Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Classic TV: Father Dowling Mysteries (1989)

At the end of the 80's, it was becoming a trend to cast veteran stars as lawyers or detectives of various stripes.

At the forefront of the trend were producers Dean Hargrove & Fred Silverman. They had successfully revived Perry Mason, with Raymond Burr playing Erle Stanley Gardner's famous lawyer in a series of TV movies until Burr's passing in the 90's. They then cast Andy Griffith as Matlock, a Georgia lawyer who wasn't quite as polished as Mason----or was he?

For their next trick, Hargrove & Silverman produced a TV movie for NBC that adapted Ralph McInerny's crime solving priest, Father Dowling. A weekly series followed, beginning in the winter of '89, but NBC put it on the wrong night, it seems, and gave up on Father Dowling Mysteries after 1 season. ABC acquired the show and kept it running for 2 more seasons. ABC would later acquire Matlock at the end of its run, as well.

Tom Bosley (ex-Happy Days) was cast in the title role, coming over from Murder, She Wrote, where he cut his crime-solving teeth as Sheriff Amos Tucker. Frank Dowling was a Catholic priest based out of Chicago who kept running across murders and other crimes, then aided the police with the assistance of a streetwise nun, Sister Steve (Tracy Nelson), who seemed to be more at home picking locks and shooting pool while searching for clues.

As noted, ABC pulled the plug, but while they moved the series to Thursdays, they couldn't break NBC's stranglehold on the ratings in the early years of "Must-See TV". ABC would've been better served airing Dowling on Tuesdays......!

SpudTV uploaded the open:

Cable's Family Channel (now ABC Family) aired repeats during the 90's, but the series is in the vaults somewhere. Luckily, it's on DVD, if you can find it.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

This was a likeable show and if it had been given a different night, maybe it would have aired longer.

You're right about veteran stars being given new life as detectives of one stripe or another (Dick van Dyke on Diagnosis Murder among others), but it was because these were proven performers, it worked to their advantage.

I thought Father Dowling and Sister Steve made a nice, if offbeat pair. IIRC Steve's father was an alcoholic and a petty crook which was how she knew so much about "street life". I nearly fell over when I learned her dad was Rick Nelson, and her brothers were in the band, "Nelson"!

hobbyfan said...

I kept waiting to see if her bros would be given a cameo, but no go. Not sure if Tracy can carry a tune herself (she'd almost have to in that family), but she was the cutest nun to come along since Sally Field.