KINGSTON: CONFIDENTIAL starred Raymond Burr as a rich communication mogul who liked to fight crime. This NBC series aired first as a successful TV Movie called KINGSTON in 1976. The series lasted 13 episodes from March 23, 1977 to August 10, 1977.

   VERONICA CLARE was on Lifetime network from July 23 1991 to September 17, 1991. Veronica was an owner of a jazz club in L.A.’s Chinatown and doubled as a PI with a 40’s style. While the clip’s audio is near unlistenable, the video shows the series neo-noir style.


   BLACK TIE AFFAIR was originally called SMOLDERING LUST until NBC changed it over creator/producer Jay Tarses objections. Tarses is known for his comedy work (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, BUFFALO BILL). In this series Tarses created his version of the PI mystery. The series aired from May 29 to June 19, 1993, and starred Bradley Whitford and Kate Capshaw. Once the series changed its name to BLACK TIE AFFAIR the theme would lose its lyrics but here is the original theme with its lyrics.

   Now comes the horrible moment I remember as a kid. I am only half way into the Sears Christmas catalog, and I realize my list is too long. I could make Santa mad by asking for too much — aka all I really really need. But I am an adult now, and I no longer have to depend on the kindness of others. I can continue to shop until it is time to give Santa yet one more try next year. Ho ho ho everyone.