Richard Irving: Key part of Universal’s TV Factory

Richard Irving’s title card for a Gene Barry episode of The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Richard Irving was a major figure in the establishment of Universal’s television factory.

Irving, a one-time actor, helped get TV movies at Universal off the ground.

He directed two TV movie pilots for Columbo (Prescription: Murder in 1968 and Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971). He also produced and directed 1968’s Istanbul Express (a sort-of TV movie equivalent of From Russia With Love) and the TV movie pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man.

As a producer, he oversaw Universal TV shows such as Laredo, a western, and The Name of the Game.

With the latter, he produced the Gene Barry episodes of the first season. For the rest of the series, he assumed the title of executive producer, supervising the different producers for the episodes starring Barry, Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa.

Dean Hargrove, Irving’s associate producer for the first season of The Name of the Game, took over as producer of the Gene Barry episodes from the second season onward.

Irving was promoted to being a Universal television executive, which lasted until 1979.

Steven Bochco, working at Universal in the early 1970s, said in an interview for Archive of American Television, that it was Irving who got him involved in Columbo.

“I got a call from Dick Irving,” Bochco remembered. “‘Dick, it’s a mystery show. I don’t know anything about mystery writing. It’s a mystery to me.'”

According to Bochco, Irving said, “‘Do it. It’ll be great.'”

It was. Bochco wrote Murder by the Book, directed by Steven Spielberg, and the first series episode for Columbo. It also was the first installment of the NBC Mystery Movie aired by the network. Bochco went on the script a number of Columbo episodes on his way to being an important writer-producer on U.S. television.

The Los Angeles Times, in its 1990 obituary for Irving, put his contributions into perspective.

In an era when motion picture studios refused to release their old films to television, not wanting to contribute to declining theater attendance, Irving and such pioneers as William Link, Richard Levinson, Norman Lloyd and a handful of others filled the small screen with dramas, mysteries and comedies.

Irving died at the age of 73.

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Steven Bochco, prolific TV writer-producer dies, THR says

Steven Bochco’s title card for the Columbo episode Murder by the Book.

Steven Bochco, a prolific television writer and producer whose credits included Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, has died at 74, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Details about Bochco’s death were not immediately available, THR said. Bochco had been suffering from leukemia.

Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and LA Law featured large ensemble casts. The two police series in particular addressed adult themes and had a gritty presentation.

“Bochco time and time again refused to bend to network chiefs or standards and practices execs, thus earning rare creative control during his five decades of envelope-pushing work,” THR said in its obituary. Bochco won 10 Emmy awards.

Bochco began his career at Universal’s television operation. He was the story editor for the Robert Stack episodes of The Name of the Game, a series about a publishing empire. The series rotated Stack, Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry as lead actors.

When that series wrapped in 1971, Bochco moved over to Columbo, part of the NBC Mystery Movie. Bochco wrote the first regular Columbo episode broadcast, Murder by the Book.

The story concerned half of a mystery writer team who kills his partner. The episode was directed by another up and comer, Steven Spielberg. Bochco was nominated for an Emmy for his script. But he lost out to Richard Levinson and William Link, Columbo’s creators, for an episode they wrote that season.

What follows are some excerpts from an interview Bochco did for the Archive of American Television about his career. The first concerns how he came to work on Columbo. The others concern Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.

Bradford Dillman dies at 87

Bradford Dillman in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Prince of Darkness Affair Part I

Bradford Dillman, a busy actor who often played villains, died this week at age 87, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Dillman’s career began in the 1950s. His work that decade included the 1959 film Compulsion, loosely based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case of the 1920s. He also appeared in movies such as The Way We Were, The Enforcer and Sudden Impact.

Dillman was kept busy on television. He was part of the informal group known as “the QM Players,” who frequently appeared on television shows produced by Quinn Martin.

For Dillman, that included multiple appearances on The FBI, Barnaby Jones (starting with that show’s pilot, as the man who kills Barnaby’s grown son) and Cannon. He also had appearances on short-lived QM shows such as Dan August and The Manhunter.

The actor was in demand elsewhere. He was the namesake character in the two-part The Prince of Darkness Affair on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which aired during that show’s fourth season. Dillman also made appearances on series such as Mission: Impossible,  The Wild Wild West and The Name of the Game.

Here are the opening and end titles of the Barnaby Jones pilot.

Dominic Frontiere, prolific TV composer, dies

Dominic Frontiere’s title card for Probe, the TV movie that resulted in the Search TV series.

