Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bedeviled Angel

ROSETTI AND RYAN may be the most obscure television series I've ever written about. In fact, a big reason I'm writing about it at all is to be the only person in the history of the World Wide Web to do so. The next time anyone Googles "Rosetti and Ryan," this blog will come up. As if anyone would ever Google "Rosetti and Ryan"…

The pilot movie, MEN WHO LOVED WOMEN, aired on NBC in the spring of 1977. Tony Roberts, a light comic actor known for his two Tony nominations and for co-starring with Woody Allen in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM and ANNIE HALL, played Joseph Rosetti, and Squire Fridell, the ubiquitous pitchman for Toyota and other products in hundreds of TV commercials, played Frank Ryan. The two were Los Angeles attorneys who—duh—didn't play by the rules in their pursuit of justice for their clients. Rosetti was a well-dressed Italian-American who grew up in an affluent family; Ryan, an Irish-American ex-cop who put himself through law school at night. Both loved to woo the ladies, hence the title.

Propelled by Gordon Cotler and Don M. Mankiewicz's teleplay, which won an Edgar Award, beating out, among other films, Edward Anhalt's gritty CONTRACT ON CHERRY STREET, the pilot garnered ratings high enough to convince NBC to put ROSETTI AND RYAN on the 1977-78 fall schedules. It never saw 1978, getting cancelled in November after just six episodes.

"Bedeviled Angel," which I watched this evening, was the final episode of ROSETTI AND RYAN's shortlived run and the first I (or nearly anyone else) had seen in thirty years. What's most interesting about it is that it was written by Walter Wager, a popular author then best known for TELEFON, which was adapted as an espionage thriller starring Charles Bronson in 1977. His later adventure novel, 58 MINUTES, was bought by Fox and transformed into the hit film DIE HARD 2 in 1990 (curiously, the film was written by Steven de Souza, ROSETTI AND RYAN's story editor). Wager, whose earlier career included original novels based on I SPY and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE under his "John Tiger" pseudonym, had been a writer for CBS Radio, but I'm unaware of any specific radio or television credits.

Wager's plot for "Bedeviled Angel" is convoluted and silly, and it isn't helped any by Joshua Shelley's slack direction. Shelley, primarily an actor who was blacklisted, doesn't shoot enough coverage, making his stagy blocking come across as stiff and unnatural in the master shots. Rosetti and Ryan are hired by a children's TV show host, Stanley Frogprince (Elliott Reid), to defend his headstrong daughter Angel (Glynnis O'Connor) on a routine traffic charge. O'Connor was a big deal in 1977, having co-starred in the highly rated TV-movie THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE and the popular weepie ODE TO BILLY JOE on the big screen. Thankfully, director Shelley puts her in a bikini in one scene, proving he wasn't a total klutz behind the camera.

Normally, Rosetti and Ryan would be too important for such a piddly case, but both were big Frogprince fans as kids (the show's goofy frog handshake is a running gag throughout the episode) and take the case out of hero worship. Of course, the case turns out to be a bigger hassle than expected, when Angel is arrested again on a counterfeiting charge. Larry Storch shows up in two scenes as Wager's deux es machina, a con man named Sam the Speller, who provides the lawyers with a convenient clue. Sam, who has the unusual habit of spelling out loud occasional words he uses in conversation ("Two o's, one e, one r."), is a good example of a character whose only purpose is to provide exposition, but is given an interesting trait to give his scenes more life.

Fridell, who today owns a California vineyard, has probably racked up more hours on television than the entire case of "Bedeviled Angel" combined. Not only did he shill for Toyota for many years, he also played Ronald McDonald in a ton of commercials. Roberts, of course, maintained a steady acting career on stage, on film, and in television; I saw him guest-starring on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT over the summer. The two stars shared some chemistry, but they weren't exactly Culp and Cosby. Perhaps a better director than Shelley could have provided them with an energy boost. Or better scripts, as Wager's is lacking in suspense; there's no sense that Angel or the show's stars are ever in danger.

Rosetti and Ryan's biggest foe turned out to be BARNABY JONES. After six episodes going head-to-head with CBS' audience-pleasing crime drama on Thursday nights, ROSETTI AND RYAN tried its last case before the Nielsens.

1 comment:

Arbogast said...

I used to watch Rosetti and Ryan... I remember one episode where Rosetti (or maybe it was Ryan) figured out who the killer was based on how his store-bought pint of ice cream had melted.

No, they don't write 'em like that anymore.

Walter Wager also wrote a very strange (IIRC) autobiography of King Kong that I had as a kid. I got about 10 pages into it before I gave up on the goddamn thing.