This month we have a new series, “One-Name Detectives.” Today we are looking at a show that was on for five years in the early seventies: Cannon.
Cannon was produced by Quinn Martin and aired from 1971-1976 on CBS. Edward Hume developed the show and was also known for his creation of Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, and Toma. Unlike most detective shows, Frank Cannon (William Conrad) was the only member of the cast. There were a few recurring characters including policeman Jerry Warton (Martin Sheen), Lt Paul Tarcher (Charles Bateman), and Officer Bill Murray (Arthur Adams).
Cannon is a detective in Los Angeles. His backstory is that he was a veteran of the Korean War and a former policeman for the Los Angeles Police Department. He quit the force after his wife and young son were killed in a bomb attack meant for him. He was a man of many talents. Not only was he street-smart, but he had at least one other college degree, knew several languages and studied science, art, and history.
Cannon was overweight and often made jokes about his size, but when he couldn’t get out of a bad situation with his quick wit, he could hold his own fighting the bad guys. Cannon was also a gourmet cook and wine expert and often entertained friends.
Most of the plots involved Cannon solving crimes for private clients, insurance companies or former police colleagues. Cannon was known for his mobile phone in his Lincoln Continental. Car phones were not very common then, but I do remember an episode of That Girl from the early seventies that also featured a Motorola car phone. Cannon usually asked an operator to dial his call while he was driving.
The show debuted in a two-hour movie. The series was picked up and placed on the Tuesday night schedule, following Hawaii Five-0. Season two found the show on Wednesday nights at 10 ET and then at 9 ET for season three where it remained. The first three seasons the show was in the top 20 but in season five, it came in at 39 and was canceled.
Season one featured a short scene before the opening credits giving a preview of the show. For the remaining seasons, the preview was not included.
A lot of famous people stopped by Cannon’s office during this five-year people. Guest stars included Willie Aames, Whitney Blake, Johnny Cash, Micky Dolenz, Shelley Duvall, Mike Farrell, Joan Fontaine, Dabbs Greer, Mark Hamill, Kim Hunter, David Janssen, Tina Louise, Robert Mandan, Vera Miles, Donna Mills, Leslie Nielsen, Nick Nolte, Stefanie Powers, Denver Pyle, Wayne Rogers, Roy Scheider, Peter Strauss, Vic Tayback, Jessica Walter, Cindy Williams, and William Windom.
The show received three Emmy nominations. The show was nominated in 1973 and Conrad was nominated in 1973 and 1974 (losing to Richard Thomas for The Waltons in 1973 and Telly Savala for Kojak in 1974).
Nine novels were published based on the show in the 1970s, the first being Murder by Gemini by Richard Gallagher and the last one being Shoot-Out! by Douglas Enefe.
The show is out on DVD and very reasonable. The entire five-season set can be bought for $32 on amazon. Definitely worth the time to watch a season or two on a week-end.
From 1952-1961, you could tune into Gunsmoke on your local radio to hear the adventures of the folks in Dodge City, Kansas created by Norman Macdonnell and John Meston. The primary characters were Marshal Matt Dillon (William Conrad), Doc Charles Adams (Howard McNear), Miss Kitty Russell (Georgia Ellis) and Chester Wesley Proudfoot (Parley Baer). Three years after its debut, the series shifted to television as well, running on CBS from 1955-1975, producing an incredible 635 episodes. For television, Macdonnell took over the reins as producer with Meston the head writer.
James Arness was offered the role of Dillon on television. The network wanted John Wayne who turned it down. He did, however, introduce the first episode. Both Raymond Burr and Denver Pyle were also considered for the role. Matt Dillon spent his youth in foster care, knew the Bible well, and at some point was mentored by a caring lawman. He also talks about his time in the Army in some episodes.
The role of Chester, with a new last name of Goode now, was played by Dennis Weaver. Chester was not only a loyal employee to Marshal Dillon, but he brewed a mean pot of coffee. He had a noticeable limp which apparently resulted from an injury in the Civil War. Weaver later said if he realized how hard it would be to film that long with a fake limp, he would have not used it. Other sidekicks to the Marshal included Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper (1962-65), Roger Ewing as Thad Greenwood (1966-68), and Buck Taylor as Newly O’Brien (1967-75).
Doc was now Galen Adams and played by Milburn Stone. Doc was an interesting guy. He apparently was educated in Philadelphia and spent some time as a ship doctor on gambling boats on the Mississippi River where he met Mark Twain. His young wife died from typhus two months after their marriage. He finally settled in Dodge City after wandering a bit.
