Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Killed in the Ratings: “Mancuso, FBI”

(The 13th entry in a month-long series about American TV crime dramas that debuted with fanfare, but are now largely forgotten.)

Title: Mancuso, FBI

Starring: Robert Loggia

Original Run: 1989-1990 (20 episodes), NBC-TV

Premise: Character actor Loggia’s tough-guy face has to be one of the most familiar in American television history. He claims a curriculum vitae that runs on and on ... and on. During the mid-1960s Loggia starred as a circus performer and cat burglar turned bodyguard in T.H.E. Cat, and before that he appeared in a succession of Walt Disney films based on the real-life experiences of 19th-century western lawman-politician Elfego Baca. He’s guest-starred in everything from Route 66 and The Name of the Game to Mannix, McMillan & Wife, The Rockford Files, Nero Wolfe, Murder, She Wrote, Magnum, P.I., The Sopranos, and most recently, Men of a Certain Age. Then there are his numerous theatrical film roles. Given how comfortable TV viewers must be with Loggia, it’s surprising that Mancuso, FBI wasn’t more of a success. His character, federal investigator Nick Mancuso, was introduced in 1988’s six-part NBC miniseries, Favorite Son, based on a 1987 novel of that same name by Steve Sohmer. The miniseries centered around a mediagenic young senator from Texas (played by Harry Hamlin), who after surviving the assassination of a Central American contra leader, was chosen as the running mate of the current U.S. president, Sam Baker. Only later did Baker discover that his new vice-presidential pick was also “a fascist and a militarist, ready to turn the Americas into an armed camp for the greater honor and glory of the United States.” Mancuso was assigned to find out who had snuffed the contra leader, a task at which some folks in the government would have preferred he fail. Loggia played Mancuso as a gruff, world-weary, and plainspoken agent on the cusp of retirement, whose outward cynicism regarding the modern political scene and the ethical drift of his nation contrasted with his privately held hopefulness about America’s future and his faith in the FBI. Loggia scored enough plaudits with his portrayal, that NBC decided to try his fedora-topped character out in a regular Friday-night series of his own. Writing about Mancuso, FBI in their 2007 book, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh explained:
As the press releases put it, [Mancuso] had “a passionate love affair with the United States Constitution.” His politically oriented superiors dismissed him as “a lonely misanthrope with no respect for authority,” but it’s not easy to get rid of FBI agents so he got to continue his one-man crusade against corruption and murder in high government places in this action-filled series.
During Mancuso’s run, Loggia’s agent got mixed up with political smear campaigns, international drug dealing, plutonium theft, judicial corruption, and even an IRS scam.

Additional Notes: With the long-established CBS prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest and ABC’s “television newsmagazine,” 20/20, as its competition on Friday nights between 10 and 11 p.m., Mancuso fought an uphill battle for ratings. Critics debated what was going wrong with the new show, and many determined that what had really made the miniseries Favorite Son a winner was not Loggia’s crotchety investigator, but rather Hamlin’s appearance as a guileful senator. They charged that, on his own, Nick Mancuso couldn’t draw the same sort of audience numbers. It didn’t help this new series, either, that as The New York Times reported, Loggia had just turned 60 years old, and was “already demanding lighter work schedules.” After carrying 20 episodes of Mancuso, FBI, NBC finally decided to let the agent retire as he’d wanted to do for so long.

Above: The write-up about Mancuso, FBI from the September 9-15, 1989, Fall Preview edition of TV Guide. (Click to enlarge the image.) Below: The show’s opening title sequence.


RJR said...

This one I loved--especially Randi Brazen (or Brooks) as his secretary. Yowzah! Also liked Loggia in the old T.H.E. CAT series.


Winifred said...

I'm enjoying this series about shows I've never even heard of here in the UK. Interesting to see those like this one that seemed to have a lot of potential yet never made it.

Think I would have liked this one!

Off to watch New Tricks, that's a crime show which has been very popular here. Full of golden oldies like Mancuso brought out of retirement! Great stuff.

Peter Sacco said...

I have watched the tailor i think that the move is great.