J. J. STARBUCK “Pilot.” NBC, 26 September 1987. (The series itself of sixteen episodes began three evenings later, on September 29th.) Dale Robertson (Jerome Jeremiah ‘J.J.’ Starbuck), David Huddleston, Shawn Weatherly. Guest cast: Bill Bixby, Patty Duke. Co-creators/screenwriters: Stephen J. Cannell & Lawrence Hertzog. Director: Corey Allen. Episodes are currently available on YouTube.

   J. J. Starbuck (no relation to the coffee shop chain, as far as I know) was an eccentric billionaire who left the running to his several successful commercial enterprises to underlings to travel across the country solving murder cases in which he feels an underdog is getting a poor deal. (At the end of this, the pilot episode, it is revealed that the deaths of his wife and son were what changed his mind about his earlier philosophy that money is everything.)

   His primary means of transportation is a Lincoln convertible enhanced by a hood ornament consisting of three foot span of steer horns. Over the top, yes, but it helped make many a killer think J. J. is nothing more than a corn pone cowboy prone to quoting appropriate homilies fitting the situation at hand.

   Example: “I like to keep an open mind, in case someone comes along and drops a good thought in it.”

   I don’t think anyone but Dale Robertson could get away with lines such as this. The part was almost surely made with him in mind.

   In this opening episode, the villain (Bill Bixby) is accused and arrested of killing his wife. Midway through the trial a pool boy (or the equivalent) confesses to the murder, and Bixby’s character is set free. Then the fellow who confessed retracts his confession, but can Bixby be arrested and tried again? Supposedly not, but I will allow the legal minds reading this have their say.

   The beneficiary of J. J. Starbuck investigation is Bill Bixby’s stepson, who also ends up as J. J.’s foster son halfway through the episode, but I don’t believe he ever showed up again.

   The series lasted only the one season, but it had to be fun for viewers to see Dale Robertson back in the saddle again, so the speak. (*) To me, he was a man totally at ease in any role he played, and he plays this one to the hilt.

(*) Robertson previously starred in two cowboy shows on TV: Tales of Wells Fargo (1957-62) and Iron Horse (1966-68)