Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Flashback: Barnaby Jones in 1973

I got the DVD collection of BARNABY JONES Season 1 for Christmas. I have watched some of the episodes, but because I was off work this past week and had time, I watched two episodes in a row. Now I'd like to share a few thoughts.

First of all, if you aren't as old as me you may not even know who Barnaby Jones is! He is not some buck naked animated character; that's a different Barnaby. It is another Quinn Martin production; QM was also responsible for such shows as CANNON, THE FBI, STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, and probably his most famous series, THE FUGITIVE. Barnaby was a retired private detective who comes out of retirement when his son is murdered. He is joined by his daughter-in-law, Betty, who serves as his secretary-slash-assistant. Barnaby was portrayed by Buddy Ebsen, fresh from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1962-1971), and Betty was played by the lovely Lee Meriwether. They were originally going to be guest-stars on an episode of CANNON (starring William Conrad) but that episode became a pilot for their own series instead. In 1976 young Mark Shera (fresh from SWAT) joined the cast as cousin Jedediah. His job was to do more of the action scenes as Ebsen was getting older. The series ran from winter 1973 thru spring 1980.

The two episodes I want to talk about today are "The Murdering Class" and "Perchance to Kill."

In the first, two prep school boys were caught trying to copy test answers and accidentally kill the librarian who catches them. They then try to frame their tennis coach, who is similar to Arthur Ashe. During their plotting, the leader boy says, "We have to put the spotlight on the nigger in the woodpile." On the DVD, the N-word is "bleeped" out by a bell, but you can tell that is what he is saying.

Now I find this interesting for two reasons. First of all, in 1973 it was obviously still okay to use the N-word on national television. Secondly, part of the unspoken reason for picking on the tennis coach is that he is Black, and therefore assumed guilty. That, however, leads to Barnaby Jones standing up for Justice. He can tell that the boys are lying, and fights all the other (white) people to get Arthur Ashe acquitted. The Headmistress, especially, was ready to believe that the coach was guilty rather than her students.

In "Perchance to Kill," a similar story unfolds: a lawyer is found to be a thief by a co-worker, so the former kills the latter and then attempts to frame two "hippies" who happened to be in the neighborhood at the time. This being 1973, the "establishment" is quick to blame the "hippies."  I can't be the only one who instantly thought of the Charles Manson murders. Of course, these hippies think "the man" is going to toss them into jail regardless of the truth. It is here that Barnaby Jones stands up for Justice again and pushes until he finds the true murderer. At the very end he even talks with the young people and they all agree that they can get along, "dig?"
Forty years later, I think it's funny that network television was obviously trying to play the "cultural" card. Race relations? Check. Fear of the younger generation? Check. I'm sure as I keep watching there will be early-Seventies issues addressed.....women's lib, anyone? ;-)

I also always loved the theme song, by Jerry Goldsmith. Here is the opening from the very first episode, which features William Conrad as Cannon. By the way, his son Hal is portrayed by Robert Patten, the only time we ever see him.
For some reason I couldn't embed this video. Click here to enjoy the opening and closing themes:

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