Nostalgia’s Menace

July 29, 2011

I never really met Jay North, who played Dennis the Menace on television, but I saw him once at an autograph show.  North, who has long been as much of a poster-boy for the fucked-up child star as you can be without actually dying from it, was slumped face-down over his table, cradling his head in his arms amid a puddle of eight-by-ten glossies.  Jeannie Russell, his former co-star, stood behind him, hand on his shoulder, quietly talking him back from whatever ledge of mental anguish on which North was perched.  What struck me as I studied this scene was how routinized it seemed: I got the idea that these two had acted out this ritual countless times before, a sad-funny part of arrested adult lives built upon vague memories of a childhood in which they remained trapped like the proverbial bugs in amber.  And although the spectacle might have been new to this particular roomful of fans, I was certain that I wasn’t in the midst of the first crowd that had tiptoed awkwardly around North in a public setting, waiting for him to get himself together.  Exactly who, I wondered, was benefitting from this transaction?  What does Jay North get from these people?  Why is an old photo of a burned-out child actor worth five bucks and a trip to North Hollywood to anyone?  Nostalgia is the slowest-acting poison.

Jay North: Rebel without a comb.

Anyhow: This month brings us the DVD release of the second season of Dennis the Menace (the third, out of four, has already been announced for the fall, suggesting unexpectedly robust sales), and Shout Factory, in its usual puckish fashion, saw fit to send me this set but not the first season, which came out back in March.  Ordinarily, I’m a completist about this kind of thing, but then I decided that if there was ever a series that did not need to be seen from the beginning, it was probably Dennis the Menace.

My Nick at Nite memories of Dennis the Menace, which I found agreeable as a child, were of an epic, all-out guerilla combat between male Bad Seed Dennis and querulous, nasty old retiree Mr. Wilson.  This turns out to be inaccurate: the show is sweeter, gentler, blander, and less funny than I recalled.  Though it is based, of course, on the long-running Sunday strip by Hank Ketcham – himself apparently a nasty old man who based and named his creation after his own attention-deficit-disordered son, then became estranged from the child who earned him millions – the TV Dennis affects a comics-page atmosphere only in the repetition of cloying catchphrases (“Great Scott!” “Good ol’ Mister Wilson!”) and the exaggerated costumes of Dennis and his know-it-all nemesis Margaret (the aforementioned Ms. Russell).  The rest is straight sitcom-generic, a second-tier entry in the stable of cheap Screen Gems domestic comedies, which also included Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, and Hazel.

Like those other, better Screen Gems comedies, Dennis the Menace tried for warmth as much as for humor; and it’s a sad reality that warmth, especially yesterday’s warmed-over warmth, does not age as well as a good gag.  The premise hints at a dire form of suburban combat: a symbiotic bond of irritation between two essentially unpleasant people, a bratty child and a mean-spirited retiree, Maple Street denizens burdened by opposite extremes of age but both with too much time on their hands.  Dennis Mitchell is sometimes bratty, occasionally disobedient or disingenuous, but more often just accident-prone or hyperactive.  Mr. Wilson is an asshole and a hypocrite, susceptible to flattery or bribery, querulous by default but obsequious when the potential for personal gain presents itself.  Whenever he has a chance to finally vanquish his enemy, though, as when Dennis runs away in the season opener “Out of Retirement,” Wilson turns nice and sees to it that no harm comes to the boy.  (Paul Mavis, in a customarily credulous and exhaustive survey of the first season, suggests that the earliest episodes offered a livelier and more maleficent Dennis.)  It is probably wise that the show’s creators chose to soften these characters, because I see no one on the show’s roster of creative talent – Screen Gems staff producer James Fonda, B-movie directors William D. Russell and Charles Barton, a list of journeymen writers, and a less than ideal cast – with the talent to have made the show darker without also making it impossible to take.  But as a result Dennis the Menace has no subtext, no edge, neither the nuanced view of human behavior that distinguished Leave It to Beaver nor even the fascinating, barely suppressed hysteria of Donna Reed.

