THE PARTNERS. NBC/Universal Studios, in association with don/lee Productions, 1971-72. Cast: Don Adams as Detective Lennie Crooke, Rupert Crosse as Detective George Robinson, John Doucette as Captain Andrews, and Dick van Patten as Sergeant Higgenbottom. Executive Producer: Arne Sultan – Producers: Earl Barret and Lee Wolfberg. Created by Don Adams.

   There are many reasons for a TV series to fail, and many series are doomed from the very start. Sometimes it can be as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don Adams’ THE PARTNERS was one of those. You could say it missed it by that much.

   Don Adams began as a successful standup comedian, a job he hated. One of his first major acting roles on TV was hotel detective Bryon Glick on THE BILL DANA SHOW. Would you believe that Adams and Bill Dana developed a character that began in Adams standup act and would become TV icon Maxwell Smart? The voice began as part of a comedy bit written by Bill Dana. Adams would mock the famous film scene in THE THIN MAN where the suspects were gathered together so William Powell’s Nick Charles could name the killer.

   From there Adams and Dana evolved the character into Bryon Glick as seen on THE BILL DANA SHOW. A spin-off from MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, THE BILL DANA SHOW aired on NBC (1963-65) and starred Dana as a hotel busboy and co-starred Jonathan Harris and Gary Crosby.

“Master of Disguise.” April 9, 1964. Written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. Directed by Coby Ruskin. Executive Producer:Sheldon Leonard in association with Danny Thomas. Guest Cast: Hilary Wontner. *** Hotels are being robbed so Glick the hotel detective takes on various disguises to catch the thief.

   Adams was not the original choice for Maxwell Smart, Tom Poston was. After ABC rejected the original pilot. NBC was looking for something for Adams who was under contract to the network. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry then adapted Maxwell Smart for Don Adams and his style of comedy.

   GET SMART was a hit for NBC and made Don Adams a star. So when Adams came up with an idea for a TV series, NBC was eager to listen. According to, in an (unidentified) 2004 interview Adams described his original premise as a cop show with partners similar to the hit film LETHAL WEAPON (1987). Adams would play the white cop not comfortable working with a black partner. THE PARTNERS would deal with the social issues of the day including racism.

   THE PARTNERS would debut in the fall of 1971. ALL IN THE FAMILY had debuted in January 1971, and the style of TV comedy was changing. NBC and Universal Studios agreed to make the series but with a major change – the social commentary Adams wanted was gone and replaced with old style TV comedy featuring two bumbling not too bright cops – one white and one black – solving crimes by accident and driving their boss crazy.

   NBC’s decision is understandable. It was Adams’ voice that made his comedy work, but it is a voice that would mock any attempt at dark comedy or drama. Imagine Don Adams playing Archie Bunker and you can understand why the network and studio wanted Adams to stay close to the character audience loved.

   But Adams wanted to do a serious role (something he never got the chance to do). So while he agreed to a comedy in the style of BILL DANA SHOW and GET SMART he played Detective Sergeant Lennie Crooke straight and without his popular comedic voice. The series needed that voice.

“Waterloo At Napoleon.” October 9 1971. Written by Burt Styler. Directed by Gary Nelson. Guest Cast: Stacy Harris, Pepper Martin, Bob Hastings and Robert Karvelas. *** Lennie and George’s attempt to trap a money launderer goes wrong and messes up the FBI’s plan to catch a kidnapper.

   The comedy had its moments but was too fanciful and silly for where TV comedy was going in the 70s. The future of TV comedy was the edginess of Norman Lear’s ALL IN THE FAMILY (and its spinoffs) to the realistic comedies of M*A*S*H and the MTM sitcoms (MARY TYLER MOORE, BOB NEWHART, etc).

   The cast of THE PARTNERS included Rupert Crosse as Lennie’s partner George. The original choice for George was Godfrey Cambridge. The reason for dropping Cambridge according to Adams and the network was a “lack of chemistry between Adams and Cambridge.” But my guess it had more to do with the change in the premise from socially conscious comedy to old school safe comedy. While the pairing of Adams and Cambridge as cops dealing with issues such as racism may not have succeeded, it would have had a better chance than the watered-down version that made it to air.

