McMillan & Wife

TV classics: McMillan & Wife

USA 1971-77, six seasons, 40 episodes, approximately 90-120 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Rock Hudson, Susan Saint James, John Schuck, Nancy Walker, Martha Raye et al.

Plot summary: Police commissioner Stewart McMillan and his young wife Sally solve murders they didn’t plan to stumble into.

Review: Originally an NBC Mystery Movie, McMillan & Wife premiered on September 17, 1971 as a so-called wheel series, sharing its time slot with Columbo and McCloud. Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, the show presented a married couple of sleuths and thus continued a tradition Hollywood had started with Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man movies in the 1930s and 40s. Entertaining and lighthearted, the series benefited from the charm and charisma of its two main leads, as well as their supporting stars Nancy Walker and John Schuck. Nominated for several Emmys and Golden Globes, the ladies of show left a lasting impression on their audience, critics and peers, while Rock Hudson created a character who was every bit as handsome and congenial as his most successful silver screen alter egos.

Scheduled for release as a complete boxset on December 4, 2012, McMillan & Wife is a treat for anyone who grew up loving mysteries that were light rather than gruesome. Blessed with popular guest stars of its time, including Tom Bosley, Linda Evans, Barbara Feldon, Roddy McDowall, Donna Mills, Stefanie Powers and David Soul, the show continues to be diverting and funny – a good example of a decade that shaped a new generation of mystery dramas, as well as a new dynamic between men and women which led to other successful shows such as Hart to Hart or Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

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Big Valley

TV classics: Big Valley

USA 1965-69, 4 seasons,  112 episodes, approximately 45-50 minutes each, ABC, color. Created by: A.I. Bezzerides and Louis F. Edelman. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long, Lee Majors, Linda Evans, Peter Breck

Plot summary: In the heart of California, widowed matriarch Victoria Barkley, her adult sons and stubborn daughter Audra live a wealthy and influential life in the Big Valley.

Review: The Big Valley is a Western show. If you don’t like the genre, you may possibly not enjoy this program. If you find yourself biased however, do try to give this series a chance. It has a stellar cast, led by Hollywood legend Barbara Stanwyck. In true Golden Hollywood star tradition, her portrayal of Victoria Barkley is eye candy and ranges from up-lifting to draining, depending on the plot of the episodes she was allowed to shine in. Lee Majors is another worthy reason to pick this show who earned his stripes starring on this program before he became TV’s Six Million Dollar Man and Fall Guy in the 1970s and 80s. These two screen favorites are successfully surrounded by Linda Evans’ early talents (before she butt heads with Joan Collins on Dynasty), Richard Long and Peter Breck.

The Big Valley is one of those gems whose cast sparks off each other on screen. It is a real joy to watch their characters hunt down evil-doers, catch cattle or fist fight to make a point. Victoria Barkley as the family matriarch is a real lady who dotes on her sons and always has a wise remark. Her only daughter Audra has her poise and a lot of temper, and to her mother’s disdain, a rather free spirit. The Barkley sons, including the late Thomas Barkley illegitimate son Heath (Lee Majors), are all alike in their dedication to the family ranch, while their characters couldn’t be any more different. Nick, the hothead, Jared, the politician and Heath, the handyman. Together they form an invincible team, in spite of their arguments and dissimilarities in approaching trouble. Another treat is definitely California and the scenery that was chosen for the show, always breathtaking and beautiful.

Unfortunately, after four short seasons and in spite of its popularity, the show was canceled in 1969 due to pressure from the network to replace it with modern programs. Westerns were regarded as an outdated genre, one of which is dearly missed these days and successful in reruns or on DVD.

Available on DVD.