My favorite of the dozen Dennis episodes I watched this week was “Dennis and the Radio Set,” in which Mr. Wilson finds a cache of cash hidden in an old radio, purchased (thanks to Dennis’s meddling) at auction.  Mr. Wilson and Mitchell pere immediately start spending the money in their heads, until Dennis stops them in their tracks by insisting that a search be undertaken for the true owner.  The adults agree to place a classified ad in the local paper, but word it so that the person to whom the cash belongs is unlikely to come forward.  The ethical positions taken by the various characters – Dennis as idealist and moral compass, Mr. Wilson and the usually unassailable Henry Mitchell as morally compromised or, at least, pragmatic to excess – are not consistent with those they affect in other episodes.  But they are, at least, mildly surprising.  The teleplay (credited to Fonda, who was not primarily a writer) also finds room for a not-quite-absurdist gag in which the characters never realize that the old radio only broadcasts a South African station (say what about a lion on the rampage?) and the best role I’ve ever seen gangly bit actor Norman Leavitt play, as an American Gothic-styled ne’er-do-well angling to claim the cash, with a crib sheet tucked into his hat, yet.

But in its efforts to set up and then embellish some sustained gags, “Dennis and the Radio Set” runs somewhat counter to the series’ format.  The prototypical Dennis episode would be one like “Henry and Togetherness,” in which the towheaded twerp manages to destroy, among other things, a cookie jar, an aquarium, and Mr. Wilson’s new hat.  Mr. Wilson, meanwhile, runs a con on Dennis’s father, manipulating him into giving up a golf game in order to spend more time with Dennis, on the dubious logic that this will keep the little brat out of his own hair.

(Mr. Wilson often behaves according to that heightened dream-logic of sitcoms, in which people do things that make absolutely no sense in order that we may have a plot each week.  See also, for instance, Jeannie’s psychotic fixation on “helping” Major Nelson, despite his constant pleas that she mind her own fucking business; Darrin Stephens’s monomaniacally self-defeating anti-feminism; and practically all the behavior of the castaways on Gilligan’s Island.  I’m still working out my Lost-like theory that Gilligan’s isle was actually a top-secret asylum for the dangerously insane, and that everyone on the Minnow was a multiple murderer, heavily drugged and circumvented in escape by unseen government agents.)

Loose in its structure, slack in its pacing, “Henry and Togetherness” is content to assemble a modest catalog of routine childhood antics and banal adult reactions around only a smidgen of plot.  It is inoffensive in its mediocrity, and actually superior to episodes that contrive more elaborate or far-fetched conflicts between Dennis and Mr. Wilson, like “Dennis the Campaign Manager” (Dennis inspires Mr. Wilson’s bid for parks commissioner) or “Dennis and the Miracle Plant Food” (more or less self-explanatory).  But is that ambition enough to justify one hundred and forty-six half-hours?

There are other “classic” shows that have, arguably, gotten by with this approach; if you enjoyed The Cosby Show, it was because you liked spending time with Bill Cosby and his appealing faux-family, not because any of them were killing themselves trying to make you laugh.  But the cast of Dennis is too cut-rate to coast on slight material.  Radio actor Joseph Kearns plays Mr. Wilson with a catalog of overdone, old-womanish gestures and expressions.  He’s the right type but he isn’t much fun; Dennis needed a sharp, operatically hatable antagonist, like The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Richard Deacon or The Lucy Show’s Gale Gordon (who, in fact, replaced Kearns on Dennis after he died suddenly toward the end of the third season).  Herbert Anderson, playing Dennis’s father, is a nebbish with a tremulous voice, a slight build, and no chin.  In contrast to windbaggy sitcom dads like Robert Young, Hugh Beaumont, or Carl Betz, Anderson is a non-entity, displaced entirely by the monster-grandpa figure of Mr. Wilson.  A father figure of such extreme weakness, positioned within the standard nuclear-family dynamic is an intriguing source of unease.  But I have yet to come across a Dennis episode that mines Anderson’s odd passivity for either humor or pathos.

And as for Jay North, a Village of the Damned escapee with a spooky death-rictus grin, he bellows his dialogue with a presentational delivery, as if he’d been trained to expect a Tootsie Roll for every successfully completed punchline.  On one level it’s hard to argue with his casting, because Dennis is supposed to be annoying and North certainly fits that bill.  I kept wishing, though, that Dennis could have been Stephen Talbot, who played the similarly unctuous character of Gilbert on Leave It to Beaver in a more likable and realistic manner.  Indeed, Beaver’s rich supporting cast contrasts sharply with the lack of background color in Dennis the Menace; all of Dennis’s friends and most of the other adults (including Gloria Henry as his mother) are forgettable.  Not only did Beaver have an indelible secondary cast, but it deployed them shrewdly, to extend its tonal richness.  If Wally and the Beav were flawed but also likable and recognizably human, then their assortment of friends were either venal (Eddie Haskell, Gilbert Bates) or stupid (Lumpy Rutherford, Larry Mondello), a collective suburban id that had no place in a plainer, sunshinier show like Dennis the Menace.

