Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Day That Shark Ate Lobo

01 The Day That Shark Ate Lobo
September 18, 1979
Music: William Broughton
Teleplay: Glen A. Larson
Story: Chris Bunch & Allan Cole & Glen A. Larson
Director: Dick Harwood

After four appearances on BJ AND THE BEAR, including its two-hour pilot and its first-season ender, NBC decided the character of Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo was ready for his own television series. Lobo, as portrayed by veteran Hollywood character actor Claude Akins (whose major film career included RIO BRAVO, THE CAINE MUTINY and INHERIT THE WIND, as well as dozens of television shows), was a real bastard in the BJ AND THE BEAR pilot and a deeply corrupt lawman in his other appearances. However, he was considerably lightened up in THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO, which was a full-fledged comedy, more so even than BJ AND THE BEAR. The tone of the series, which, like BJ AND THE BEAR, was created by its executive producer, Glen A. Larson, is evident from its opening title sequence, which is a lot of fun and features a hilarious theme song spoof penned by Larson and sung by Frankie Laine (RAWHIDE):

"The Day That Shark Ate Lobo" is not really a pilot, since the characters and scenario had already been introduced on BJ AND THE BEAR, but does a good job establishing what the series will be like. The Universal Studios mechanical shark attraction gets a workout in an episode filmed almost entirely on the backlot (at least it appears that way). Bank robber Dandy Jim Bundy (Christopher George) breaks out of Carbondale State Prison (I wonder if this is an in-joke about the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, which is close to Carbondale, the home of Southern Illinois University) and heads to Orly County, along with his female associate (Caren Kaye) to retrieve the $2 million he stashed there before his arrest.

Meanwhile, Lobo learns about a 500-pound fish discovered in an Orly lagoon and concocts a scheme to charge fisherman $200 a head for the opportunity to catch it. Of course, the best laid plans and all that jazz, as Lobo's idiot deputy Perkins (Mills Watson) accidentally kills the fish, which leads Lobo to blackmail a vacationing special effects technician to lend him his mechanical shark (just go with it…) to fool the fisherman with. Meanwhile (again), Dandy Jim is busy inserting a real great white into the lagoon in order to scare away the fisherman, so he can retrieve his loot from the bottom of the lagoon (no kidding).

Less than four years later, the rugged, athletic George would be dead of a heart attack at 54, and this episode was among his last TV appearances. He really isn't given a lot to do, certainly not of a physical nature, which was a specialty of the former RAT PATROL star. His leading lady, Caren Kaye, had just been on NBC's flop sitcom WHO'S WATCHING THE KIDS? with Scott Baio and Jim Belushi (!) and would soon go on to her most fondly remembered role as the comely French teacher with a yen for teen boys in the one-time HBO perennial MY TUTOR.

Larson's teleplay, based on a story he wrote with duo Chris Bunch and Allan Cole (veterans of other Universal series like BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY and MAGNUM, P.I.), is silly and complex, though I think its ridiculous turns are part of the gag. Akins, almost always cast during his forty-year career as a brute or a heavy, clearly is having fun playing broad slapstick, and Watson complements him well as his bumbling sidekick.

One misstep is the episode's clumsy insert of a cameo by Greg Evigan as BJ McKay, whom Lobo calls to deliver the mechanical shark in his semi. This episode makes BJ and Lobo look like friends, or at the very least friendly adversaries, which wasn't the case on BJ AND THE BEAR when Lobo kept tossing BJ in jail or even attempting to kill him. Larson probably did this to help prepare the audience for the new, comic Sheriff Lobo; heck, if our hero BJ likes him, he must be okay after all.


Hal said...

I too was taken aback by the nature of Evigan's cameo when I saw this one about a week ago, considering the history.

Still, this wasn't any sillier than a lot of the plots we saw on DUKES. Decent, funny enough start...and hey, Marty, you got Dean Martin next episode!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing about Sheriff Lobo. I was a big fan of the show as a kid, but remember little now. And thanks for the sweet mention and memory of Chris George. He's one of my faves and greatly missed. I kind of miss Caren Kaye too. She was pretty great!

Brian Kerwin is on One Life to Live now. He went on to a pretty nice career.