The early 1970s were an unprecedented time for mystery shows on television. Back in those antenna-on-the-roof days we had such greats as Columbo, Kojak, Ironside, and Cannon to choose from, among others. The genre was so ubiquitous that Tavaras even had a hit single titled “Whodunit,” featuring the cuckolded vocalist asking “Hey Baretta, won’t you please go get her,” and “For crying out loud, somebody call McCloud.”
One of the great features of these programs was the weird personality quirks of the lead characters. As Kojak the bald Telly Savalas had his lollipop, Dennis Weaver was cowboy Columbo, and William Conrad reveled in his obesity as Cannon. It was into this mix that the would-be Wizard Of Oz Tin Man, Mr. Buddy Ebsen strode as Barnaby Jones.
Barnaby Jones was a classic Quinn Martin production, and debuted in 1973. Growing up, I remember the show as a staple in our one-TV household, and enjoying it very much. It wasn’t until the recent release of the first season on DVD until I got the wonderful weirdness of the whole thing though.
I never really questioned why a senior citizen was pursuing criminals at the time. But the pilot introduces the whole scenario fairly plausibly. Barnaby had turned over his P.I. business to his son, who took on a bad client and wound up dead. The senior Jones investigated and solved the murder, and found himself missing the game. None of this would have happened without the invaluable help of friend Frank Cannon though, with William Conrad making the first of a number of appearances as Cannon on Barnaby Jones.
The involvement of young Lee Meriwether in the stories is also laid out here, as she is the widow of Barnaby’s son. Her role expanded during the course of the series’ run, and she provides a nice foil for Ebsen.
Another aspect of Barnaby Jones that I never really noticed originally was the action. It is mostly implied, in deference to the sixty-something star. This adds an interesting edge to scenes where he is seemingly up against the proverbial wall, and comes up with novel ways to get out of the situation.