Sunday, August 24, 2008

Killed by Creative Differences

I haven’t yet got my hands on a copy of the new biography Quinn Martin, Producer: A Behind-the-Scenes History of QM Productions and Its Founder (McFarland & Company), by Jonathan Etter, but I did recently stumble across some pages from that book that are available on the Web, and what they contain is pretty fascinating. I was especially interested in what Etter has to say about the history of Banyon, a 1972-1973 QM (Quinn Martin) Productions show for NBC-TV that starred Robert Forster. I remember the series fondly. Forster played a classically sardonic Depression-era Los Angeles private eye, who had an office in downtown L.A.’s landmark Bradbury Building and was supplied with assistants from a secretarial school located down the hall.

In the book, Etter recalls:
Banyon creator-producer Ed Adamson had developed Banyon as a showcase for his pal Robert Forster. In 1969, Adamson had seen a Gregory Peck Western called The Stalking Moon. In it, Forster played an Indian. Reveals Forster, “Ed saw a scene in that movie with me and a young Indian lad. He wrote my name down when the credits came up and said, to himself, ‘I’m gonna hire that guy someday,’” which Adamson did for the March 15, 1971, movie-pilot, Banyon.

Directed by Robert Day, the well-produced 1971 Warner Bros. pilot had former cop turned private detective Miles C. Banyon trying to clear himself of a murder charge after his young female client is found dead in his office, killed by his own gun.
Unfortunately, the transition from the pilot to the Friday night TV series meant the recruitment of producer Quinn Martin--a veteran of such shows as The Fugitive, The F.B.I., The Streets of San Francisco, and Cannon. His management of a program that he had not created apparently stirred up more than a bit of tension.
Film noir made sense in a show whose title character was a detective in the Sam Spade-Philip Marlowe tradition. In other words, a down-on-his-luck private detective who’d take almost any kind of case, and was often beaten up by thugs. As evidenced by the series’ pilot, “Ed Adamson was very much into all of that,” says pilot director Robert Day. “He really was into the Maltese Falcon and all those 1930s and ’40s shows. He was into that very much, and he wanted to keep it almost verbatim. I really liked his original script. He was a clever writer.” As was the pilot’s co-writer, Richard Alan Simmons. He and Ed Adamson had their own ideas on how to do the Banyon pilot. Those ideas weren’t the same. The two men did not get along.

So, when NBC decided to do the Banyon series one year later, with Quinn Martin as their producer, Ed Adamson was not happy. “Ed felt ownership of the idea at the very least,” says Robert Forster. “He created the show. He was the primary source and the link.” “Ed Adamson really resented any interference from the QM organization,” remembers [director] Ralph Senensky. “There was an air of hostility between him and the QM people. I didn’t have any actual out and out problems with it, but Quinn did make it a point to come to me and thank me after I’d finished one of the shows. He very seldom did that. Ed Adamson was a real problem. He was caught in the fact that this was his baby, and that he was doing it under Quinn’s umbrella. Ed didn’t want to be told what to do. Especially since he was ill at the time. So he figured he was gonna do it his way, which he did.”
Etter explains that doing a period drama created a number of challenges, not the least of which were location shoots that required camouflaging modern elements of L.A. and keeping out-of-period pedestrians from walking through the scenes. Re-shooting drove up the cost of Banyon. But, notes Etter,
[I]t wasn’t really the expense of doing Banyon that killed the show. It was the sudden loss of its creator, Ed Adamson. “Ed died during the shooting of the show,” recalls [casting director] Meryl O’Loughlin. “It was such a shock to everybody. One day he was there, the next day, he was dead.” “We had an order of fifteen episodes,” adds Forster, “and on the thirteenth episode, Ed died. He died at home. He was at my house Saturday night. Sunday I got a call from his wife, Helene. She told me Ed had just passed away. We talked about keeping the show going with Dick Donner running and producing the show, but we were sort of on the edge with the ratings.”

Given the loss of its creator-producer Ed Adamson, its weak ratings, and its powerful competition (the last hour of the CBS Friday Night Movie, ABC’s popular hour-long sitcom, Love American Style), NBC opted to cancel Banyon.
Too bad. Banyon debuted during the first year I became interested in TV crime dramas, but I wasn’t able to see all of the episodes during their original broadcasts, and I haven’t been aware of their being shown since. Within the last year, I was able to procure a good-quality DVD copy of the pilot film and a lesser print of the series’ first episode; but I hold out hope of Banyon one day being resurrected as a DVD full-series set.

By the way, Jonathan Etter’s biography of Martin deals also with that producer’s other series, including Barnaby Jones, The Invaders, and the Burt Reynolds vehicle, Dan August.


Lee Goldberg said...

The book isn't has been around since 2003. I think this is just a paperback reprint. I went to the McFarland website and they don't mention anything about it being an updated or revised edition...but if it is, please let us know!


PS - Here's the review of the book that I posted on Amazon back in 2003:

I've been waiting for a book about Quinn Martin... one of televisions most prolific and successful producers... and finally Jonathan Etters have given us one. The book is a comprehensive look at ALL of QM's productions, from THE UNTOUCHABLES through CARIBE and even their unsold pilots. There are plenty of interesting details and lots of back-stabbing trivia about troublesome actors. As much fun as this book is, it doesn't quit hit the mark. The author, an admitted TV outsider, doesn't know enough about production, or the television business, to ask the really interesting questions about the development, production, and ultimate success or failure of the various TV series. He concentrates far too much on the observations of occasional guest-stars rather than indepth interviews with the showrunners (Philip Saltzman, John Wilder,Bill Yates, etc.). While he did talk to those people, he just didn't know the right questions to ask. You don't get any real insight into the creative process behind the shows or the business behind QM Productions. That said, this book is still a great fun and long overdue...!

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Well, Lee, it looks as if you're right. I saw the 2008 publication date on what I now realize is the paperback edition of this Quinn Martin bio, and thought it was new. Then I checked back on the hardcover edition ... and must have read the "2003" as "2008" again.

In any event, I think I'll wait to purchase my own copy until one is available for under $35. That's rather high for a paperback. And copies of the hardcover now start at $121. I'm just glad that some of the text is available online for everybody to enjoy.


Brian R. Sheridan said...

I would love to see a DVD release of the entire series. This and the similar series, "City of Angels." They are probably both caught in ownership hell.