   Rupert Crosse was a good comedic actor but both he and Adams played their characters too low-key. Speaking of chemistry, Crosse and Adams never really connected unlike the chemistry Adams had with Bill Dana and GET SMART’s Barbara Feldon.

   John Doucette did well in the all ready TV cliché role as the hot-tempered boss, Captain Andrews. Dick van Patten played the annoying Desk Sergeant Higgenbottom whose dislike for Lennie and George was never funny.

“How Many Carats in a Grapefruit?” October 16, 1971. Teleplay by Arne Sultan and Earl Barret. Story by Ferdinand Leon. Directed by Gary Nelson. Guest Cast: David Huddleston and Juanita Moore. *** Lennie and George arrive at the airport to pick up George’s Mother and unintentionally ruin another cop’s attempt to catch some jewel thieves.

   The production look was cheap and studio bound, something common in 60s comedies, but was quickly being replaced by the three camera comedies of ALL IN THE FAMILY and (to premiere in 1975) BARNEY MILLER and the realistic sets worthy of a drama for M*A*S*H and the MTM comedies.

   THE PARTNERS opening sequence was distinct from the common TV series opening. Each episode would open with a different theme and pictures, then the action would begin. The opening titles would appear slowly through the action, at times not ending until well into the first act. The great Lalo Schifrin (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) did each theme and the closing theme but the idea proved pointless and not worth the effort.

“Two Or False.” August 1971. Written by Bruce Howard. Directed by Earl Bellamy. Guest Cast: Yvonne Craig. *** A beautiful woman steals jewelry in front of employees of two different jewelry stores. Lennie and George catch her each time but can’t find the jewels.

   This might have been funnier if they hadn’t given away the twist immediately. After we knew how Lennie and George were being tricked, there was little left but old predictable gags like the hallway chase scene.

   There is a wonderful website called Classic Showbiz. It has a collection of incredible interviews with some of the people who worked during the 50s/60s era of nightclubs and TV comedies. Kliph Nesteroff has a talent for getting great stories from people such as Bernie Kopell, Dick Cavatt, Bill Persky, Sherwood Schwartz, Jack Carter, Bill Dana and more.

   Several of the interviews mention Don Adams. Dick Gautier would only talk about Adams off the record while Buck Henry raved about Adams. Adams was a likable man to many while others hated to work with him.

   For this review I will just highlight some of the dark side of Adams. For those who seek more information I recommend the two following posts by Nesteroff.

   Adams was a successful standup comic who was a notorious joke thief, yet one of his most famous victims, Bob Newhart, became his friend and attended Don Adams memorial. In Newhart’s autobiography (I SHOULDN’T EVEN BE DOING THIS, Hachette, 2006), he wrote about how Adams’ widow asked him to tell the story about Adams stealing part of Newhart’s classic submarine commander bit.

   Adams hated being a standup comedian. He considered getting laughs for a living humiliating. An unhappy man Adams main love was gambling, and because of his gambling he often had to fly to Las Vegas on a moments notice to do his standup act to pay off his gambling debts.

   NBC would regret not doing Adams original premise. Ironically CBS shifted ALL IN THE FAMILY to a new time slot in the Fall 1971-72 season opposite THE PARTNERS. Socially relevant comedy ALL IN THE FAMILY was the number one show on TV for the 1971-72 season and for the five seasons after. ABC’s light-hearted comedy/music GETTING TOGETHER did not fare any better than THE PARTNERS.

   THE PARTNERS aired a total of twenty episodes. The series premiered September 18, 1971 on Saturday at 8:00-8:30 and remained in that time slot until January 8,1972 when the cancelled series left the air. The series returned July 28 1972 and aired the rest of the unaired episodes through September 8, 1972 on Friday at 8pm as a summer fill-in for SANFORD AND SON. There was a TV movie CONFESSIONS OF A TOP CRIME BUSTER (UNIVERSAL, 1971), complied from THE PARTNERS episodes but I have been unable to find its original airdate or what episodes were used.