The Name of the Game redux

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

UPDATED POST: Several years ago, the blog took a look at The Name of the Game, a 1968-71 series made by Universal and airing on NBC.

Since then, more information has emerged. The Hollywood Reporter ran a lengthy 2018 feature story about the history of the series. Each episode cost an unheard of (at the time) $400,000 an episode. 

Occasionally, more episodes show up on YouTube. It’s hard to know how long they’ll stay up. They include an installment set in Cold War Berlin written by Richard Levinson and William Link as well as an episode where ace writer Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa) gets involved with espionage. 

ORIGINAL POST: 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:

3 Responses

  1. Loved this show. And Dave Grusin rocks.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  2. I loved sitting up on weekend’s to watch this classic series, only 9-years-old at the time. Gene barry was a well established international t v star “the name of the game” was a very complicated show for british viewer’s to keep up with the episodes storylines every week. However, for a smallboy like me at the time, the theme song was very spy like sound like “mission impossible” great memories.a

  3. So you are happy to keep posting me your newsletter but block me from your Facebook page because l questioned the sense of a podcast that include interviews with impersonations of Bond alumni. Rather than respond to this query you decide like all so called influencers (a phrase l find laughable) to block anything that doesn’t to conform to this inner circle of so called fandom which constantly feeds each other rather than a healthy debate with those that question what you are doing. My only consolation is the amount of support l have got not just from fandom but from people that have professional and intimate contact with people involved with the actual production of the films. Bill Koenig show some balls and contact me and fight your corner.

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