Earlier I wrote that Dennis the Menace had no subtext, but that’s not quite true.   Out of the myriad ways in which a little boy might torment an elderly pensioner, nearly half of my random sampling of episodes zeroed in on incidents whereby Dennis caused, or threatened, a financial loss for Mr. Wilson.  This obsession with economics is expressed with numeric precision.  Every teleplay spells out the exact sums of money at stake.  Mr. Wilson’s worthless stock escalates in value to $500 just as Dennis throws it out with an old phone book (“The Stock Certificate”).  Mr. Wilson’s parcel of scrap land goes up in value from $2,000 to $5,000 after Dennis finds gold on it (“The Rock Collector”).  Mr. Wilson gets a hundred dollar bill in the mail, only to see it snatched away by a crow (“Woodman, Spare That Tree”).  And so on.  The amount of money in that radio set was $1600, and in conversations with each of two potential claimants, the exact figure of a reward is haggled over.  So much uncouth discussion of dollars and cents called up, in contrast, one of my indelible childhood memories of Leave It to Beaver, in which the Beav asked his dad if they were rich and Ward replied only that the Cleavers were “comfortable.”  (I think that line may have triggered my earliest conception of the middle class, and the awareness that I numbered among it.)

On other occasions I have praised shows (like The Wire) that emphasize money, because frank depictions of economic hardship rarely emerge from Hollywood.  But when Dennis the Menace does it, the show merely reflects George Wilson’s avarice; you can practically imagine the writers looking over his shoulder and smacking their lips in unison with Mr. Wilson as he grubs for some wad of cash.  It’s an unthinking validation of the capitalist trap: the anxiety surrounding financial loss is the most real thing in the world of Dennis the Menace.  Still, I’m not unsympathetic.  As I grow older and ever less “comfortable,” the thought of living on a fixed income moves further up on my list of fates worse than death, inching past even the threat of torment by unruly children.

The pilot of Hawk produced itself.  At least, that’s what you’d think if you read the screen credits closely, and believed what you read.  They list an executive producer (Hubbell Robinson), a production consultant (Renee Valente), and a production supervisor (Hal Schaffel).  But no producer.  Maybe that’s all you need to create a pilot; if the show sells, then you can find someone to put the show together every week.  That’s what I thought, when I first transcribed those credits.  But I was wrong.

Recently, I pulled the string on that missing producer credit.  What unraveled was a story, in microcosm, of the corporatization of the television industry during the mid-sixties.  Of how the last holdouts of the rough-and-tumble, just-do-it veterans of New York live television succumbed to the studio politics that emanated from the West Coast.

*

Let’s back up a minute.  Maybe you’ve never heard of Hawk.  If you weren’t around during the last seventeen weeks of 1966, or if you haven’t spend any of the years since surfing local New York-area reruns during the late-night hours, that’s understandable.

Hawk was a cop show that debuted on ABC on September 8, 1966.  It had a simple premise.  John Hawk (Burt Reynolds) was a tough young plainclothes detective who caught killers, thieves, and other felons.  There were two gimmicks.  One, Hawk was a full-blooded Native American.  Two, he worked the night shift.  Hawk never saw daylight, and neither did the viewer.

Let’s look again at the credits of the Hawk pilot, which was titled “Do Not Spindle or Mutilate.”  Hubbell Robinson was one of television’s most respected independent producers, a former CBS executive whose championing of Playhouse 90 (which he created) and other quality television had damned him as, perhaps, too cerebral for the mainstream.  The writer was Allan Sloane, a recent Emmy nominee for an episode of Breaking Point.  Sam Wanamaker, who had spent his years on the blacklist as a distinguished Shakespearean actor in England, directed.  Kenyon Hopkins, composer of East Side / West Side’s brilliant, Emmy-nominated jazz score, wrote the music, and The Monkees impresario Don Kirshner is in there as a “music consultant,” whatever that means.  Oh, and the guest villain, the guy who bundles up a bomb in a brown paper wrapper before the opening titles?  Gene Hackman.

And what about that missing name?  He had some Emmys on his shelf, too.  The producer of “Do Not Spindle or Mutilate,” the one who’s not mentioned in any reference books or internet sites, was Bob Markell, fresh off a stint producing all four seasons of The DefendersThe Defenders won multiple Emmy Awards every year it was on the air, including the statue for Best Drama (which Markell took home) during the first two seasons.  Hawk was only Markell’s second job following The Defenders.  So why was his name expunged?

“There are a lot of well-kept secrets about me,” said Markell in an interview last month.

*

It was Hubbell Robinson who hired Markell for Hawk (which may have originally been titled The Hawk).  Markell had just produced a terrific one-off John D. MacDonald adaptation called “The Trap of Solid Gold” for Robinson.  Ironically, “The Trap of Solid Gold” did not air on ABC Stage 67 until seven days after Hawk left the network’s schedule for good.

“Do Not Spindle or Mutilate” was already written by the time Markell came on, but the new producer liked Allan Sloane and his script.  Markell hired Sam Wanamaker, who had guest starred on The Defenders every year and directed one of the final episodes.  Markell wanted David Carradine to play John Hawk, but Carradine was already committed to Shane, a TV adaptation of the famous western that would, also ironically, depart from ABC’s schedule two days after the final broadcast of Hawk.  It was a tough time for the old New York guard: the producers of Shane were Herbert Brodkin and David Shaw, respectively Markell’s old boss and story editor on The Defenders.  Burt Reynolds was the second choice for the starring role.  He came to the show via Renee Valente, a close friend who would work with Reynolds as a producer, on and off, for the next thirty years.

For the production crew, Markell reteamed almost the entire below-the-line staff from his old show.  J. Burgi Contner, the director of photography; Arline Garson, the editor; Ben Kasazkow, the art director; future director Nick Sgarro, the script supervisor; Al Gramaglia, the sound editor: all came over from The Defenders.  Markell and Alixe Gordin, the casting director, had used Gene Hackman more than once on The Defenders, and elevated him to a leading role for “Do Not Spindle.”

The physical production was difficult.  Nighttime exteriors were extensive.  “We didn’t have the budget to even get any lights to put up at night, and I still had to do the show,” said Markell.

Then came the real problems.

*

“We finished it and I thought we had done a super pilot.  I really did,” said Markell,

and I delivered it to Hubbell.  I got this call, and Hubbell said, “You’ve got to get on a plane.  We’re taking the movie to Los Angeles.”

I said, “Why?”

“I can’t tell you,” he said.  It was a big secret.

Allan Sloane asked, “Why are you going out there?”

I said, “Because they asked me to.”

When we landed, we were all going to the Beverly Hills Hotel, and Hubbell turned to me and he said, “Where’s the film?”

I said, “I gave it to Renee.”

He said, “You shouldn’t have given it to her.  She’s now going to bring it to Jackie Cooper.”  And then the politics began, you know.

At the time, Jackie Cooper – the former child actor and adult TV star – was the head of Screen Gems, the television unit of Columbia Pictures.  It was Columbia that backed the Hawk pilot.  Up to this point, Robinson had shielded Markell from studio interference.  That was about to change.

On his second day in Los Angeles, Markell learned the reason for his secret visit:

They brought me to this black building with no name on it or anything.  I said, “Why are we here?”  I discovered it was for testing purposes.  That was one of the first shows that were tested before an audience.  This was highly secret.  Nobody knew about these things.

They’d invite people from the street.  The audience had these little buttons: yes, no, yes, no.  Then they’d subsequently invite maybe eight or nine people to sit around a table.  We’d be at a two-way mirror, and we’d listen to them discuss what they liked or didn’t like about the movie.

I sat with the guys with the dials, and I thought they might have a sense of humor, and I said, “You know, why don’t you take their pulse, and maybe their perspiration rate and things like that also to find out how they’re reacting?”

And they said to me, “We’re working on it.”

Joking aside, Markell felt that violence was being done to his work:

I was furious.  I mean, I was really indignant.  I was under the impression that the artist – and we considered ourselves artists – showed the public a new way to look at things, a new way to see things, a new way to hear things.  We didn’t want their opinion, we wanted our own.  We were the creative people.  And I still believe that, by the way.

Markell called New York and reported this latest development to Allan Sloane.  Sloane had been a worrier during production, calling Markell all the time to ask whether his intentions were being realized on the set.  As Markell described it:

Allan and I would sit, and I would agree with [him], because I loved writers: “Yeah, don’t worry about it, they’re doing it the way you would like them to do it.”  I was kind of consoling him.  Actually, often I didn’t tell him the truth, but that was all right.

With Screen Gems now threatening to tamper with the pilot, Markell had to calm his writer down all over again:

Allan Sloane was hysterical.  He was in New York, and he said, “I’m going to blow it.  I’m going to blow this story.  I’m going to tell Jack Gould [the powerful New York Times television columnist].”

