Sunday, January 06, 2013

Pilot Error: “Crime Club,” 1973

When I was growing up back in the 1970s, it seemed that every year brought a slew of new TV pilot films, shot in hopes of selling a series to one of the then three major U.S. networks. Some of those pilots spawned weekly programs, but many others--such as The Judge and Jake Wyler, Henry Darrow’s Hernandez, Glenn Ford’s Jarrett, and I Love a Mystery--never went beyond the auditioning stage.

Among that latter category was Crime Club. Broadcast originally by CBS on March 6, 1973, it starred Lloyd Bridges (formerly of Sea Hunt and San Francisco International Airport) as a private eye named Paul Cord, who headed up a state-of-the-art crime-solving organization, the membership of which comprised professional investigators from both the public and private arenas. The 90-minute pilot found Cord combining his talents with those of Judge Roger Knight (Victor Buono) to solve the slaying of another club associate. William Devane and Paul Burke (of Naked City renown) also starred in the teleflick, together with Cloris Leachman and David Hedison.

I haven’t seen Crime Club since, but I did recently come across this 9.25-minute clip from the film’s beginning on YouTube:

I remember watching Crime Club when it first aired, and thinking that it was pretty good. But CBS evidently didn’t agree with the young, optimistic me; it passed on the opportunity to turn Bridges’ baby into a regular series. Nonetheless, the premise lived on. Another Crime Club pilot--also shot for CBS, but involving a different writer and producer--was made in 1975. That second version starred Scott Thomas, Eugene Roche, and Robert Lansing in the tale of “an attorney (Lansing), an investigative reporter, and a detective [who] set out to find out who is behind a series of ice-pick murders.” Again, though, the pilot film didn’t generate a weekly drama.

Does anyone else recall tuning in either of these pilots?

UPDATE: Not long after I posted this piece, Illinois film and TV critic Marty McKee dropped me a note saying that he’d “seen both and liked both” Crime Club pilots, and had reviewed them on his Web site, Marty’s Marquee. You will find both of those write-ups here.


michael said...

I had not seen Crime Club, so I hit my favorite research spot for that period, "Broadcasting" magazine.

The December 18, 1972 issue lists Crime Club as one of CBS's 23 pilots to possibly become a series in the fall of 73. It was the only CBS pilot of 90 minutes. 12 of the 23 pilots were half-hour sitcoms. Fred Silverman was working at CBS then and the network relied heavily on the half hour form. The two crime/mystery pilots that went series instead of Crime Club (and Call To Danger) were Shaft and The New Adventures of Perry Mason.

Interestingly, Crime Club was listed as a proposed Crime anthology. I wonder how involved Bridges would have been if the pilot went series. I actually like the idea of a crime club with each week featuring a different member, but I doubt the ratings would have approved.

I doubt you are surprised that the other Crime Club had nothing to do with the first. Bridges version was a CBS TV Production and the other was an "action adventure" for Universal.

It is not uncommon for pilots to have the same title but not be connected. There is more than one TV series called Shannon. There is the pilot Fat Man that has nothing to do with the radio series or movie with the same name.

Marty McKee said...

I've seen both and liked both. I reviewed the pilots on my website:

It's not true the two Crime Clubs had nothing to do with each other. They both have the same premise, just different casts. Probably both series would have been anthologies of a sort, since the pilots are set up that way. Not exactly anthologies, but more like series with rotating leads like NAME OF THE GAME and SEARCH. I can see why a risk-averse network might pick SHAFT (with its original star) and a remake of the popular PERRY MASON to take to series, but I think CBS would have had more success with CRIME CLUB.

michael said...

Thanks, Marty for correcting me about the two Crime Club pilots. It does help if you have actually watched the shows, doesn't it.

Anthologies usually had rating problems in the 70s (except for Police Story) as did the wheel (rotating stars shows, Search flopped, Name of the Game was a success). It is impossible to guess where the series would have gone from "Broadcasting" or even the pilot. But making Crime Club a wheel show would have been fun to watch.

Marty McKee said...

Thanks for the plug, JKP. If I'da known to expect company, I woulda cleaned up a bit. :)