Barnaby Jones: Season 1
The crime drama has been a staple in story telling since first began enthralling his fellows with daring tales of crime and punishment. Some of the earliest myths were concerned with man stealing from the gods. The plots used in the television series are a bit more mundane but typically very exciting and even addictive. This is one major reason why the detective series has been part of every network’s programming lineup just about each and every tear. Usually the private detective on television is a dashingly handsome, athletic man morally justified in his relentless quest for justice and the truth. While this format has served TV well for decades there was a time when the CBS networks decided to target a different demographic; mature Americans. Critics frequently referred to this time as the era of geriatric detectives. Replacing the viral young PI is the well seasoned detective with many more miles of road behind and hair white with decades of living. Series such as ‘Murder She Wrote’ and ‘Diagnosis Murder’ became hugely popular. The one series of this mature genre that quickly became the flagship of the movement was ‘Barnaby Jones’. This was the reigning king of lasting an incredible eight seasons. This wasn’t just a fluke; the reason for the show’s longevity was quality. This series may have been targeted towards AARP eligible people but it was so well constructed that its appeal was not limited to just the grandparents. ‘Jones’ may not have been the water cooler hot topic but for millions of fans it was a show that provided solid entertainment each week. Once again CBS Paramount opened their incredible vault of classic television series and has begun to release ‘Barnaby Jones’ to DVD. If you remember this series now is the perfect time to return to the seventies and enjoy some good old fashion family entertainment.
Like many of the best and most popular of that time this one came crime dramas this was created by the preeminent production company specializing in this genre; Quinn Martin. From ‘The Fugitive’ to ‘The F.B.I.’ when you heard the narrator’s deep, resounding baritone voice state’ a Quinn Martin Production’ you knew that you were about to watch something with the highest production standards. A QM production always had the same format breaking and episode done into various acts followed by an epilogue to wrap up the action. In the case of ‘Barnaby Jones’ the series was a spin-off of another very popular show; ‘Cannon’ staring long time star of radio and television star William Conrad. The man they got to play the lead here has been a fan favorite for many decades; Buddy Ebsen. Most audience members remember him as Jed Clampett, from the perennial favorite ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’. Before that Ebsen had a very long and illustrious career in films most notably has a song and dance man. He almost played the ‘Tin Man’ in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ but turned out to be allergic to the heavy make-up. He was past sixty five when he began this series; creating a new phase to a career when most men are just winding down.
The pilot opens up as if it was an episode of the progenitor series, ‘Cannon’, late one night Cannon (Conrad) is busy with his favorite hobby, gourmet cooking. Just as the dish is ready for the oven he receives a frantic phone call from friend and fellow private investigator, Hal Jones. He is doing something for a client and needs Frank’s help. Before they can meet Hal is murdered, Cannon is determined find the one who murdered his friend but there is competition for the job that he didn’t expect; Barnaby Jones, the father of the victim. After 28 years as a private investigator Barnaby retired leaving the business to his son. Know, outraged by the murder the senior Jones comes out of his retirement at the family horde farm to track down the killer. Cannon steps aside but assures Barnaby he will help in any way possible. Of course by the end of the episode the killer is caught and the series is on its way. Jones may look like the kindly grandfather but he had been one of the foremost PI’s in the business, he is not your typical old fashion gumshoe, Jones is expert in forensic science, criminal psychology and advanced investigative techniques. There is a back room in his well appointed office where Barnaby processes his own evidence including dusting for fingerprints. There is a touch of irony here since CBS would become the network that would usher in the trend of crime dramas centered on highly advanced forensic science.
The types of crimes are pretty much the same as you would find on any PI series. You get some missing persons and murder is always close at hand. In one episode a man wants to get away from his life to start over with his mistress show he lures a friend on board his boat blows it up and pretends it he is the victim. Barnaby has to get close to danger to uncover the plot, guests stars of famous television personalities were a regular part of the series with William Shatner in this episode. In this family business Jones finds a place for his son’s widow, Betty (Lee Meriwether). Typically she holds down the office while Jones is tracking clues to bring the heinous criminal to justice.
Jones was not the hard boiled private eye that most would expect. He doesn’t smoke or drink preferring a nice clean life style, much to the surprise of most people he encounters his beverage of choice is a tall, ice cold glass of milk. The series is fun to watch and that certainly hasn’t changed in the years that have intervened since this show was first broadcast.