William Conrad's deep, booming sound helped him to become one of the most recognized voices in radio from the late thirties to the early sixties. By Conrad's own estimation, he played over 7,000 roles on the radio. Perhaps most significantly, Conrad originated the role of Marshal Matt Dillon on the Western program Gunsmoke from 1952-61. He was considered for the role when the series was brought to television in 1955, but his increasing obesity led to the casting of James Arness instead. The slight reportedly bothered Conrad for years, but he continued to do memorable radio and television work.
In 1963, William Conrad began a memorable stint as the narrator on the popular Quinn Martin production, The Fugitive. One might think William Conrad's association with The Fugitive helped Quinn Martin decide to build a show around Conrad when he wanted to put another series on the air. The seventies was an ideal time to give Conrad a shot at a leading role as a detective. Television was packed with men who wouldn't be considered leading man material by Hollywood standards–Raymond Burr (Ironside), Peter Falk (Columbo), Buddy Ebsen (Barnaby Jones) and Dennis Weaver (McCloud).
Cannon debuted on September 14, 1971 on CBS. William Conrad played Frank Cannon, an overweight private detective who resigned from the L.A.P.D. He charged large fees to corporations and well-to-do clients so he could assist the less fortunate for little or no charge. He lived in a penthouse, high above the Sunset strip, where he regularly indulged in his passion for gourmet cooking and eating.
CBS DVD recently released Cannon – Season One, Volume One which includes the first eleven episodes of the series, and the two part pilot that ran on CBS in the spring of 1971. The TV-movie pilot does a good job of establishing what kind of man Frank Cannon is. As the episode opens, Cannon is returning to his swanky penthouse apartment, just back from a job for a wealthy client in Yokohama. However, he quickly turns to his attention to the plight of an old friend. Vera Miles guest stars as a motel owner whose husband, an old Army buddy of Cannon's has been murdered and she has been accused of the crime. The movie is a good mystery with solid characters, including a police officer (J.D. Cannon), whose wife just might be a cheating murderess. Typical of most QM Productions, aside from the actors already mentioned, the list of guest stars fir the pilot is formidable: Barry Sullivan, Lynda Day George, Earl Holliman, Keenan Wynn, Murray Hamilton and Ellen Corby.
Because William Conrad as Cannon was the only regular character on the series, guest stars played an integral role in each week's episode. The famous faces that appear on Cannon – Season One, Volume One include: Vincent Van Patten, Don Gordon, Charles Cioffi, Wayne Rogers, Joe Maross, Clu Gulager, Mark Hamill, David Huddleston, Ford Rainey, Joan Van Ark, Diane Varsi, Tim O'Connor, Jason Evers, Jean Allison, Whit Bissell, Radames Pera, Andrew Duggan, Max Gail, Ron Harper, L.Q. Jones, Vic Tayback, Kim Hunter, Andrew Prine, Barnard Hughes, John McLiam, R.G. Armstrong, Harold Gould, Rose Hobart, Carol Rossen, Paul Mantee, Arthur O'Connell, Roy Scheider, Richard Anderson, Lou Antonio, and Frank Ferguson.
One thing that makes Cannon so endearing is the decision to address Will Conrad's weight problems head on. He said he was fat in the pilot and didn't try to pretend like it wasn't there. As a matter of fact, he seemed to embrace it. Admittedly, sometimes the fat comments could get to be a little much. When a little boy asks, "How did you get to be so fat?" That seemed rude.
Cannon was also a bit different from other television series of the time, in that it was pretty gloomy. While Hawaii Five-O was sunny and bright and Ironside had physical limitations, but always did things with no collateral damage, Cannon wasn't afraid to bring the pain–by seventies standards, anyway. Cannon drove a Lincoln Mark IV, which he was constantly having repaired because he wouldn't hesitate to run it into a building or use it to run over the bad guy if it meant solving the case. Because Conrad's weight made foot chases less than compelling, car chases were often used to beef up the action. You'll also notice that many episodes of Cannon have a fairly high body count; Lots of crooks die and Cannon gets shot in the arm a lot, but he always gets his man.
Throughout the series five year run, Cannon was among the top thirty in the Neilsen ratings and finished its third season at number ten. The fact that there is currently a Facebook group called "Cannon: You Got to Love Watching Him Run!" speaks to the enduring popularity of the series.
Here is a synopsis of the pilot and eleven episodes on the Cannon – Season One, Volume One DVD set.
1. "Pilot." – Cannon is called in to help the wife of an old army buddy whose been murdered. She is accused of the crime but Cannon finds several loopholes which leads him to the Redfield home, Kenneth Langston's last destination. As it turns out, the wife of the deputy whose been handling the case, has a criminal past. Guest stars: Vera Miles, Barry Sullivan, Lynda Day George, Earl Holliman, Lynda Day George, Ellen Corby,
2. "The Salinas Jackpot." – An insurance firm hires Cannon to find the thief who robbed a rodeo of $100,000. Guest Stars: Sharon Acker, Tom Skerritt, Vincent Van Patten.
3. "Death Chain." – Cannon is lead into a long chain of betrayal and murder after the bank manager's mistress is murdered. Guest stars: William Windom, Sorrell Booke.
4. "Call Unicorn." – A trucking firm hires Cannon to find those responsible for a series of hijackings. Guest Stars: Patricia Smith, Wayne Rogers, Charles Cioffi.
5. "Country Blues." – Cannon investigates a plane crash that killed a beloved singer. (The family is anxious to bury the truth about his private life.) Guest stars: Mark Hamill, Joan Van Ark.
6. "Scream of Silence." – Cannon is called in when a gubernatorial candidate wants to avoid police involvement in rescuing his kidnapped son. Guest star: Tim O'Connor.
7. "Fool's Gold." – Stolen loot is at the bottom of a conspiracy to turn deserted Julian into a boom town and the townspeople shelter the thief. Guest stars: Vic Tayback, Andrew Duggan.
8. "The Girl in the Electric Coffin." – Cannon helps a mother search for her missing girl, and finds a romantic triangle and murder as well. Guest stars: Kim Hunter, Andrew Prine, Bill Erwin.
9. "Dead Pigeon." – Cannon's out to nail the person who pinned a murder on a cop. Guest stars: Brooke Bundy, James Wainwright, Bernard Hughes.
10. "A Lonely Place to Die." – A triple slaying leads Cannon to a syndicate chieftain who may just be next on the list. Guest stars: Harold Gould, R.G. Armstrong.
11. "No Pockets in a Shroud." – Murder and embezzlement figure in a mystery about a hermit millionaire and his missing heir. Guest stars: Arthur O'Connell, Linda Marsh, Roy Scheider.
12. "Stone Cold Dead." – A closed case gets reopened and leads to further consequences for a Vietnam War veteran who is charged with murder. Guest stars: Dack Rambo, Richard Anderson.
The remastering job done on Cannon – Season One, Volume One is a bit disappointing. Though there doesn't seem to be any cuts from the original episodes, the video quality is little better than VHS tape. Images aren't particular sharp and colors, particular red and blue, appear washed out. In another disappointing move, the audio is only available in English mono with no subtitle options. Lastly, CBS DVD has chosen to include only eleven of Cannon's twenty four first season episodes on this four disc set, which is unfortunate.