Thursday, July 16, 2020

Take a Ride on the Mystery “Wheels”

(Above) An early TV industry ad for The Name of the Game.

If there’s one thing I have learned over my decades as a reporter and author, it’s that some stories we write primarily for money. Some stories we write primarily for love. My contribution today to CrimeReads falls solidly in the latter category.

The subject is TV “wheel series.” You know, those rotating weekly dramas—usually crime dramas—that used to offer multiple shows or alternating protagonists under a single, umbrella title. The Name of the Game. The Bold Ones. The NBC Mystery Movie. Those are certainly the best-remembered of the bunch, though they are far from the only examples. I initially happened across this category of entertainment as a boy, when one of the original Big Three TV networks broadcast Saturday-afternoon repeats of The Name of the Game, a stylish (and, I have learned since, quite expensive for its time) program about magazine journalists seeking to unearth truths in a world too comfortable with deceit. Later, I became a huge fan of the Mystery Movies (two batches of them, on Sunday and Wednesday nights), even though my childhood bedtime required that I clandestinely listen to at least part of those shows—Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Banacek, The Snoop Sisters, etc.—on my father’s TV-band radio.

Over the last couple of decades, I’ve managed to feed my nostalgia for those and other “wheels” by purchasing DVD sets of the classic series, though many still remain frustratingly unobtainable. (Will I ever be able to see Assignment: Vienna or Tenafly again?) I have also taken opportunities to revisit the shows here in The Rap Sheet. But not until recently did I devote myself to investigating and recording the rather complicated history of those rotating dramas.

The results of that research are found today in CrimeReads.

I know I’m not alone in my enduring fondness for wheel series. The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page featuring the NBC Mystery Movie opening is, for instance, filled with wistful recollections of folks who once enjoyed its offerings. (“I can remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap watching this show. It was his favorite. Sadly both are now gone,” one viewer recalls.) I hope that others who were once charmed by these small-screen rotations, as well as others who missed out on this programming format altogether, will take a few moments to revisit the heyday of those shows today. Click here to travel back in time.


HonoluLou said...

Not sure it ever made it into a "wheel," but "The Pretenders" was pretty awesome, with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as two opposites (a British Lord & a successful American Busineness Man) thrown together to solve the unsolvable. A "wheely" great post!

DDavis said...

NBC also made a series called "Best Sellers" that presented adaptations of novels, I guess, to cash in on the miniseries format popularized by "Rich Man, Poor Man." Robert Ludlum's "The Rhinemann Exchange" was one of the four novels featured on that show.

I enjoyed "Assignment: Vienna" and "The Delphi Bureau," which were part of "The Men" on ABC. The third series in that wheel, "Jigsaw," took the longest for me to warm to. It had a different tone and texture than the other two. But what hooked me for "Jigsaw" was the episode "Kiss the Dream Goodbye" that Stephen J. Cannell adapted from Howard Browne's novel "Thin Air." By that time, though, ABC had cancelled "The Men." However, Cannell later used "Thin Air" to create a great episode of "The Rockford Files," entitled "Sleight of Hand."

I read your article on the Crimereads site, and I appreciate this history of the wheel shows that were part of my early teenage years.