Dominic Frontiere, a busy television composer for series such as 12 O’Clock High and The Invaders, has died at 86, according to a funeral notice in the Los Angeles Times.

Frontiere had a long association with television producer Leslie Stevens. The two were collaborators on the series Stoney Burke, The Outer Limits, the first season of The Name of the Game and Search. Frontiere was a production executive, as well as composer, for Stevens’ Daystar Productions.

After the end of The Outer Limits, Frontiere (along with other Daystar alumni) landed at QM Productions. Frontiere was the main composer for QM’s 12 O’Clock High. He also conducted music for other QM shows such as The FBI during its first two seasons.

While still at Daystar, Frontiere scored an unsold pilot titled The Unknown. That would be shown as an Outer Limits episode. Frontiere’s Unknown theme would be used as the theme for QM’s The Invaders.

Dominic Frontiere’s title card for an episode of The Name of the Game that was produced his long-time collaborator, Leslie Stevens.

Frontiere later worked on the 1977 mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors as well as the TV series such as The Rat Patrol, Vega$ and Matt Houston.

Frontiere also got into the legal trouble. He was married to Georgia Frontiere, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams.

Dominic Frontiere ” pleaded guilty to charges that he willfully filed a false income tax return and lied to Internal Revenue Service investigators to cover up his role in scalping” tickets to the 1980 Super Bowl, according to a 1986 story by the Los Angeles Times. 

UPDATE (9:45 P.M.): Jon Burlingame has written a more detailed obituary for Frontiere in VARIETY. 

The man who hired Goldsmith, Williams and others

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on a first-season episode of Universal’s The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

The blog’s post this week about the television factory run by MCA Corp.’s Revue Studios (later Universal Television) didn’t have room to get into some details. This post is aimed at remedying that.

One of Revue-Universal’s stalwarts was Stanley Wilson, who ran the music department.

In that capacity, he hired composers who had to work under tight deadlines. Wilson hired some of the best, some of whom would become major film composers.

One of Wilson’s hires was Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004). Goldsmith already had credits at CBS. But the network let him go.

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on an episode of Thriller, whose composers included Jerry Goldsmith.

Wilson wisely assigned him jobs at Revue-Universal. Some of Goldsmith’s best television work was on the studio’s 1960-62 anthology series Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff. For a 2010 home video release, extras included permitting viewers to listen to Goldsmith’s music only for episodes he scored.

Wilson (whose title was either “musical supervisor” or “music supervisor”) also brought on John Williams to work on the 1960-62 series Checkmate, a detective series created by Eric Ambler. It was one of the earliest credits for Williams. Williams was also hired by Wilson to work on the anthology show Kraft Suspense Theater.

Other notable Wilson hires included Morton Stevens, beginning with an episode of The General Electric Theater. The episode starred Sammy Davis Jr. Stevens worked for Davis as his arranger.

Wilson hired Stevens for the Davis episode of The GE Theater. That began a career switch for Stevens of scoring television shows. That included scoring the pilot for Hawaii Five-O and devising its iconic theme. Stevens also was a major composer on Thriller.

Other Wilson hires included Quincy Jones for the pilot of Ironside (resulting in the creation of another well-known theme) and Dave Grusin on a number of Universal projects. They included the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder that introduced Lt. Columbo to television audiences.

Jon Burlingame, a journalist who has written extensively about television and film music, had a 2012 article in Variety when Universal named a street on its Southern California lot in honor of Wilson.

“Stanley Wilson Avenue connects Main Street with James Stewart Avenue on the Universal lot, not far from the now-demolished Stage 10 where its namesake conducted literally thousands of hours of music by young composers who would go on to become the biggest names in Hollywood film music,” Burlingame wrote.

On his blog, Burlingame wrote an additional tribute. “Wilson is an unsung hero in the film/TV music business.”

Wilson died in 1970 at the age of 54.

Universal in the ’60s & ’70s: The Television Factory

 

Universal logo, circa 1960s

In the 1960s and ’70s, Universal’s television division was like a TV factory.

Its shows had a certain look, a certain sheen. Universal’s TV operation would help launch the careers of people such as director Steven Spielberg and writer-director Steven Bochco (who both worked on the same episode of Columbo).

Universal developed the concept of “the wheel,” where different shows rotated in the same time slow, or a series that had rotating leads. Examples: The NBC Mystery Movie (different rotating shows) and The Name of the Game (rotating leads).

