Monday, August 6, 2018

What Might've Been: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, aka The New Mike Hammer (1984)

With Mickey Spillane's most famous creation, Mike Hammer, back in circulation via comic books, let's take a trip back in time to when Hammer made his last foray into television.

Nearly 30 years after the first TV adaptation, produced by Revue (Universal) and starring Darren McGavin, had come and gone, Hammer had returned, with Spillane's name attached to the title. Hollywood agent-turned-producer Jay Bernstein thought he had a winner, and for a while, he did.

Stacy Keach, Jr. (ex-Caribe) was cast as Hammer, and at first glance, looked like he was more of a natural fit for the role than McGavin was in the late 50's. Everything got rolling with a CBS TV-movie that aired in 1983, and then Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer went to series in the winter of 1984. Bernstein was linked with Columbia Pictures Television (now Sony Pictures Television), and CBS slotted the series on Saturday nights. Back then, it was a safe bet, or so you'd think.

After two seasons, however, CBS, noting how the ratings weren't where they were supposed to be, pulled the plug. After another movie, "The Return of Mike Hammer", the series returned in the fall of 1986 as The New Mike Hammer, but was technically the third season, returning after a year off. Unfortunately, there was still some viewer indifference, and the third season was the last, with one final movie airing in 1989.

The hook wasn't just the hard-boiled noir crime drama, but the guest stars. Take for example this 1986 episode, "Harlem Nocturne" (also the title of the show's theme song, composed by Earle Hagen), with guest stars including Isabel Sanford (fresh from The Jeffersons), Ernie Hudson ("Ghostbusters"), and singer George Benson.

I caught the show when I could on a Saturday night after bowling. I'm a sucker for detective dramas.

Rating: A.


Mike Doran said...

You seem to have missed this:

The reason that the '84 Hammer series was cut off was Stacy Keach's arrest and imprisonment in Britain for cocaine possession.
This knocked a full year out of the production, which had a profound effect on the show's momentum. This in its turn dampened the '86 "comeback" series, which CBS carried apparently to burn off an existing contract.
After the '89 telefeature, Keach and Hammer came back in the mid-'90s with a syndicated series that basically went through the motions - but that's another story …

hobbyfan said...

Ah, yes. Did leave that out, didn't I?

Hal Horn said...

HAMMER rated well on Saturdays in 1984, but returned to a vastly changed Saturday night in 1986-87, one now dominated by NBC and THE GOLDEN GIRLS, which had taken off in the year that HAMMER was away. CBS tried to save it by moving it to Wednesdays, but it was up against established NBC hit HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN there, and 8 PM ET wasn't an ideal time slot for HAMMER.

I agree, Keach's bust killed the show. A shame, he was great in the part. And at least the 1997 revival had Shannon Whirry as Velda, so it wasn't a total loss. :)

hobbyfan said...

I'll eventually look at the '97 model. Has Shannon Whirry done anything since then?