McMillan & Wife aired for six seasons from 1971-1977 as part of The NBC Mystery Movie, an umbrella title that included other detective series like Columbo, starring Peter Falk, and McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver. Unlike today’s programs where character and plot arcs work their way through seasons, these shows were self-contained movies, usually running 90 minutes. Successful on Wednesdays during its first season, Mystery Movie was moved to Sunday nights.
Created by executive producer Leonard Stern, McMillan & Wife stars Rock Hudson as San Francisco Police Commissioner Stewart “Mac” McMillan and Susan Saint James is his much younger wife, Sally. Hudson is charming and believable in his “tough guy with a heart” role. Mac has had a varied background. Viewers find out he used to play college football (“Reunion in Terror”), work in the CIA (“The Man Without a Face”), and was a partner in a law firm (“Free Fall to Terror”). Mac also appears to be a very common-looking man as kidnappers replace him with a lookalike in “Terror Times Two” and he poses as gangster Claudio Manton in “Cross & Double Cross”.
While it’s plausible that a high-ranking officer like Mac would be out working cases, it’s very odd that his wife tags along. Especially because she doesn’t do much to assist in solving the crimes though she does ask the questions the viewer is likely wondering about. Plus, she’s more of a liability, as she tends to get into trouble by getting kidnapped (“The Fine Art of Staying Alive”) or having bad men fall in love with her (“Blues for Sally M”).
Season Two contains seven episodes, running approximately nine hours, and Season Three contains six, running approximately 7.5 with two of its episodes covering about 120 minutes instead of the usual 90. The series is such a stark contrast to the crime dramas of today that are mostly based on forensics. The plot reveals a certain number of identifiable suspects and then McMillan works the case until he eventually has an ah-hah moment and makes the reveal. The slow pacing draws out the suspense but these stories could easily been told over 60 minutes rather than 90 minutes, and the two-hour episodes really could have used some major tightening.
The supporting characters are noteworthy. Nancy Walker plays Mildred, the McMillan’s spunky housekeeper. John Schuck is Sgt. Charles Enright who, though he’s not real smart, assists McMillan and does whatever he says. John Astin appears as lab guy Sykes. The series boasted an impressive roster of guest stars that fans of this era of television will surely recognize. Season Two features Eileen Brennan, Charlotte Rae, Charles Nelson Reilly, Larry Hovis, Dick Van Patten, Alan Hale Jr, and William Demarest. Season Three features Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Feldon, Tom Bosley, Rosie Greer, and Dabney Coleman.
If you are fan of Murder She Wrote and other types of lighthearted crime dramas, you will enjoy McMillan & Wife.
Senora Bicho assisted in the creation of this article.