Among the many older TV series that are long overdue for a resurrection in DVD format is Petrocelli, a 1974-1976 legal drama that starred Barry Newman as Anthony J. Petrocelli, a young, Harvard-educated, and Italian-American attorney who gives up the hefty paychecks and frantic pace of a big-city, East Coast law practice and, with his wife, Maggie (Susan Howard), relocates to the fictional Southwestern cow town called San Remo, Arizona, where his city-slicker ways don’t always sit well with the locals. (“Where the hell do you get off, Petrocelli, walking into San Remo like the King of Italy, telling me how to run my business?” asks a police lieutenant.)
(Left) TV Guide’s pre-debut write-up about Petrocelli, published September 7, 1974. Click to enlarge.
Following Newman’s original portrayal of Tony Petrocelli in the 1970 theatrical film The Lawyer (inspired loosely by the Sam Sheppard murder case, and featuring Diana Muldaur as his wife), this series was sold to NBC-TV on the basis of a 1974 pilot titled Night Games. Petrocelli benefited from its very engaging cast (which also included Albert Salmi in the role of cowboyish private investigator Pete Ritter) and its unusual setting. Newman brought to what could have been a typical shyster role both warmth and passion; Petrocelli rarely hesitated to become personally involved in his cases, and was often unconcerned about whether his clients could afford his services. (Unusual for television, too, was the fact that he sometimes settled for just getting his clients acquitted, without having to prove that someone else was guilty.) Much was made of the relationship between Tony and Maggie, which seemed genuine and loving, and through most of the series, the couple lived in a trailer, while they worked long hours to build a new home, brick by brick. For his work on that show, Newman received a Golden Globe nomination.
I’m reminded of all this, because today is actor Newman’s 68th birthday. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he “graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in anthropology, but turned to acting and the New York scene after ‘crashing’ a class at the Actor’s Studio,” according to a short bio at The International Movie Database. His earliest film role, it seems, was in the 1960 release Pretty Boy Floyd, and he later appeared in The Edge of Night and Get Smart, as well as the “counterculture road flick” Vanishing Point (1971). Since NBC yanked Petrocelli’s shingle, Newman has been seen in theatrical films such as City on Fire (1979), Brown’s Requiem (1998, based on James Ellroy’s 1981 novel of the same name), Bowfinger (1999), and 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002). He’s also been in episodes of Quincy, M.E., L.A. Law, Cupid, and The O.C.
Happy birthday, Mr. Newman.
And for the nostalgic among us, here’s the opening from Petrocelli:
READ MORE: “That’s CHELL-y, PetroCHELLi,” by Marty McKee (Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot).