Saturday, July 24, 2010

Perkins Bombs Out

Perkins Bombs Out
March 10, 1980
Music: John Andrew Tartaglia
Story: David Chase and Bruce Shelly & David Ketchum
Teleplay: Mark Fink & Stephen Miller
Director: Jack Arnold

The screenwriting credits may be the most interesting aspect of “Perkins Bombs Out.” Yep, that really is the creator of THE SOPRANOS, David Chase, who contributed story ideas to the episode. Chase, who had penned scripts for MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO executive producer Glen A. Larson on SWITCH, was just coming off a three-season run as a producer on THE ROCKFORD FILES. How Chase came to work this one last time for Larson is easy to explain and a typical example of Universal’s attitude towards scripts.

In 1975, Chase polished a story and teleplay by Bruce Shelly and David Ketchum called “The Walking Dead” for the Universal series SWITCH, which starred Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert as private detectives. In the episode, crooks strap a bomb to Wagner’s character, Pete Ryan, and force him to rob a bank.

Four years after “The Walking Dead” aired, SHERIFF LOBO used the same Chase/Shelly/Ketchum script, but tasked staff writers Mark Fink and Stephen Miller to give it a polish, which probably amounted to little more than changing the names of the characters and adding some slapstick. While 1980 viewers who remembered the SWITCH episode probably felt ripped off, at least the original writers received proper credit and, presumably, remuneration.

This time, hoods Jack (Christopher Stone), Tony (Michael Mancini), and Ann (Robin Eisenman) snatch Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins) and strap a bomb to his chest. It’s a few hours before the timelock at the bank opens, so Lobo and Birdie (Brian Kerwin) concoct a ruse to fool the crooks into believing the sheriff has a heart condition and could drop dead from the stress. The plan backfires, however, when the bombers remove the device from Lobo and attach it to bumbling deputy Perkins (Mills Watson) instead.

In “The Walking Dead,” the bank manager who originally wore the bomb had a heart attack, which caused the bombers to transfer it to Ryan. Fink and Miller’s rewrite wisely makes better use of the leading characters, and getting Perkins involved leads to comic moments undoubtedly missing from SWITCH. Howard Morton as an officious bank manager delivers a funny scene by following Perkins’ confused directions resulting from radio transmitter interference. Director Jack Arnold, who made a name in the 1950s with Universal science fiction movies like TARANTULA and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, did very little television after this, though he did return for another LOBO later in the first season.

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