Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not in the Mainstream, but the Back Alley

While you can buy DVDs containing the later TV movies inspired by that 1985-1988 private-eye drama Spenser: For Hire, the original series remains unavailable commercially. Did you know, though, that AOL Video’s In2TV site offers free access to many of those earlier episodes? Yeah, neither did I. Until today.

Available are 26 one-hour episodes, though not all 64. In addition, you can take in the two-hour pilot film, its story adapted from Robert B. Parker’s Edgar Award-winning novel, Promised Land (1976), his fourth book featuring single-named, gourmet-cooking, and wisecracking Boston gumshoe Spenser. These eps are scattered all across the series’ three seasons. Which means you’ll find not only the shows co-starring Barbara Stock as therapist Susan Silverman, but also those in the second season that tried to substitute Carolyn McCormick as his alternative love interest, Rita Fiori. Notice, too, how the theme music evolves from tough-sounding, to more tender, and then back to tougher again, as Spenser’s producers tried to determine which tone for the show was most viewer-friendly.

Although I enjoyed this series initially, being a fan of Parker’s early books (and having once ventured all the way to Boston in order to interview the author), Spenser didn’t wear well on me. I thought Robert Urich performed admirably in the title role, and absolutely loved Avery Brooks as thuggish sidekick Hawk, but like many watchers I got tired of Stock’s Silverman. In the ’80s, I found Miami Vice, Crime Story, and even Jack Warden’s Crazy Like a Fox to be more innovative and interesting than this show. But now that two decades have passed, and American television seems to have abandoned straightforward adults-oriented cop and private eye series (at least for the moment), Spenser is lookin’ pretty darn good. I’ll have to revisit it on In2TV--while I can.

Many of the series offered by In2TV are marginal products, at best (did we really need to see Are You Hot? or Kung Fu again in this lifetime?), and others are cartoons; however, I spot several older crime dramas of potential interest: Eyes, The FBI, Tim Daly’s version of The Fugitive, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. What puzzles me, though, is that there aren’t more long-unavailable shows for the tapping. In2TV might really draw an audience if it ditched Mama’s Family and George Hamilton’s justly axed Spies in favor of canceled but valuable gems such as It Takes a Thief, or City of Angels, or Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, or Search, or ... well, I could go on and on.

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Among the other older TV series I’d like to see make the leap to In2TV, if they can’t vault all the way to DVD yet, is Burt Reynolds’ Dan August (1970-1971), about which Marty McKee has many nice things to say in his blog, Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot.

1 comment:

Jersey Jack said...

Kung Fu rocks!