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.
A kindred spirit! I was born in 1965 and never missed EQ. It lead me to reading the novels (tough sledding for a 6th-7th grader). I was so excited when they finally released the series on DVD/
Yes. Nice to meet you. I watched the DVDs a couple of years ago, and was pleasantly surprised at how well they still stand.
Pingback: The ‘salivating male audience’: The #1975book round-up | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews
Wow this brings back so many memories. Is there still a way to watch this on television?
I don’t know about television, but the dvds are available through amazon, etc, or can be rented through netflix, etc, or even streamed at youtube or archive.
A quick note on the passing of William Woodson, who delivered the teaser-trailers at the start of each Ellery Queen episode.
Woodson passed in February of this year, a few months shy of his 100th birthday.
His voice could also be heard announcing such shows as The Odd Couple, WKRP In Cincinnati, and as the narrator of The Invaders.
Bill Woodson can also be seen on camera in many TV shows and movies, including several episodes of Perry Mason.
The series is now on DVD. I purchased it a couple of years ago and have been dipping into the episodes bit by bit. The producers relied a little too heavily on the dying clue trope, yes. But to balance that we have the best TV or movie Ellery ever, the closest anybody’s ever come, and the definitive Inspector Queen, David Wayne. Wayne is so good he made me rethink the way I pictured the Inspector from the novels!
The highlight of course is “The Adventure of the Mad Tea Party,” beautifully written and filmed just as the cousins wrote it (though the writer had a little fun and renamed all the suspects after famous classic mystery writers). I do wish the series could have continued and at least done “The Lamp of God” (where an entire house vanishes overnight) and maybe, as a two-parter, one of the novels.
Oh — and I do wish Hutton had tossed that silly-looking hat. He seemed to wear it less as the series went on, which was a blessing.