Quincy, M.E.: Crime-Fighting Coroner

by Erik Arneson

October 3, 1976 – September 1983

  • Jack Klugman as Quincy
  • John S. Ragin as Dr. Robert Asten
  • Garry Walberg as Lt. Frank Monahan
  • Robert Ito as Sam Fujiyama
  • Joseph Roman as Sgt. Brill
  • Val Bisoglio as Danny Tovo
  • Modern crime dramas show coroners and medical examiners as professionals who have a job to do, and do it. Rarely does an M.E. serve as an investigator. Coroners are not responsible to find out whodunit– that’s what we pay detectives for. Playing the role of Quincy, however, Jack Klugman thrived on being the catalyst behind investigations.

    In addition to determining the cause and time of death, Quincy often pushed his boss, Chief Deputy Coroner Dr. Robert Asten, and homicide detectives Lt. Frank Monahan and Sgt. Brill, to solve cases no matter the cost– financial or personal. Quincy’s strong sense of social responsibility was nearly always evident. (The exceptions being when he had a hot date or a plane reservation– Quincy jumped, sometimes seemingly without reason, from do-gooder to me-first on more than one occasion.)

    Although Quincy may have had more influence than any other assistant M.E. in the history of modern crime-fighting, pains were taken to make the show’s science as accurate as possible. Marc Scott Taylor, a former scientist in the Los Angeles Medical Examiner’s office, joined the show as a full-time consultant not long after it hit the air. Taylor once used bite marks to identify a criminal, and that topic not surprisingly was used in an episode of Quincy. (In fact, that episode is credited with helping solve a midwest rape case where a nurse knew to photograph a victim’s bite marks because she had seen it on Quincy M.E.)

    Taylor, who earned degrees in cellular biology and zoology, once told an interviewer that he happened to be working in the lab when some production people from Quincy came in “to see what a coroner’s office looked like.” His offer of assistance was accepted, and Quincy’s writers had another person to bounce their ideas off. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for Taylor to be a hands-on participant when it came time to rewrite. And Taylor had a recurring on-screen role as Mark, so that he could operate some of the complex equipment instead of teaching an actor how to do it and risking unnecessary mistakes.

    Dr. Victor Rosen, chief surgical pathologist at Brotmas Memorial Hospital in Culver City, California, also served as a technical advisor. And, more than once, Klugman visited the Los Angeles coroner’s office to witness autopsies and absorb the atmosphere of working in a forensic lab.

    Despite the attention to detail, careful (and knowledgeable) viewers will notice a handful of mistakes. In one episode, a victim is given a fatal dose of a drug which causes instantaneous and total paralysis– but somehow manages to wander through a hospital’s halls before dying.

    Most modern viewers will quickly notice the lack of blood in the coroner’s office, even during surgery. The show’s producers thought it would turn off prime time audiences in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

    Throughout the 147 produced episodes, social responsibility is Quincy’s calling card. Unqualified coroners, disreputable plastic surgeons, elder abuse, the availability of a deadly chemical for use as a fertilizer of marijuana, and various environmental issues were all among the topics that came under Quincy’s careful scalpel. Probably the single most-visited plot was Quincy’s strong dislike of bureaucracy within the medical community.

    Quincy’s activism didn’t always meet with an enthusiastic response from viewers. In a June 1980 article published in Fortune magazine, Daniel Seligman takes the “chronically outraged pathologist” to task for what he believes is Quincy’s lack of expertise in medical economics. “Unfortunately, the producers are unwilling to settle for melodrama and keep trying to say something serious about the underlying issues in hospital care,” he wrote. “What they mainly have to say, it turns out, is that economics is bad for you.”

    Such criticism notwithstanding, Klugman remains unabashedly proud of the work he did on Quincy. During a June 1997 chat on America Online, Klugman was asked about the possibility of a Quincy reunion.

    His response: “I would love to do one. But as popular as it is all over the world, Universal doesn’t seem interested. There are so many stories about injustices that I would like to do, especially about the harmfulness of smoking tobacco. There are so many episodes of Quincy that I am proud of. The show on orphan drugs had legislation passed after I appeared in front of a Congressional committee. That made me very proud.”

    Reunion or not, as long as the reruns are shown, Quincy is sure to please some viewers and outrage others. The show wasn’t blessed with consistently high-caliber scripts, but no one can question the passion with which it approached its subject matter, often breaking new ground in terms of a scientific approach to crime-solving.

    [Author’s note: Thanks to The Quincy Examiner, for providing an excellent Quincy resource.]


Comments are closed.

MysteryNet: The Online Mystery Network
For everyone who enjoys a mystery!