Gabriel Bird & Mitch O'Hannon
Created by Donald R. Boyle and Grenville Case & J. Rae Fox and George Schenck & Frank Cardea

Luke Skywalker's father as a P.I.?

Yes, it's true. James Earl Jones played GABRIEL BIRD, an aging former Chicago police officer recently released from prison who found himself working as a private investigator for hot shot lawyer Victoria Heller, for two memorable season in ABC's Gabriel's Fire..

Heller (Laila Robins) was the attorney who was responsible for springing Bird from prison, where he'd been serving a life sentence for the (arguably justifiable) murder of his partner. The show focussed on Bird's attempts, after twenty years in prison, to reintegrate himself into socitey, and his relationships with Heller, her young ambitious associate Louis, and Jamil, the rebellious young son of his former cellmate. But perhaps the most important relationship was with Empress Josephine (Madge Sinclair), Gabriel's old friend and eventually, his lover.

Jones was an intimidating prescence throughtout the first season, a moody, angry, reluctant detective seemingly perpetually on the brink of explosion, confused and bitter at times, and given to bouts of depression, but determined to see that justice be done. Yeah, it could be a hard slog at times, but I thought it was a refreshingly different approach to the TV eye, a far cry from the typical wink-wink-nudge-nudge fluff of the time, a sensitive and intelligent show that tried to offer a little something more than a few shootouts and car chases.

And at least some folks agreed. It won Emmys in 1991 for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series (David Opatoshu for the episode "A Prayer For The Goldsteins," Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Jones) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Sinclair).

But Emmys don't mean squat, when the viewers aren't there. So in 1991, the admittedly somber Gabriel's Fire was "lightened" up, and re-christened Pros and Cons. Bird, now inexplicably a happy, jolly camper, was cut loose from Heller's Chicago law firm and moved to LA (with Josephine in tow, whom he would soon marry), where he became partners in the O'Hannon & Bird Detective Agency with colourful local gumshoe MITCH O'HEARN. Heller, it was explained, had become a judge, and no longer required an investigator.

Yeah, right.

This was a last-ditch effort on the part of the producers to save the show. But the hoped-for dramatic and comedic sparks between Bird and the shifty wise-cracking, scam-loving O'Hannon (played by Richard Crenna) never materialized.

And at least some faithful viewers of the original series (including myself) took exception to the carefully developed relationships and themes of the first season being disposed of so callously. It probably cost them many of the few regular viewers they did have.

But for whatever reason, at the end of the second season, ABC pulled the plug, and another potential contender was tossed on the scrap heap.

TELEVSION

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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