Created by Ed Adamson
"The private eye of the thirties returns."
-- Tag on the paperback novelization
MILES C. BANYON (Robert Forster) was a lone-wolf private eye working in Los Angeles in 1937, in the short-lived NBC television series, Banyon, back in the seventies. (The very similiar City of Angels and Manhunter a few years later both also quickly achieved room temperature).
Banyon had no secretary, instead relying on temps supplied by friend Peggy Revere (Joan Blondell), who ran a secretarial school down the hall. Banyon's friend on the force was Lieutenant Pete McNeil (Richard Jaeckel), while his adversary was a plainclothes bull named Andrews (James B. Sikking) with whom he came to blows on at least one occasion. At times, Banyon unwound in the company of his lady friend nightclub singer Abby Graham (Julie Gregg).
Given his setting in 30s Hollywood, it's no surprise that Banyon's clients often came from show biz -- big band leaders, radio stars, film tycoons, pulp writers, prizefighters -- but the random well-heeled citizen also came knocking at his door (and, on occasion, died at the doorstop). Banyon was usually beaten up, knocked around, threatened by crooked cops, and framed for murder in the course of his investigations but quick thinking, dumb luck and a smart mouth always saw him through.
Banyon was the creation of Ed Adamson, a veteran radio and television writer whose credits included the television version of Richard Diamond, Wanted Dead or Alive, The Untouchables, and Mannix. The 1971 pilot movie was produced by Richard Alan Simmons, a talented producer and writer best known for his collaborations with Peter Falk on The Dick Powell Show, The Trials of O'Brien and, later, Columbo, but when NBC gave the go-ahead for a series in the fall of 1972, Quinn Martin, who obviously had some 1930s experience with The Untouchables, stepped in. The result was an enjoyable, high-spirited series that had fun with -- but didn't make fun of -- the conventions of the genre. Lt. Pete McNeil might roll his eyes when Banyon was framed for murder for the umpteenth time, but neither he nor Banyon ever winked at the audience.
Take this snippet of dialogue from the episode "Time Lapse,":
Banyon: I don't know nothin' about that (murdered) chauffeur, Pete, and you gotta believe me!
McNeil: Uh-uh, Miles. It's not for me to believe!
Medical Examiner: Believe him, Lieutenant. It wasn't Banyon's car.
In this respect, Banyon followed in the tradition of a number of radio detective series (Richard Diamond, Sam Spade, the early Johnny Dollar, among them) and prefigured The Rockford Files and other later series, which approached the genre's stock situations with a mixture of mischief and respect. This was reflected in the show's opening credits which began with the screen filling with a series of worn shoeprints which then dissolved into shots of Banyon being punched through a door, thrown down stairs, driven off the road, etc.
This was a handsomely produced and a quite enjoyable series. Good photography, great art direction and a cookin' big-band score by Johnny Mandel. Being a Quinn Martin production, a lot of familiar TV faces popped up in guest parts, but there were some nice casting touches on occasion (Pat O'Brien reuniting with his old Warner Brothers co-star, Joan Blondell; then relative newcomer Ed Flanders chillingly cast against type as a killer cop).
Although the show featured a lot of night scenes and had some effective serious moments, it wasn't noirish. If anything, it resembled, in its verve and sense of fun, the Warner Brothers movies of the 30s and 40s. And star Robert Forster played it with a wry pugnaciousness that emphasized his passing resemblance to one-time Warner Brothers icon John Garfield.
(In fact, for a while back in the seventies, it looked like Forster was on his way, but after a strong start with short-lived series Nakia on ABC and Banyon on NBC, his career fizzled. He starred in, produced and directed 1985's Hollywood Harry, an affectionate return to the P.I. genre, but it wasn't until Quentin Tarantino cast him as bailbondsman MAX CHERRY in 1997's Jackie Brown that people actually started talking about him again. And an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor sure didn't hurt.--ed.)
The plots, as I recall, were not bad, but you watched the show more for the fun and the ambiance than for any breakthrough in plotting. Watching Banyon at the time, I always had the feeling the people making this show were having a good time doing it and wanted the audience to share in that enjoyment. The only problem was, not enough people did and the series folded after fifteen episodes. Again, one of those short-lived shows that has never been syndicated in the U.S., as far as I know. One suspects the prints are sitting in a vault, possibly at Warner Brothers, decomposing. Too bad. This one would be fun to see again.
- "The Decent Thing to Do" (September 15, 1972)
- "The Old College Try" (September 22, 1972)
- "The Graveyard Vote" (September 29, 1972)
- "Completely Out of Print" (October 6, 1972)
- "Meal Ticket" (October 13, 1972)
- "The Clay Clarinet" (October 27, 1972)
- "Dead End" (November 3, 1972)
- "Time to Kill" (November 10, 1972)
- "Think of Me Kindly" (November 17, 1972)
- "A Date with Death" (November 24, 1972)
- "Sally Overman is Missing" (December 1, 1972)
- "The Lady Killer" (December 8, 1972)
- "The Murder Game" (December 15, 1972)
- "Just Once" (December 22, 1972)
- "Time Lapse" (January 12, 1973)
Report respectfully submitted by Ted Fitzgerald, with additional info supplied by Kevin Burton Smith.
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