For those of us that love television there is always that one show. The one show where to this day it remains unfathomable how the network executives only gave it one season.
Firefly is the most obvious for a lot of people and shows such as My So-Called Life, Freaks And Geeks and Rubicon also come to mind, particularly the latter which still colors my reaction to The Walking Dead as the show that replaced it on AMC.
For me that show remains Ellery Queen, originally broadcast on NBC back in 1975-76. Imagine therefore my delight to find that all 23 episodes of that one and only season are available on Hulu.
Set just after the Second World War – a decision that I suspect contributed to the show’s demise – the late Jim Hutton stars as the detective novelist Ellery Queen who comes to the aid of his detective Inspector Father Richard, played well by David Wayne. Created by the team behind Columbo and Murder She Wrote, Ellery Queen had style, wit and charm and the classic murder mystery convention of assembling all of the suspects together to unveil the murderer. I personally loved the fact that all the clues were available to see in the show and that Hutton, as Queen, would break the fourth wall and speak to the audience prior to the denouncement.
Hutton was terrific in the role, infusing Ellery with both smarts and also a certain goofy yet lovable clumsiness and it’s sad to note that the star would pass away just three years later at the comparatively early age of 45. John Hillerman is rival radio detective Simon Brimmer who turns up in a third of the episodes and you can see in the performance more than a little of the character Higgins that would emerge in Magnum PI four years later. George Burns, Joan Collins, Bob Crane, Betty White, Donald O’Connor, Vincent Price, Larry Hagman, Ed McMahon and numerous other notable Hollywood luminaries guest starred on the show, but alas to no avail.
The late 40’s and early 50’s have always appeared to be a difficult time to portray well on television. The BBC has had occasional success with Race for the Double Helix and The Bletchley Circle and of course there was the long running M.A.S.H., but in many ways there’s a sort of dead zone from 1945 to the Beatles invasion in 1964. Here the writers did their homework sprinkling in comments that mention local New York political figures for example, all adding to a lovely homage to the era in which the show is set. My suspicion is that this was the wrong era at the wrong time. Science Fiction was the in thing at the time with the networks trying a variety of shows such as The Invisible Man with David McCallum and Gemini Man starring Ben Murphy – both of which for the record I thoroughly enjoyed even if neither lasted more than half a season. Ah for the opportunity to have those available on Hulu or Netflix.
Still, Ellery Queen has stood the test of time and the shows are as brilliant today as they were back then, plus there’s that wondrous Elmer Bernstein theme tune. They don’t make them like this anymore and more’s the shame.
– Wallace Poulter