Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unleashing the Bulldog Underdog

Back in January, I wrote a post here about the 1968-1969 NBC-TV series The Outsider, which starred Darren McGavin as David Ross, an ex-con turned Los Angeles private investigator. I’d just happened across two short video clips on YouTube from an episode of that show called “Periwinkle Blue,” and wanted to share them with readers of The Rap Sheet. The Outsider is a show I’ve heard a great deal about (it was, after all, created by Roy Huggins and is considered a precursor to his much-better-known 1970s series, The Rockford Files) but have never actually seen. Since it isn’t yet available in DVD format, I have been on the lookout for affordable bootleg versions of The Outsider, and in the meantime have kept my eyes open for more Web clips.

Finally, this last Monday, author-screenwriter Lee Goldberg posted the show’s main title sequence, which I have taken the liberty of also embedding above. Backed up by composer Pete Rugolo’s jazzy theme music, that opening does a decent job of portraying Ross as a manifestly low-rent gumshoe in a city and society where he feels very much a stranger. But it doesn’t tell a great deal about the show. Better is this write-up from Richard Meyers’ eminently useful, 1981 book, TV Detectives, which reminds readers that McGavin had previously starred in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1958-1960):
[The Outsider] proved to be the flip side of Mike Hammer. Hammer was an outcast from society because he was a hard man who stood for what he believed in. David Ross was an “outsider” because he was a pathetic little schmuck who got trampled on by life. Darren McGavin played both roles on television with equal ability.

Hammer just got angrier as time went on. Ross got bitter and resigned. Orphaned as a kid, a high school dropout, and framed for a crime he had not committed, Ross happily withdrew into his own haphazard world of poverty and depression. He was an interesting creation, but hardly the stuff of hit shows. NBC hoped the public would root for his bulldog underdog and wrote their press releases to point out his individuality.

“He’s a go-it-alone private eye who knows the underworld from the inside,” they said. “Rejected by society--and rejecting society--he lives in an off-beat world: often dangerous .. always fascinating.” It was fascinating, all right, and raised some interesting questions like, how does an ex-con get a private investigator’s license? And why does he keep his phone in the refrigerator of his run-down, ramshackle office-cum-apartment?

When he was not trying to evoke pity in the audience, he would go out on cases that were structured to beat out what little life was left in him. If he was not losing his girlfriend in a fatal accident, he was getting beaten up by hoods, suspects, and sometimes even clients. One thing can be said for
The Outsider: he could really take a punch--lots of them. What could not be said about The Outsider was that he lasted more than a season.
Clearly, by the time producer Huggins got around to creating The Rockford Files, he recognized that any new ex-con P.I. couldn’t be as dour and cynical as Dave Ross.

Despite critic Meyers’ hesitations about The Outsider, I still look forward to seeing more of that series someday soon. If you remember McGavin’s show, and have any opinions about it to share, please do so in the Comments section of this post.

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For others like me, who are curious about The Outsider, check out Michael Shonk’s review of the show’s 1967 pilot, as well as his plot synopses of its 26 episodes.

READ MORE:TV & Violence in 1968: The Outsider” (Television Obscurities); “Overlooked TV: The Outsider,” by Randy Johnson (Not the Baseball Pitcher); “One of the Great P.I. Series: The Outsider with Darren McGavin” (Ed Gorman’s Blog).


Ed Gorman said...

Excellent overview, Jeff. I love this show. McGavin was never better and the writing was as good as he was. I may be wrong but I sensed that the whole concept was influenced by the Ross Macdonald approach to private eye writing rather than the more action-proented form most p.i shows of the time adopted. Thanks. Ed

Randy Johnson said...

I remember liking this when it was on. I still have the novel and, when reading it, someone saw the spine and said he thought S. E. Hinton wrote that.

Lee Goldberg said...

It's a great series...up there with HARRY O, ROCKFORD and TERRIERS as the best PI TV series of all time. Basically, OUTSIDER was a TV version of HARPER and a rehearsal in many ways for ROCKFORD.

Anonymous said...

I saw this series when it first came out and I liked it a lot. I think the reason why Ross was able to get a PI license was for the reason you mentioned; he was framed for a crime. I assume he was able to clear his name at some point and the state found it cheaper to give him a license than to be sued for false imprisonment.

Unknown said...

I thought it Was A great show!