Universal, of course, still produces television shows. It’s now part of Comcast as is NBC, where many Universal shows were telecast. But it’s not the same because, naturally, television has evolved. Still, it’s a worth a look back.

Origins: Music Corp. of America, or MCA, was a talent agency. But MCA saw the potential of television. It formed Revue in 1950 as a television production arm. It acquired the studio lot of Universal (then known as Universal-International) in 1958 and eventually acquired Universal itself.

Revue produced all sorts of shows: Westerns (Wagon Train and The Virginian), comedies (The Jack Benny Program, Leave It to Beaver, The Munsters), crime dramas (M Squad), and anthology shows such as Alfred Hitchock Presents (hosted by Hitch), Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) and The General Electric Theater (hosted by Ronald Reagan).

Eventually, all of its TV series were under the better-known Universal brand. The boss of MCA-Universal was Lew Wasserman, who became a major figure in Hollywood. Writers Richard Levinson and William Link, when devising the Mannix television series, came up with a character named Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) who was modeled on Wasserman.

The Universal mogul apparently didn’t mind. After Campanella’s Wickersham character was written out after the first season of Mannix, the actor ended up as one of the leads on “The Lawyers” part of The Bold Ones, another Universal “wheel.”

Glory Days: Universal was a major supplier of shows for U.S. television. As early as 1964, it embraced the idea of made-for-television movies. Its first effort, The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, was deemed too violent and got a theatrical release.

One of the early TV movies was 1966’s Fame is the Name of the Game, starring Tony Franciosa as an investigative reporter for a magazine.

This would be the basis for The Name of the Game (1968-71), an early example of “the wheel.” Franciosa, Robert Stack and Gene Barry rotated as the leads of the series, which concerned the magazine empire headed by Glenn Howard (Barry).

A key figure at Universal television, who is not remembered much today, was Richard Irving (1917-1990), a producer-director. He oversaw a Universal Western series (Laredo), which aired on NBC from 1967 to 1967.

Irving also produced and directed the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder, where TV audiences were first introduced to Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk). The same year, he produced and directed a TV movie with international intrigue titled Istanbul Express, starring Barry, Senta Berger and John Saxon.

Irving remained a booster of Columbo. He directed another TV movie with the detective, 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man, which finally sold Columbo as a series.

The Universal TV operation cruised throughout the ’70s. In the early 1980s, it had another hit with Magnum: P.I. But things got tougher that decade. Universal excelled at one-hour dramas and TV movies at a time things were changing.

In 1990, MCA sold itself to Japan’s  Matsushita Electric. It would be bought and sold over the years before being acquired by Comcast.

2017: Spielberg’s future arrives

Title card for The Name of the Game episode LA 2017

Title card for The Name of the Game episode LA 2017

Some time back, the blog examined the television series The Name of the Game, about a publishing empire.

It’s now appropriate to take a look at the show’s most unusual episode:  LA 2017, a dystopian tale about, what seemed in 1971, a far-off year in the future.

It was also one of the early directing credits for Steven Spielberg. LA 2017 originally aired Jan. 15, 1971, less than a month after the director’s 24th birthday.

The Name of the Game tackled current events as experienced by key personnel at Howard Publications, headed by Glenn Howard (Gene Barry).

For LA 2017, the production team decided to address the environment — but in a way the series hadn’t previously attempted.

Producer Dean Hargrove commissioned a script by science fiction writer Philip Wylie. As the episode begins, Glenn Howard is driving in Southern California. The publisher is planning a campaign across his magazines to highlight environmental issues.

As Howard drives, he uses a tape recorder to dictate a letter to the president. “Priorities have to be established or this may very well be the beginning of the end for Earth as we know it,” he says.

Howard has an accident, and ends up in a ditch. He also, seemingly, is now in 2017. An ecological disaster has forced people to live underground. National governments have been replaced by corporate ones.

Despite being a CEO, Glenn Howard doesn’t like what he sees and sides with those resisting the corporate order. The episode eventually ends with it being revealed that it (probably) was a dream. Spielberg’s last shot is of a dead bird. presumably not to let the audience off too easily.

The episode’s title card, primary actors and the writer, producer and director credits are in a font used a lot at that time because it seemed futuristic.

Wylie turned the story into a novel, Los Angeles: A.D. 2017. He died late in 1971 at the age of 69. Spielberg’s career, meanwhile, was still gearing up.