This is where I came in. I had just turned 12 years old when the pilot, Too Many Suspects, aired on March 23rd, 1975, and was glad to hear the movie would be turned into a series the following season.
The pilot premiered on a Sunday night during the slot usually taken by the legendary NBC Mystery Movie, which I would have been primed to watch. The series rotated four mystery series, each episode two hours long. That year’s roster included the Levinson and Link creation Colombo, McCloud, the Rock Hudson vehicle McMillan and Wife and Ironsides spin-off Amy Prentiss, which lasted three episodes. Perhaps Levinson & Link had hoped Ellery Queen would become part of that stable. Instead, the Tony Curtis vehicle McCoy took the place of Amy Prentiss, and Ellery Queen was given his own series, which debuted on Thursday, September 11, 1975. Ellery Queen on NBC was set against the CBS Thursday Night Movie and The Streets of San Francisco on ABC. After a few weeks, it was moved to Sunday nights, back with Mystery Night Movies.
Apart from the pilot, there were 22 episodes, each about 45 – 48 minutes long. The pilot was adapted from The Fourth Side of the Triangle, and one episode was based on the short story, The Adventure of the Mad Tea Party (Redbook magazine, 1934), but the rest of the stories were original to the series. The stories took place in 1947, and starred Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen, David Wayne as his father. Sgt. Velie was a regular, but the medical examiner was no longer Doc Prouty; now he was Dr. Steiner. New recurring characters included Simon Brimmer (played by John Hillerrman) and Frank Flannigan (played by Ken Swofford). Rounding out the cast each week would be name actors playing suspects. There was always a dying clue, and each episode saw Hutton breaking the fourth wall with a “Challenge to the Viewer.”
I think I liked the structure of the stories, especially the Challenge to the Viewer. I had outgrown both the Encyclopedia Brown stories and the Two-Minute Mysteries series (both written by Donald J. Sobol) which were written to engage the reader in solving the mystery and was primed to move on to these more difficult challenges. Soon I found myself finding Ellery Queen books in libraries and bookstores. I even read the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine anthologies: the cover of Crookbook even, joyfully, introduced me to the art of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (a teacher saw the cover, and said, “Oh, Arcimboldo did it much better…”). The first Ellery Queen novel I actually bought was The Finishing Stroke, bought in a Caldor’s department store. And now I’ve read all but one: the unfinished manuscript for The Tragedy of Errors.