Joe Mannix
Created by William Link and Richard Levinson
Developed for Television by Bruce Geller

"If you're not gonna pull that trigger immediately,
mind if I have a cigarette?"
From the episode. "To the Swiftest Death"

JOE MANNIX is your classic hard-boiled private eye, television division. And I mean classic in every sense of the word. Accept no substitutes.

Formerly the dubious pride of Intertect, a high-tech detective firm, Joe left after his first season to start his own detective agency where he relied less on sophisticated gadgetry and more on his own wits and a wicked right hook. This Korean War veteran is remarkably even-tempered and seems to take fist fights, high-speed car chases and bullet wounds in stride. Although his rugged good looks, snazzy convertible-with a car phone!- and dizzying array of loud sports jackets attract an endless stream of beautiful women, he seems intent on remaining a bachelor. The one woman who's a constant presence in his life is his ever-faithful (and much-kidnapped) secretary, Peggy Fair. But she didn't come along until the second season.

To tell the truth, it was the first season that really shined. Originally Joe was a hotshot (and frequently hot-haded) op for Intertect, a high-tech, ultra-modern Pinkerton-like high-tech detective agency headed by Lew Wickersham. Where Lew was a white-collar, straight company man, Mannix was a rough-and-tumble loner with his heart on his sleeve and a loaded gat. The tension between the two gave the show an edge most PI shows could only dream of, as Wickersham rattled on and on about databases, company reputations and computer analysis, while Mannix's M.O. seemed to consist solely of hunches, fistfights, and an occasional gun battle. In You Can Get Killed Out There, an episode near the end of the first season, Joe and Lew's differences boil over and Joe leaves Intertect rather than accept an assignment. The following episode, Another Final Exit had Joe cutting all ties with Intertect. And yet, not many viewers seems to remember the first season. Perhaps because that first season was never included in the syndication package.

By the second episode of the second season, The Silent Cry, the Mannix most of us remember was firmly in place. The one-man agency wit Gail Fisher in her regular role as faithful secretary Peggy Fair, the widow of a police officer killed in the line of duty, and the mother of one son, Toby. One of the first blacks to be cast in an American drama, Peggy made quite an impression. In a recent chat online, several folks were convinced that in fact, Joe and Peggy were "doing it", and that CBS didn't reveal the relationship due to the "racial sensitivities" of the time. Gee, maybe they were getting it on during commercials...

But whatever. There was certainly affection there, and Peggy was certainly an integral part of the agency, more than simply a secretary, running background checks, brainstorming with Joe and rescuing Joe from the local jail or hospital. And she could be counted on to be threatened or kidnapped once or twice a season, just to keep things rolling.

Not that Joe had completely turned his back on technology, mind you. He did have a car phone -- something extrememly rare at the time. And the fans loved it. And Joe. During its long run it was always a popular show.

But eventually CBS, possibly corncerned about ongoing complaints about the show's violence, did what various hoods and thugs never quite managed. They cancelled Joe's ticket. Mannix ground to a halt in the mid-seventies. By then, the airwaves were alive with a new breed of TV dicks. Blind dicks (Longstreet), fat dicks (Cannon), con artist dicks (Rockford), even old dicks (Barnaby Jones). And in a few short years, producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts would help create bimbo dicks (Charlie's Angels). The idea of a hardboiled private eye like Joe suddenly seemed old-fashioned, even quaint.

And yet, Mannix's very success had revived the genre in the first place. Before Mannix, the genre has more or less run itself into the ground, tripping over its own gimmicks (77BourbonStreetEye, anyone?)

By humanizing and subtly updating the private eye, bringing him into the seventies even while harking back to the roots of the genre, Mannix paved the way for all who would replace him. Actor Connors once mused, in Ric Meyers' Murder On the Air, that somewhere out there "Mannix is still working...there was a decency and a dignity about the man..."

It turns out he was right. In 1997, Joe even returned in an episode of Diagnosis Murder, a lighthearted piece of fluff that claimed to be a mystery drama, about a Dr. Mark Sloan (played by Dick Van Dyke), a teaching physician who also becomes deeply involved in crime-solving in his role as consultant to the local police department. Sort of a Murder, He Prescribed, with a scary similiarity to Matlock. In one of the few episodes that interested me, Mannix teams up with his old friend Dr. Mark Sloan to solve a 25-year-old murder case.

Scenes from a 1973 Mannix episode, Little Girl Lost are used in flashback sequences. Pernell Roberts and Beverly Garland reprise their guest-starring roles from the original "Mannix" episode as Mannix, in an attempt to honour a promise to a little girl (now a grown journalist) to track down her father's killer. When he arrives at Community General Hospital with a bullet wound, he runs into Mark and together they work the case. Meanwhile, the good doctor uncovers a more serious health risk while treating Mannix for his bullet wound and strongly advises him to take immediate action -- a warning Mannix promptly chooses to ignore. Seems you can't keep a good dick down.

Don't believe me? Check out how many TV private eyes STILL wear heavily patterned tweed sports coats... even in balmy Southern California? Ask James Garner about the "Mannix jacket."








Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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