Thursday, February 4, 2021

YouTube Theatre: Ellery Queen: Too Many Suspects (1975)

 Ellery Queen returned to television in the spring of 1975 with "Too Many Suspects", the pilot for the subsequent series that bowed the following fall. This NBC TV-movie establishes the format for the series. To wit:

Announcer Bill Woodson (ex-The Odd Couple, The Invaders) explains that the victim we see on the screen will soon be killed, and the audience is challenged to figure out the mystery before Ellery (Jim Hutton) does.

Ellery, with some assistance from his father, Inspector Richard Queen (David Wayne), gathers the clues, while at the same time narrowing down the list of suspects, or stumbling onto some important clues. "Suspects" was an adaptation of a 1965 novel by the literary Queen.

Periodically, radio detective Simon Brimmer (John Hillerman, ex-The Bob Crane Show) will try to outwit Queen, more out of spite or professional jealousy, and the reason for that is laid out in "Suspects".

Consider that four years earlier, Richard Levinson & William Link, using a pseudonym due to a producer tampering with their script, had produced another NBC pilot, "Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You", with Peter Lawford as Ellery, and Harry Morgan as Inspector Queen. We'll look at that another time. I can tell you already that "Suspects" is a major improvement.

Here's "Too Many Suspects".

Edit, 11/15/21: Had to replace the video again. This time, the theme music has been muted, likely for copyright reasons, but Bill Woodson's opening teaser is intact.


And that little graffiti artist? That's Jimmy Baio, Scott's brother, in one of his first roles.

Rating: A.


Mike Doran said...

This is from The Tragedy Of Errors, a collection of stories and essays by and about Ellery Queen, published in 1999 (EQ's 70th anniversary).

From an essay written by Frederic Dannay's sons, Douglas and Richard:

The Fourth Side Of The Triangle* was written from a Frederic Dannay outline ... of 71 pages. (Avram) Davidson finished the novel (based on) the outline. The book was revised by Mr. (Manfred) Lee and Mr. Dannay.
* The novel that Too Many Suspects was based on.

This means that the novel was not ghostwritten, in the sense that you or I would understand that term; the participation of both Dannay and Lee proves this.
It's a complicated story; you ought to look it up sometime.

Other things:

- In the radio scene at the beginning, the actress is Rosanna Huffman, the IRL wife of Richard Levinson.
And of course, the OTR fans in the crowd will recognize Harry Von Zell as the announcer, the job he did for Burns & Allen for years.

- By the way, Hank Simms was not the announcer for The Wonderful World Of Disney.
That job was done by a veteran announcer named Dick Wesson, who held the position going back to the ABC-Disneyland days.
Wesson was also the announcer on the early Quinn Martin shows, before he was replaced on The FBI - by Hank Simms.

hobbyfan said...

Certainly fooled me on Disney. I'll amend the text. Also, the news anchor was played by Art Balinger (ex-Dragnet).

Dick Wesson was the QM announcer for New Breed, Fugitive, 12 O'Clock High, but why did Martin dump him?

Mike Doran said...

Thanx for your thanx; I live to serve.

About Dick Wesson the announcer:
First off, I write it that way to distinguish him from Dick Wesson the actor, who was a familiar character comedian from the '50s through the '70s (you'd definitely know the face).

Wesson the announcer was in heavy demand for his voice-overs (not limited to Disney and QM).
I don't think QM dumped him, so much as he just might not have been available when The FBI gig came up; his last QM gig was The Invaders, which started up in '67, after QM launched The FBI.
The above is all spec; Wesson didn't seek out publicity, and little is known about his personal life.
As to Dick Wesson the actor, he gradually phased out his on-camera career and went behind the scenes, mainly as Paul Henning's co-writer on The Beverly Hillbillies - but that's another story ...

About Ellery Queen:

- Since we're doing cast fill-ins, we ought to mention that the radio actor at the beginning was Jimmy Lydon, who years before played Henry Aldrich in Paramount movies; Lydon also had moved behind the cameras, and sometimes played bits like this as favors for friends.

- Above, I mentioned The Tragedy Of Errors, the EQ essay collection whence I cribbed the info about the novel.
This book takes its title from its centerpiece feature: the 50-page outline that Fred Dannay wrote for what was supposed to be the next Ellery Queen novel - which didn't get written because Manny Lee died suddenly in 1970.
Lee was 65 years old (younger than I am right now), and had had health problems for years; this was the reason that he missed out on writing some of the novels.
Fred Dannay was the same age, and had similar health issues; this was why he shut up shop as a fiction writer, starting with not arranging to finish this novel.
As I said above, it's a very complicated story ...

More Than You Wanted To Know will return.

hobbyfan said...

The FBI was halfway through season 2 when Invaders debuted as a mid-season replacement in the winter of '67, as I recall.

As for the actor Wesson, I knew he'd moved behind the cameras, having seen his name in the credits for Beverly Hillbilles many times. Announcer Wesson's last QM job was Invaders, and when that ended, the only TV gig he had left that I knew was the Disney show, and that ended in the late 70's.