Miss Kitty was portrayed by Amanda Blake. Perhaps the closest bond she had with Dillon was that she also grew up in foster care in New Orleans. She was in more than 500 of the television episodes. In addition to her role as “entertaining men” in Dodge City, she is half owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Kitty and Matt obviously are attracted to each other and are very close. Kitty was a successful business owner and had a cold demeanor about professional matters but had a soft heart in other matters. Blake was ready to leave the show in 1974, and her storyline was that she finally returned to New Orleans.
During its twenty-year stint, the show had some notable guest stars. Just a few celebrities who graced the set include Jack Albertson, Ed Asner, James Backus, Beau Bridges, Charles Bronson, Bette Davis, Angie Dickinson, Richard Dreyfuss, Buddy Ebsen, Barbara Eden, Jodie Foster, Mariette Hartley, Ron Howard, June Lockhart, Jack Lord, Rose Marie, Howard McNear, Harry Morgan, Leonard Nimoy, Carroll O’Connor, Denver Pyle, Wayne Rogers, William Shatner, Cicely Tyson, and Adam West.
While the show portrayed the hard life in the West, it was also a warm and humorous celebration of a group of people making a new life together.
The opening of the show is a gunfight between Matt and a “bad guy.” It was shot on the same Main Street set used in High Noon, the Grace Kelly/Gary Cooper classic. The scene was dropped in the 1970s when a nonviolence emphasis was placed on television shows and the opening was Matt riding his horse.
The show began its life on Saturday nights at 10 pm ET. In 1961 when the radio show left the air, the television show switched from half an hour to an hour. For season 13, it moved to Monday nights at 7:30 for four years, and then at 8 pm for four years. By season two it was a top ten hit, rising to number one where it remained until 1971.
The first seven seasons were sponsored by L&M cigarettes and Remington shavers.
The well-known theme from the show and radio was “Old Trails” composed by Rex Koury. Lyrics were later recorded by Tex Ritter in 1955 but not used in either radio or tv. Although I could not confirm it, I read several mentions that Koury was so busy, he actually penned the song while using the bathroom. William Lava composed original theme music for television; other composers who contributed music during the twenty years were Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Jerome Moross, and Franz Waxman.
Surprisingly, the show was only nominated for fifteen Emmys during its reign. Of those, there were only three wins: one for best dramatic show in 1957, one for Dennis Weaver as supporting actor in 1958, and one for Milburn Stone in 1967.
After surviving the rural purge Paley conducted, the cast thought they were not in jeopardy and were all stunned by the cancellation in 1975. CBS had not prepared them that they were debating ending the show. They assumed the show was continuing till it had 700 episodes and many of the stars read about the cancellation in the trade magazines.
The show has appeared in syndication in three different versions. One package is half-hour episodes from 1955-1961, one package contains hour-long black and white episodes from 1961-1966, and the final package contains one-hour color episodes from 1966-1975. Me TV currently airs the one-hour color shows.
Arness would appear in five made-for-television movies after the show went off the air. In 1987, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge featured Blake as Miss Kitty and Taylor as O’Brien. Stone had passed away in 1980, so his role was not part of the new film. Gunsmoke: The Last Apache premiered in 1990 without Blake who had died in 1989. In 1992-1994, Gunsmoke: To the Last Man, Gunsmoke: The Long Ride, and Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice would appear before the series rode off into the sunset for good.
After being on television so long, it’s not surprising that there were a lot of merchandising opportunities for the show. In addition to typical items like lunch boxes, there was Gunsmoke cottage cheese. A Matt Dillon figurine was available with his Horse Buck.
There were also board games, puzzles and a variety of books including numerous paperbacks and comic books from Dell and Gold Key.
Fans had an affinity for the show. During its time on the air more than thirty westerns came and went, but Gunsmoke continued, in the top ten for most of its two decades. Few series have their own museum, but you can visit Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City to learn all about the show. Furniture from the series is included, as well as signed photos from the cast and other memorabilia including one of Miss Kitty’s dresses.
When you hear someone say “Get outta Dodge,” you can fondly remember Gunsmoke which is where this phrase began. Perhaps being cancelled was a blessing in disguise. After two decades, maybe it was time to get outta Dodge, maintaining the high standards and high ratings that made the show such a long-running success.