Gone (and mostly forgotten): The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Over the weekend, on a Facebook group, there interesting give and take about a television series that doesn’t get much attention these days: The Name of the Game.

The 1968-71 series consisted of 90-minute episodes dealing with three major figures at a magazine publishing company: its proprietor, Glenn Howard (Gene Barry); a top reporter/writer, Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa); and Dan Farrell, an FBI agent turned journalist (Robert Stack). Universal dubbed this the “wheel,” with rotating leads. Susan St. James as Peggy Maxwell would end up assisting all three.

The “wheel” concept would become a staple at Universal with the NBC Mystery Movie in the 1970s.

There’s a bit of spy connection. During the series, there was an episode that revealed Glenn Howard worked for the OSS during World War II. The episode concerned accusations by a Washington politician that Howard used an OSS operation to obtain the funds he’d use to start his publishing empire.

Essentially, Glenn Howard was a younger, handsomer version of Henry Luce (1898-1967), who founded Time, Life, Fortune and Sports llustrated. Like Luce, Glenn Howard was an influential man and traveled the globe.

The series had its origins with Fame Is the Name of the Game, a 1966 TV movie starring Franciosa as Jeff Dillon.

That TV movie also included George Macready as Glenn Howard, Dillon’s boss. But when NBC decided on a series, either Universal, NBC, or both, decided they needed a better known actor. As a result, Gene Barry, who had already done at least two Universal TV movies by this point, got the nod.

The Name of the Game attempted to deal with contemporary issues: the environment, race relations, corruption.

Over time, the 90-minute format fell out of favor for television syndication. The preferred formats are either 30 or 60 minutes or two hours. As a result, The Name of the Game is not seen very much these days. The show ran 76 episodes — hardly a flop, but syndicators usually prefer at least 100 episodes.

Nevertheless, a number of talented people worked on the show. Among them was Steven Spielberg, who directed a third-season Glenn Howard episode about environmental dangers. That episode, LA 2017, has a Twilight Zone quality. Did Howard really travel into the future or what it just a dream?

Other crew members included Norman Lloyd (producer of some Franciosa episodes), Dean Hargrove (a writer-producer who worked on Glenn Howard episodes), Steven Bochco (who was story editor for the Robert Stack episodes the last two seasons) and Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits who produced the first-season Franciosa episodes.

The show also featured a snappy theme by Dave Grusin, seen below:

10 Responses

  1. I watched it every week. The LA 2017 segment directed by Spielberg is really hard to find. Universal should release this to video,

  2. I watched this fine show every week, and intended to buy Shout’s dvd release, but that has been unaccountably delayed. The pilot, by the way, was a remake of Alan Ladd’s Chicago Deadline.

  3. when Tony Franciosa held out for a raise he was replaced briefly by Darren McGavin.

  4. Thanks for sharing this terrific show with your readers. A very cool show. I’ll buy the DVD set as soon as it is available. I’m a Tony Franciosa fan and recall that he got kicked off the show for hitting a director. Am I correct?

  5. One of my favorite shows when I was a kid! For some reason, I mostly liked the Tony Franciosa episodes. And, to this day, I can still hum the theme song. Thanks for this blast from the past!

  6. Just amended the post to include how Steven Bochco was story editor of the Robert Stack/Dan Farrell episodes the last two seasons.

  7. re: Tony Franciosa, I’ve seen references to him being fired but haven’t turned up the details.

  8. According to IMDB, Anthony Franciosa’s temper tantrums caused too many problems on the set. Subsequently he was replaced on the show by several actors including Darren McGavin and Robert Wagner. Neverthless he would appear in 2 more series.

  9. […] time back, the blog examined the television series The Name of the Game, about a publishing […]

  10. […] or a series that had rotating leads. Examples: The NBC Mystery Movie (different rotating shows) and The Name of the Game (rotating […]

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