Comfort viewing classic-era TV shows during the pandemic has brought legions of new fans to Peter Falk’s Columbo. There’s something safe and reassuring about watching a humble and dedicated public servant do his duty, and bring wealthy, self-entitled criminals to justice. No one is above the law. I enjoyed the full series when it ran on Netflix a few years ago, and wrote a post about the overlap between Columbo filming locations and the silent era (above Chaplin in City Lights on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills). Many Columbo episodes are now closer in time to the 1920s than to today. If you’re a fan, the Columbophile blogpost is also fun to visit.
My shelter-in-place security blanket this year has been rediscovering Mannix, the private-eye series I watched broadcast 50 years ago, but hadn’t seen since. The title character Joe Mannix, portrayed by Mike Connors, is nearly flawless. Tall, brave, athletic, wise, generous and kind, self-assured but never smug, gentle with kids, iron-fisted with thugs, and irresistible (yet respectful) with the ladies. Almost impossibly resourceful and resilient, Joe Mannix always gets the job done. Again, how reassuring is it to see someone honest and capable prevail time after time against evil?
It escaped my attention years ago, but the character Mannix (and actor Mike Connors, born Krekor Ohanian) is of Armenian descent, who speaks Armenian and refers to Armenian proverbs during the show. This frame from the opening titles honors the Armenian flag. I had no idea.
I only watched a season or two when it first aired, but the jazzy, jaunty Mannix intro theme song, composed in 6/8 time by Lalo Schifrin (of Mission Impossible theme song fame), with the haunting piano middle bridge, is unforgettable. Becoming reacquainted with the song after five decades is a “remembrance of things past” that makes me smile (and even tear up) each time I crank up the volume to hear it play.
Another fun surprise is witnessing actors like Diane Keaton, Cloris Leachman, and Sally Kellerman make pre-fame appearances in early episodes. Likewise, Leave it to Beaver‘s father Hugh Beaumont appeared in three episodes, while The Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed, and Dr. Frank Burns from M*A*S*H, Larry Linville, played recurring roles as LA Police detectives who spar playfully with Joe.
It’s also fascinating watching Joe drive around Los Angeles 50 years ago. I won’t discuss the locations, but I have to laugh how many times someone will turn right from Hollywood Blvd. and next appear on a remote stretch of Mulholland Drive miles away. While escaping my attention back then, the show filmed repeatedly at a modest and tiny Paramount backlot that today stands out unconvincingly like a sore thumb.
Truth be told, having watched about 20 episodes I may not delve much more deeply. The fistfights and car chases can be repetitive, and the premise has limitations – after all, how many renegade daughters of millionaires can Joe track down, how many noble city officials threatened by the mob can Joe rescue? But in these trying yet hopeful times, watching an honest, honorable, competent man reliably save the day is so comforting, and just what I need to see. The entire series appears to be available on YouTube – pick an episode at random and see what you think.
Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.
Maybe there is a connection between Mannix showcasing his Armenian heritage, and Banacek his Polish heritage? Somebody had a theme going. The Banacek episodes were usually set in Boston or someplace even more exotic, but used very thinly disguised LA locations. And following the TV Private Eye playbook, no detective has an average car, lives in a suburban home, or has a family to raise. What fun would that be?
My pandemic comfort watching includes Adam 12 and Emergency, which are great for location spotting, too. Almost all of the Adam 12 locations that aren’t on the Universal backlot (which also sometimes plays itself), are as close to the studio as possible; North Hollywood, Studio City, Van Nuys, but often literally outside the gate. Occasionally they venture elsewhere, too. Emergency goes all over the county, though certain houses at the studio seem very accident prone. I’ve yet to find any really great silent area overlaps, though there are a few in passing. Several times I want them to turn a corner they don’t turn because there’s a location there I know from your work.
What’s remarkable is the mix between absolutely untouched locations despite nearly 50 years going by and those where everything in sight has been entirely wiped out and replaced. The changes in everyday locations in LA in the last 10-15 years can be huge.
Two shows that did a great job of having Los Angeles play another city were Monk and Hill Street Blues. Monk was set in San Francisco, which is admittedly less of stretch than Boston. Hill Street famously could have been any gritty urban setting, though they did get snow.
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I forgot about Banacek. I wasn’t paying attention back then, but the TV industry came to realize the public enjoys diverse characters, once a novelty. I rented a Rockford Files DVD from the library, scouting for locations, but had to quit. These locally filmed 40-50 year old TV shows present a nearly infinite source of location scouting. It would take 100s of years to track them all down.