Monday, February 12, 2007

It's Burke's Law

Smoking rarely looks so cool.

AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT was a last-ditch effort at saving a hit TV series. It was previously called BURKE'S LAW, and had one of the great way-out TV premises. Gene Barry, who had bounced around Hollywood as a leading man for over a decade in films like WAR OF THE WORLDS and as the title role in the TV series BAT MASTERSON, starred as Amos Burke, the Los Angeles Police Department's Chief of Detectives who also happened to be a dandy millionaire. Riding in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven Rolls, Burke solved one high-society murder after another, usually after questioning a stellar line of guest stars.

After two seasons, however, producer Aaron Spelling tweaked the format somewhat. Goodbye, BURKE'S LAW. Hello, AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT. The even-more-ludicrous premise found Burke quitting the LAPD and becoming a U.S. agent, reporting only to The Man (Carl Benton Reid). Each episode still boasted an impressive guest cast, as in the above, "Nightmare in the Sun," which featured gorgeous Barbara Luna, Joan Staley (later in THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN), Mari Blanchard, Elisha Cook Jr. and Ed Asner as a heavy named Pablo Vasquez. Ah, those were the days.

The new BURKE lasted just one season. Barry, still alive at age 87 (he had a cameo in the Spielberg WAR OF THE WORLDS), went on to other series work, primarily the well-remembered THE NAME OF THE GAME. Surprisingly, CBS brought back BURKE'S LAW in 1994 as a companion piece to the popular DIAGNOSIS: MURDER. 27 episodes aired, though it's unlikely any TV network will again air a one-hour drama with a lead actor in his 70s.


Anonymous said...

I first watched episodes of BURKE'S LAW on vhs tapes I rented from Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee in North Hollywood. Harlan Ellison wrote four episodes on the series (and touched up several more). That's what got me into watching it, but the other episodes were pretty entertaining all by themselves.

BURKE'S LAW is pretty much the only Aaron Spelling program I've ever enjoyed. He had such a good thing going I couldn't understand why he changed it to a secret agent series when everybody was doing that.

Well, I picked up Spelling's autobiography at the library and paged through it to find out what the deal was. According to Spelling, it was ABC executives who insisted on changing the show. He and Gene Barry and everyone were against the idea but didn't have a choice in the matter.

Was he telling the truth? I don't know, but I'd say he probably was. AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT is such a dumb idea I can't believe that Spelling would have come up with it. But studio suits? Yeah, that I can see.

Zokko said...

'Amos Burke Secret Agent' has had a rough ride down the years, mostly from people who've never seen it. I think it compares favourably to 'Mission: Impossible' and 'U.N.C.L.E.', particularly 'Terror In A Tiny Town' which is very gripping. It flopped because 'Burke's Law' fans were upset at the reformatting.