I said, “Allan, wait, see what happens.”

We came back the next morning.  Jackie Cooper – I swear to you this is a true story – rolled out what was the equivalent of a cardiogram of the show.  Horizontal line, up, down, up, down, up, down.  He said, “Now, look at it.  If we can get rid of those downs, we’re going to have a great show!”

I said to him, “If you get rid of the downs, you don’t have any ups.  You’re going to have just a straight line.  You’re not going to have ups without downs.”

And as another joke, I said, “How did the credits do?”

“Oh, no, don’t touch those.  Those were great.”

Markell had had enough:

We had booked a flight for that afternoon.  I turned to Hubbell and I said, “I’ve got to make that plane, Hubbell.  My wife, the kids, I’ve got young children.  I’ve got to leave.  I’m sorry to leave this meeting, but I’m going.”  And I left the meeting.

Renee ran after me and says, “You’re killing your career.”

I said, “Renee, I can’t handle this.  I cannot be a part of this.”

I mean, if I’m going to have to sit and listen to what some guy off the street thinks, and then have to defend myself . . . .  So I went home.

Allan Sloane could not contain himself.  “Allan called Jack Gould, and Jack Gould had a huge thing about how we were secretly testing all of these shows, and it’s no longer the artist’s creative thing,” said Markell.  “Everybody was furious because Allan blew the story.”

*

Back in New York, Markell realized that he had no one in his corner.  Renee Valente sided with power.  Allan Sloane, like all writers, had no power.  (He retained a “created by” credit on Hawk, although after his tip to the press he was not invited back to write other scripts for the series).  On The Defenders Markell had both broken the blacklist for Sam Wanamaker, and given him his first shot at directing American television.  “But I suddenly found I didn’t have a friend in Sam,” Markell revealed.  “I have no reason why, but he was not about to do a show with me producing it.  I was a fan of his, but there was a certain hostility.”

And at the top there was Hubbell Robinson.  “Hubbell was getting older, and not as tough as he used to be,” Markell said.  He wasn’t really surprised by what happened next:

I came back to New York and discovered that the show was picked up.  And I was walking down 57th Street one day and Paul Bogart passed me.  Paul said to me, “I’m producing the show.”

I said, “Oh.  Obviously, I’m not.”

Paul said, “You know, I really had nothing to do with it.”  Because we were also very close friends.  There was a good spirit among the New York people.  Paul said, “Is there anything I can do?”

I said, “How about you hiring me to direct them, then?”  I didn’t really mean it, because I never really wanted to direct.  And so the show started.

When “Do Not Spindle or Mutilate” was broadcast on September 19 as the debut episode of Hawk, Screen Gems had removed Markell’s name from it.  Markell was not aware of that fact until I told him of it last month.  “It’s too late to get angry,” he mused.

Bogart was a surprising choice to produce Hawk.  At the time he was one of television’s most sought-after directors, another Emmy winner for The Defenders, but he had produced next to nothing.  It’s possible Bogart was a political pawn, set up to fail.  Renee Valente brought him in; still just a “production consultant,” she was technically hiring her boss.

Immediately, Bogart found himself right in the middle of the power struggle between Cooper and Robinson:

The producer was Jackie Cooper, and the top producer was Hubbell Robinson.  Hubbell was a very distinguished old-timer.  I met Jackie for lunch one day at the Oak Room at the Plaza.  We were going to talk about the show, and he sat down and he said to me, “We don’t need Hubbell, do we?”

I didn’t know what to say to that.  He got rid of Hubbell Robinson, just got rid of him.  There was something really nasty going on there.  I never knew all the facts.

Bogart enjoyed his new job at first.  “It was fun, because it was a nighttime shoot,” he recalled.  “I had an office on Fifth Avenue, at Columbia Studios, right across the street from some jewelry place that was wonderful to look at.”  But he clashed with Burt Reynolds, and with his bosses at Screen Gems.  Bogart initiated a story idea he liked, a “Maltese Falcon script” that pitted Hawk against a femme fatale character modeled on Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor in the film).  The executives didn’t like it.  Then he approved a scene containing a strong implication that Hawk and the villainess (Ann Williams) had slept together.  The executives really didn’t like that.  Bogart wasn’t surprised that his head was the next to roll.

“They fired me eventually,” Bogart said.  “I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t want to just leave because I thought I would have some money coming if I just sat there until they made me go.  I don’t think I got anything from them, but eventually I left.”

