“Rockford Files” creator Stephen Cannell in 1980 had an idea about an accountant thrust into the role of private eye via a quirk of fate (a concept recently revisited by Conan O’Brien’s even shorter-lived “Andy Barker, PI”). Cannell, whose last episode of “Rockford” aired 17 days before the first episode of “Tenspeed and Brownshoe,” personally scripted or co-scripted nine of “Tenspeed’s” 14 hours.
Jeff Goldblum, then best known as the Bay Area mud-bath owner in the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” was cast as henpecked accountant Lionel Whitney. Producers cast Ben Vereen, Chicken George in 1977’s “Roots,” as con-man attorney E.L. “Tenspeed” Turner, who partners with Whitney in his new detective agency.
Not only is the series (minus the pilot) finally becoming available, it’s only $10.99.
In contrast to “Tenspeed,” Cannell only wrote six of the first 66 episodes of “Wiseguy.” A later and more successful Cannell creation, it was the tale of deep deep deep undercover FBI man Vincent Terranova, a Fordham grad who spent 18 months in prison in an effort to infiltrate the mob.
It was a groundbreaking crime drama in that it employed heavy episode-to-episode continuity and, decades before the pay-cable arrivals of Tony Soprano, Proposition Joe and Michael Caffee, sympathetic crime bosses. A key focus of the series was Terranova’s guilt over betraying criminals he began to think of as friends.
Why is Kevin Spacey on the cover? A long season-one arc saw Terranova linking up with top-tier hitman Roger Loccoco (William Russ) and Loccoco’s nutty billionaire arms-dealer boss Mel Profitt (Spacey, six years before “The Usual Suspects” made him a star). Cannell said a later show he produced, the short-lived 1996 Adrian Pasdar vehicle “Profit,” was a kind of prequel partially inspired by “Wiseguy’s” Mel Profitt character.
The bad news is Wiseguy: The Collector's Edition only contains 67 of the 75 produced episodes. Seven of those eight missing episodes, one hears, are from the season-two Dead Dog Records storyline starring Paul Winfield, Tim Curry, Glenn Frey, Deborah Harry and Patti D'Arbanville; that arc put Terranova in the music industry and generated what appear to be insurmountable music-rights issues for this DVD set. Regrettable!
The great news is this set brings to DVD for the first time the latter episodes of the third season and the fourth season starring Steven Bauer, Oliver Platt, Stephen Root, Michael Learned and Billy Dee Williams. Fans can be dismissive of this season because it’s a franchise reboot that Ken Wahl didn’t appear in it, but Cannell returned to supervise the reboot storyline and personally script two of the season’s nine episodes. Included are the three final episodes CBS never bothered to broadcast.
The even better news is this set goes for only$33.99, which works out to less than $8.50 per season.
If you can’t get enough Michael Chiklis, The Commish is the third Cannell series hitting shelves today. Launching the fall after “Wiseguy” went dark, it followed police commissioner of a small town in upstate New York. Only $10.99 for 22 episodes.
I have zero first-hand recollection of this series, but “The Virginian” was apparently quite the undertaking, producing 30 90-minute (!) color episodes between Sept. 19, 1962 and May 1, 1963 in its first season.
What kind of maniac orders a weekly 90-minute TV western?
The sheer amount of material may account for the season-one set’s old-school $71.99 pricetag. (Remember when a single season of “The X-Files” cost more than $100?) I’m told only 20,000 copies of this edition will be sold.
Set in Medicine Bow, Wyoming (around the time of the 1892 Johnson County range wars depicted in “Heaven’s Gate”), the NBC western centered on a ranch foreman (James Drury) whose name was never revealed over the series’ nine-year run. New Yorker Lee J. Cobb (“On The Waterfront,” “12 Angry Men,” “Our Man Flint,” “Coogan’s Bluff,” “The Exorcist”) played the ranch owner, Judge Henry Garth. Doug McClure achieved fame on the series playing a ranch hand named Trampas. It was based on seminal 1902 novel, by Philadelphia lawyer Owen Wister, which served as the basis of four movies before the series came along.
Stuntman Mike makes reference to the series and its sequel, “The Men From Shiloh,” in “Death Proof,” so I guess Quentin Tarantino remembers them.
Matt Houston was ABC’s Aaron Spelling knock-off of CBS’ “Magnum PI”; it’s impossible to look at that DVD cover and not think of actor Sam Weber’s “T.J. Lancer” character, as depicted in “The Big Chill.”
Herc’s Popular Pricing Pantry