As Quirky as They Come
by Ed Robertson
September 12, 1974-April 29, 1976
David Janssen as Harry Orwell
Henry Darrow as Lt. Manny Quinlan
Anthony Zerbe as Lt. K.C. Trench
Paul Tulley as Sgt. Don Roberts
Les Lannom as Lester Hodges<
Farrah Fawcett-Majors as Sue Ingham
Harry Orwell (David Janssen) wasn't like most other TV private
eyes. He owned a car, but rode the bus because his car was often
"sick." He couldn't run well because of a bullet lodged in his
back from his days on the San Diego police force. And he really
didn't have to work. Though his disability pension didn't make
him rich, it afforded him a life of simple pleasures. Though he
didn't work for free, he didn't always work for money: he once
let a client pay off his fee by working on his boat, The Answer.
But he could also afford to work "on the house" occasionally, if
he truly believed in a client, or if he felt somehow he'd let the
client down. Jim Rockford would never do that.
Harry's police contact was Lt. Manny Quinlan (Henry Darrow),
who trusted Harry even though their friendship sometimes got him
into trouble with the brass. Manny usually cooperated with him,
because he knew Harry would always return the favor by bringing
him in on the kill. Manny was a good cop in his own right, but
his arrest record probably wouldn't have been as impressive
without Harry's help.
Harry O premiered with "Gertrude" (September 12, 1974), a
delightful combination of mystery and whimsy written by series
creator Howard Rodman. (Rodman's script was honored by the
Mystery Writers of America in 1975 with an Edgar Award nomination
for Best Episode in a Television Series.) Despite the promising
start, however, Warner Bros. and ABC each had their concerns: the
studio worried about skyrocketing production costs (the show was
filmed entirely on location in San Diego), while the network
believed the ratings, while respectable, weren't high enough to
justify the expense.
By midseason, production of the show, along with Harry
himself, relocated to Los Angeles, with the switch in locale
explained over the course of two episodes. Harry's client in
"For the Love of Money" (January 16, 1975) brings him to L.A.,
where he rents an apartment and befriends his airline stewardess
neighbor Betsy (Kathrine Baumann). When Harry learns in "Sound
of Trumpets" (January 30, 1975) that his bordertown home is being
torn down, he moves to Santa Monica - right next-door to Betsy's
new place. Betsy and her often-bikini-clad roommates, like Gina
(Barbara Leigh) and Linzy (Loni Anderson), frequently pop in for
a visit, which Harry never seems to mind. Eventually, Betsy
disappears, and fellow stewardess Sue Ingham (Farrah
Fawcett-Majors) becomes Harry's new neighbor (and steady
girlfriend) in "Double Jeopardy" (February 13, 1975).
Harry's new foil was the meticulous Lt. K.C. Trench (Anthony
Zerbe), who respected our hero's integrity but was constantly
frustrated by Harry's casual manner and independence. "Trench
had his way of doing things, and he was very successful at it,"
says Zerbe. "Then suddenly he looks over his shoulder, and he
sees this guy Orwell is gaining on him, and that's the fun of it.
Trench really loves Harry, but he knows Harry's way is not his
way. And he knows that Harry needs a Trench, and that Trench
definitely needs a Harry. It's a kind of symbiotic relationship.
Harry bemuses Trench, and even exasperates him, but ultimately
Trench loves him."
The shift to Los Angeles also introduced Sergeant Roberts
(Paul Tulley), Trench's protÈgÈ, and Lester Hodges (Les Lannom),
a silver-spooned would-be criminologist whose well-meaning
stupidity gave Harry nothing but grief. A typical Lester
misadventure was "Mister Five and Dime" (January 8, 1976), in
which Harry's search for a kidnapped elderly counterfeiter leads
to embarrassing ramifications involving Trench, the F.B.I., the
Treasury Department, and the Mexican Secret Service.
Harry O was one of the first series in television history to
kill off a regular character: Manny Quinlan is gunned down in the
poignant "Elegy For a Cop" (February 27, 1975). "That is my
favorite episode," says Henry Darrow, "because of the irony of my
character being killed on camera. Through the years, a number of
policemen who've seen that show have told me that's how they
remembered being shot themselves, or seeing their friends shot.
They'd think, 'Wow,' after I looked down to see where I'd been
shot in the stomach, because they're thinking, 'Ah, man, I just
bought it... it's over for me. And then, of course, at the end
of that show, there's that wonderful scene where David goes into
a bar, picks that bottle of tequila, and says, 'In case any of
your friends come in, let 'em have a drink on Manny Quinlan...'"
The changes in format gave Harry O a charming new quirkiness,
sparked particularly by Janssen and Zerbe's marvelous on-camera
chemistry. And the viewers responded: ratings for the second
half of the 1974-1975 season went up ten percent, good enough to
The second season featured many stand-out episodes, including
"A.P.B. Harry Orwell" (November 6, 1975), for which Zerbe won the
Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1975-1976 season.
Though the ratings remained respectable, the series was
nonetheless canceled after two years. New network chief Fred
Silverman, determined to catapult ABC to the top (as he had done
earlier with CBS), looked at the numbers and decided Harry O was,
at best, a "good little show," as opposed to a show with
breakaway hit potential.
In a sense, though, it's fitting that Harry O ended when it
did. There probably could not have been a more appropriate
finale than the "tag" segment of "Victim" (March 4, 1976), the
last episode to be filmed. Harry finally buys Trench a new bag
of coffee after finishing off the last batch a few days before.
Though the lieutenant appreciates the gesture, he has a lot of
work to do, so it's business as usual: "Goodbye, Orwell."
"Goodbye, Trench," says Harry, as he strolls past Sergeant
"Goodbye, Harry," says Roberts. Freeze-frame.
Ed Robertson is the author of three television series histories,
including "This is Jim Rockford...".