Monday, March 09, 2009

Never Send A Boy King To Do A Man’s Job

Richie Brockelman was a wonderful character that didn't get the success he deserved. As played by the very likable Dennis Dugan, who was 29 years old at the time, but looked younger, Richie made his debut in a 90-minute TV-movie written by Stephen J. Cannell and Steven Bochco called THE MISSING 24 HOURS. Sixteen months later, Cannell brought the character back for an episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES titled "The House on Willis Avenue," which served as a second pilot for a Brockelman television series. It did the trick, and three weeks later, RICHIE BROCKELMAN, PRIVATE EYE appeared in ROCKFORD's NBC timeslot on Friday night.

RICHIE, despite the participation of TV legends Cannell and Bochco (HILL STREET BLUES), lasted only five weeks, despite positive reviews. Barbara Bosson (Bochco's wife who acted in most of his series) co-starred as Brockelman's secretary Sharon, and Robert Hogan played Sgt. Coopersmith, Richie's "Sgt. Becker." But the Brockelman character, who used his boyish charm and youthful appearance to lure bad guys into a false sense of security, much the way Peter Falk's Columbo did with his sloppy nature, was too good to let die.

"Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man's Job" was a 2-hour episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES that aired almost a year after RICHIE's last episode. Written by Juanita Bartlett and directed by William Wiard, both ROCKFORD veterans, the breezy episode soars because of the amusing plot and the light interplay between Dugan and Garner, who clearly had an affection for his younger co-star. Rockford and Brockelman team up to con a wealthy sports entrepreneur named Harold Jack Coombs, played by Robert Webber in his fourth ROCKFORD appearance.

This case is a personal one for Richie. Coombs wants to build a racetrack on the property owned by Richie's father (Harold Gould, following Norman Fell and John Randolph, who previously played the role). His goon (Pepper Martin) strongarms Mr. Brockelman into selling his printing business with Coombs paying a fraction of what it's worth. To get the business back, Richie guilt-trips Jim Rockford (Garner) into helping him pull an epic con game on the millionaire—an elaborate yarn involving Egyptian antiquities and a second national King Tut tour. The details don't really matter. The joy of the show is watching Rockford, Richie, and their confederates (including Stuart Margolin's Angel) lay down the groundwork and Coombs falling for it.

Trisha Noble, later a regular on ABC's STRIKE FORCE, joins the con as the sultry Odette, an old acquaintance of Rockford. Gary Crosby (ADAM-12) is a crippled racecar mechanic with an axe to grind against Coombs who gives Rockford some hands-on training (Garner enjoyed racing cars off the screen and starred in the 1966 film GRAND PRIX). The great Kim Hunter plays Richie's mother. Mike Post occasionally weaves his BROCKELMAN theme into the score for this episode.

Sadly, this was the last time Brockelman appeared on television. Dugan continued to act in films and on television for several years, including a regular gig on the shortlived SHADOW CHASERS and a memorable recurring role on MOONLIGHTING. Today, he's one of Hollywood's biggest directors of lowbrow comedies, having helmed several Adam Sandler features, such as HAPPY GILMORE and I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY.


Temple of Schlock said...

I remember when RICHIE BROCKELMAN, PRIVATE EYE was on, but never got the chance to watch an episode. Too bad Universal didn't use the 5 episodes and the original pilot to pad out the last ROCKFORD set.

Max Allan Collins said...

RICHIE BROCKELMAN is one of my favorite PI shows -- I made it one of the top ten in my book on TV detectives some years ago. If anybody has a copy of the two-hour pilot movie, I'd be grateful to get it.

Booksteve said...

Dugan was always a familiar face after that but to this day I still think of him as Richie.

Robert said...

Oddly enough I wasn't much of a watcher of ROCKFORD FILES during its main run but I faithfully tuned into RICHIE BROCKELMAN for its brief existence. Terribly bummed when it was dropped so quickly, a fate shared by other detective shows I liked (TENSPEED & BROWNSHOE, Q.E.D.)

Chad said...

Lemme just say, if Max ever reads this, I LOVED your book on TV detectives. It took me years to track down a copy (this is well before Amazon). I remember when Dugan showed up around the time "Moonlighting" flew off the tracks when Maddie got pregnant. Dugan did thankless work on that show.

Max Allan Collins said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Chad, about my TV detectives book. I rated three of the short-lived, obscure shows of this period in the top ten P.I. shows of all time: CITY OF ANGELS, RICHIE BROCKELMAN and TENSPEED AND BROWNSHOE. I actually bumped into Jeff Goldblum (and squeeze Gena Davis) in the London theater district around the time the book came out, and told him how much I loved TENSPEED AND BROWNSHOE and that I'd given it a rave in my book. He seemed pleased.

AndyDecker said...

Juanita Bartlett, now that was a good writer. Her name was on some of the best ROCKFORD eps.

Funny, nowadays they just didn´t seem to get this balance of fun and suspence often. It is either grim and gritty or it is outright comedy.

I miss stuff like ROCKFORD

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but you have to see from this point of view, maybe as actor he never has a future, and now as a director he making some funny movies.