Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Killed in the Ratings: “Gavilan”

(The fourth entry in a month-long series about American TV crime dramas that debuted with fanfare, but are now largely forgotten.)

Title: Gavilan

Starring: Robert Urich

Original Run: 1982-1983 (10 episodes broadcast, three unaired), NBC-TV

Premise: A year after cashing out of Vega$ and three years before he joined the Glocks-and-galoshes gang in Spenser: For Hire, actor Urich slipped into a wet suit and rubber flippers for this high-adventure crime drama, set in Malibu, California. He played Robert Gavilan, a former intelligence operative who has gone to work for an oceanographic research organization. Here’s what The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, has to say about Gavilan: “His years as a CIA agent had made Robert Gavilan a little bit cynical, but not enough to stop him from fighting for what was right and just. In his current capacity, as inventor and consultant to California’s DeWitt Institute of Oceanography, Gavilan helped rescue people in trouble, worked on underwater projects, and occasionally got involved with exactly the type of espionage activities that had caused him to leave the Agency. He shared his Malibu beach house with Milo Bentley [Patrick Macnee of The Avengers fame], a suave, conniving travel agent who regularly helped Gavilan on his adventures. Mrs. [Marion] Jaworski [Kate Reid], Gavilan’s boss at the Institute, was impressed by his talents but bothered by his tendency to get into dangerous situations. He did, it must be said, have to deal with more than his share of evil despots and foreign agents, as well as a never-ending stream of beautiful women, in this formula adventure.”

Additional Notes: I have to admit, what I remember most clearly about this series were its multiple boat chases (only Miami Vice might have eventually outdone Gavilan in that department) and lots of tanned, bikini-clad flesh--which probably tells you more about where my mind was at the time than it does about the scope of Gavilan’s storytelling. While there were dangerous situations aplenty in the show, it also bore a welcome edge of humor. The underwater scenery was captivating and exotic (much better than Sea Hunt ever offered). And Macnee served as a splendidly eccentric, good-life-loving roommate for Urich’s oceanographer. Fernando Lamas was originally cast in the series as what TV Guide called “a roguish Latin aristocrat forced into exile” and living with Gavilan, but illness caused him to pull out of the venture after filming several episodes, which were reshot with Macnee. Lamas died shortly before Gavilan premiered in October 1982.

Above: Gavilan’s write-up in the September 11-17, 1982, Fall Preview edition of TV Guide. (Click to enlarge the image.) Below: The program’s opening title sequence, which would have been so much better without the singing.

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