Monday, September 27, 2010

Killed in the Ratings: “McClain’s Law”

(The 12th entry in a month-long series about American TV crime dramas that debuted with fanfare, but are now largely forgotten.)

Title: McClain’s Law

Starring: James Arness and Marshall Colt

Original Run: 1981-1982 (16 episodes), NBC-TV

Premise: Former Gunsmoke star Arness played Jim McClain, a veteran detective with the police department in San Pedro, California, who had retired after being injured, then spent a decade and a half working on a fishing boat. But when his fishing partner is murdered, McClain--long known as a rule-breaker who prefers to conduct his investigations “by the gut”--pushes for reinstatement on the force in order to solve that homicide. Afterwards, he remains on active duty, much to the dismay of his new boss, Lieutenant Ed DeNisco (George DiCenzo), as well as his 30-year-old, by-the-book partner, Detective Harry Gates (Colt), who McClain doesn’t particularly like, but who seems destined to learn a lot from the elder lawman.

Created by Eric Bercovici

Additional Notes: According to TV Guide, “NBC bought this series without a pilot or even a script. What they had was a Living Legend and a Concept.” Sadly, that wasn’t good enough to make McClain’s Law a hit. Maybe Arness should have found more excuses to get out of his car and up into a saddle, where viewers expected to find him.

Above: The write-up on McClain’s Law from the September 12-18, 1981, Fall Preview edition of TV Guide. (Click to enlarge it.) Below: The program’s opening sequence, with an episode preview.

1 comment:

Disraeli Demon said...

I remember watching this on UK TV as a kid - there was a horrifying fascination about it because something bad seemed to happen to James Arness's health a couple of episodes in - I can't find any references to it, but it looked like a stroke because his movement was impaired. Despite him still playing the action hero, all his shots were cut so he never had to walk more than a couple of steps at a time. Then they'd cut to a fight scene where his "double" was an obviously younger stunt man in a white wig with his back to the camera, slugging it out with the bad guys, then at the end it was back to poor old James Arness who could barely stand upright. It was beyond parody.