Mannix Revisited

My previous Mannix blog took a look across the eight seasons. Here, I want to revisit the series, focusing on seasons one and two. Why?

Watching these episodes again on FETV, from the first episode forward, I was able to see a linear progression in the series. You also see a series of cool looking cars, all stylish convertibles.

Mannix was created by Levinson & Link (Columbo, Murder She Wrote) and produced by Bruce Geller, who also produced Mission: Impossible. Both series were from Desilu Productions, owned by Lucille Ball. These two series, along with another Desilu series, Star Trek, share much in common.

Desilu nurtured their television series and gave them a chance to gain footing and hopefully find their audience. Star Trek was of course a difficult delivery, being recast after the first pilot episode.

Mission:Impossible had the lead recast after the first season, Peter Graves took over for Steven Hill. The second season loosened up a bit and reflected the style of the 1960s more than the initial season. That happened during Desilu ownership.

Mannix retooled after season one. Desilu was sold to Parmount during the first season, but the studio had already made up heir minds about Joe Mannix’s future, and it wasn’t at Intertech.

Joe Mannix in season one was a round peg in a square hole. Mannix was constantly knocking heads with company owner Lew Wickersham. Mannix was not the button-down, corporate time-clock punching robot detective. Wickersham tolerated his insolence and habit of neglecting company resources in lie of trusting his gut. That ongoing series conflict wasn’t effective after awhile.

Desilu spent a lot of money on each episode, the series has great production values, starting with the intro theme and editing. Each episode is packed with guest stars, top-notch writing and direction, and holds up, fifty-plus years later. Desilu shows were well-produced. When I watch Mannix, I think of Hawaii-Five O, stylish and intelligent scripts. Joe Mannix and Steve McGarrett: both highly principled, strong, and always professional. Both of these shows were well-written crime mysteries. The script is the backbone of any successful show in this genre. Of course, it helps to have beautiful surroundings, a lot of action and justice served at the end.

In the first season of Mannix, his services were engaged by well-heeled clients, who lived large and had many secrets. The locations were lush and the tastes were conservative. In season two, when Joe was on his own, his clients were not always the well-to-do, more average folks caught in a bad situation, or friends. Instead of the big corporation with computers and employees rushing around, Joe’s office/apartment was on a quiet street and the pace was slower. The hair was longer, the fashions hipper and Joe was more relaxed.

Mannix, like Hawaii Five-O, was tagged as one of the most violent shows on television. Of course it generally aired later on the primetime schedule, but there was always a fist fight or two, a chase, and gunplay. Bad people play rough.

In the first season, cops were leery of Mannix, but begrudgingly cooperated with him. In season two, the relationships had improved and he also began asking for favors. If he went out of town on a case or stumbled onto something worth investigating, the local cops were much less cooperative and Mannix could find himself on the outs. Also unlike most detective shows, Mannix returns the favors by defusing hostage situations, working back channels and even going undercover.

Speaking of going out of town, producers liked sending Mannix to small towns where he was a fish out of water: a situation that isn’t what it seems, on the run from the syndicate or local boys gone bad, and with unfriendly cops.

Over many seasons, we did not know much about Mannix, McGarrett or Jim Phelps (Mission Impossible). These show stuck to the stories and very little was revealed unless it directly related to a case. Girlfriends? Only old ones.

The writing was always a strength of the show. I know I’m focusing on seasons one and two, but at the start of season three, a couple of the best episodes aired. “Return to Summer Grove” brought Mannix home to try and clear an old friend of murder. Mixed up in this trip home is trying to heal a fractured relationship with his vineyard father, and the wife of his client is a former girlfriend who complicates his job. We finally know something about Mannix and we see his roots.

The next episode, “Playground” gives guess star Robert Conrad a chance to play against type. He’s an egomaniac television star who is in danger. Mannix is hired to find the threat. Conrad is great in this role, and it’s interesting to see how much Mannix despises him.

Mannix lives forever in reruns. I honestly had not watched it in years, and it played on MeTV at 1 am, past my bedtime. Thankfully FETV features at a more reasonable time, and I have been viewing as many episodes as I can. These old shows are a kind of wayback machine. Certainly, it is for me.

2 thoughts on “Mannix Revisited

  1. I haven’t seen this show since, oh…1968? If I remember it was on Friday nights. I mainly recall the opening credits and car, and his black secretary with the nicotine voice (Peggy?). Not sure I’d enjoy it now, but I’ll check out an episode. My wife and I have been watching a lot of Police Story shows, which still hold up well, despite the dated sociological aspects (race, gender, etc.). But I can’t understand why the producers felt Don Meredith could act.


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