Bogart received a producer credit on exactly half of the Hawk segments made after the pilot.  The remaining eight, like “Do Not Spindle or Mutilate,” do not list a producer on-screen.  It is possible that Cooper and Valente produced the final episodes themselves.  By then Hawk had acquired a story editor (Earl Booth), an associate producer (Kenneth Utt), and a “production executive” (a Screen Gems man named Stan Schwimmer), so maybe at that point it really could produce itself.

(Although his name does not appear in the credits of any episode, some internet sources list William Sackheim as a producer of Hawk.  This contention is within the realm of possibility, since Sackheim was producing sitcoms for Screen Gems at the time, but I can find no evidence to support it.  According to Markell, Sackheim had nothing to do with the pilot for Hawk up to the point of Markell’s departure.)

*

At the same time Paul Bogart was falling out with the top brass at Screen Gems, Bob Markell landed his next gig:

Now come along David Susskind and Danny Melnick.  They say, “We’re doing a show called N.Y.P.D., and we’d like you to produce it.”  I said, “Okay.”  This was simultaneously while the other show was shooting.

This time, Markell was the replacement.  ABC had sent back the original hour-long pilot for N.Y.P.D., written by Arnold Perl and directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, for retooling.  Everyone was out except for a few of the original cast.  Kowalski told me that Robert Hooks and Frank Converse were the holdovers, with Jack Warden (as their lieutenant) coming in to replace a third young detective, played by Robert Viharo.  Markell remembered it differently:

Danny said to me, “I want you to do a trailer for the new series, and we’ll probably get on the air.”  I went to look at the pilot, and discovered that most of the people in the pilot weren’t in the show.  Bobby Hooks wasn’t in the show, Frank Converse wasn’t in the show.  I had to make a trailer around Jack Warden and do whatever I could.

Markell’s highlight reel sold the stripped-down N.Y.P.D. pilot to the network.  Superficially, the new show was similar to Hawk.  Both spilled out into the streets of Manhattan, updating the grimy, teeming urban imagery of Naked City and East Side / West Side with a burst of color.  But Hawk courted a film noir sensibility – John Hawk was the lone wolf, hunting at night – and N.Y.P.D. was about the institution, the process.  It followed three detectives of varying seniority as they plowed methodically through the drudgery of police work: legwork, surveillance, interrogation.

Markell was working for another tough boss, but loved his new cop show as much as the old one:

I loved doing N.Y.P.D.  I was allowed to do all kinds of experimentation.  We shot it in sixteen-millimeter, which nobody else ever did.  When I went to ABC to ask permission to shoot it in sixteen, it was like James Bond going to the CIA.  They said, “If you get caught, we don’t know you.  But go ahead.”

David Susskind would sometimes, rightly, say, “This is a terrible [episode].  You guys, you Emmy winners, you Defenders guys, this is an awful show.”  And he was right, most – some – of the time.  He was a tough judge of the shows, and he kind of whipped us into shape, because we all sometimes had a tendency to get a little lazy.  You know: “let’s get the shot.”

Every three days, or three and a half days, we shot a new show.  The scripts would keep coming in.  Did Eddie Adler ever tell you the story of how he stood in the middle of the road here on Long Island, and I went by and got his half of the script while Al Ruben wrote the other half of the script?  It was like a spy drop.  Eddie was standing in the road with an envelope.  I would pick it up and I would go into the city.

But anyway, to finish the story about N.Y.P.D.  N.Y.P.D. was picked up, and Hawk was dropped.  And I was put into that timeslot.  Which is my revenge.

That’s not quite accurate: Hawk ran on Thursdays at 10PM, N.Y.P.D. on Tuesdays at 9:30.  But it seems likely that ABC had only one “slot” for a stylish Manhattan police drama on its schedule, and that N.Y.P.D.’s pickup had been contingent upon Hawk’s cancellation.  And the network probably told Markell as much.

Sometime during the production of N.Y.P.D., Markell added,

I went to the theatre one night to see another version of The Front Page.  I was sitting at one end of the aisle, and there was Burt Reynolds at the other end of the aisle.  Now, I hadn’t worked with Burt except for the pilot, and we got along really great.  Somebody passed his program along to me.  I have it upstairs someplace.  Written on the program was, “If you ever need to do a show about an Indian at night, please call me.  I’m available.”  That was really very sweet.  I felt good about that.  But we did replace Hawk, and lasted two years.

And this time, Markell got his credit.

Thanks to Bob Markell (interviewed in July 2010), Paul Bogart (interviewed in February 2009), and the late Bernard L. Kowalski (interviewed in January 2006).

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