Saturday, October 21, 2006

America's Top Sleuths: I Was There

Well, the long wait is over. For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath -- and for those whose breath just smells like bait -- here are the results of SLEUTH-TV's "America's Top Sleuths," as selected by voters in their on-line poll:

25) Marge Gunderson (Fargo)
24) Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs)
23) Irwin Fletcher (Fletch)
22) Lt. Frank Drebin (Police Squad)
21) John Shaft
20) Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon)
19) Maddie & Dave (Moonlighting)
18) Sabrina, Jill, & Kelly (Charlie's Angels)
17) Baretta
16) Detective Andy Sipowicz (NYPD Blue)
15) Mulder & Scully (The X-Files)
14) Det. Sgt Joe Friday (Dragnet)
13) Riggs & Murtaugh (Lethal Weapon
12) Harry Callahan (the Dirty Harry movies)
11) Lt. Theo Kojak
10) Sherlock Holmes
9) Detective Lenny Brisco (Law and Order)
8) Gil Grissom (CSI)
7) Remington Steele
6) Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote)
5) Dr. R. Quincy (Quincy M.E.)
4) Crockett & Tubbs (Miami Vice)
3) Jim Rockford (The Rockford Files)
2) Columbo
1) Thomas Magnum (Magnum P.I.)

MAGNUM? It all comes down to Thomas friggin' Magnum?

Yeah, that's what I thought. But what were you expecting? This is TELEVISION!!!!

It's just a popularity contest, fer cryin' out loud, and an amiably hinky one, at that.

Voting was done via the internet only (so right off, say goodbye to entire segments of "America"). Absolutely anyone with a few minutes and a mouse could vote -- regardless of their knowledge or background.

The producers were further curtailed by what they could -- and couldn't -- get the rights for, so even the short-list that people were asked to vote on was less than all-encompassing.

So what we were left with was not the best or even necessarilty the most popular of all TV and film detectives, but the most popular among a short, pre-selected list of TV and film detectives, as voted upon by a relatively small segment of the population that possessed both internet access and the knowledge and inclination to use it (ie: middle-aged and younger, generally), which would also likely skewer the results to those shows in more recent memory. Which may in turn explain why we have one movie from 1941, one movie series mostly from the forties, one TV show from the fifties, one (arguably) from the sixties, and everything else from the seventies onward.

So anyone thinking we'd get some sort of iron-clad blue ribbon critical list is bound to be disappointed. This is a popularity contest, plain and simple, with some serious limitations. Things like quality or artistry or influence and impact don't even come into it necessarily -- just the lowest common denominator of popularity and recent memory. So while many of the choices are certainly of merit, this is closer to the Anthonys, say, than the Edgars. There are no judges, only voters.

Having said that, though, I thought it was FUN -- and I think that's all the producers had in mind. And on that level they succeeded -- in spades. As a detective geek, I have to admit It was a genuine pleasure seeing those old clips, and some of the talking heads offering commentary were fun, as well -- even as I admit that I myself was one of those talking heads (I think I was there to cleanse the palate between those who actually knew what they were talking about).

Yep, while not in anyway involved (except by voting -- and I'm not even American!) in the selection of the winners or the choosing of the nominees, I must confess that I did willingly and with forethought aid and abet the producers by offering my two cents worth on-camera. ("Yeah, they grilled me for an hour and a half, but I swear, I didn't tell 'em nothin'!")

Even though I never ran into any of the others when I headed went down to Hollywood for a taping (except for a brief hi/bye moment with Paula Woods), I still feel honoured to have been in a group that includes TV creators (Stephen J. Cannell), crimewriters (Jason Starr, Sara Paretsky, Scott Turow, and Michael Connelly), actors (Peter Falk, Jesse Martin), and critics (Peter Travers from Rolling Stone, Leah Rozen from People), plus assorted comedians. I guess web monkeys fit into the last group.

Anyway, as I was saying, it was fun. No great deep thoughts from anyone -- just light, breezy commentary, for the most part, with an ocasional zinger and a few insights -- and hey, who knew Connelly was such a chatterbox?

Still, it was a genuine hoot seeing some of those old clips, both from the shows themselves and from old interviews, such as James Garner explaining why THE ROCKFORD FILES had to end.

And now the REAL FUN begins.

The arguing.

MAGNUM? Yikes. I mean, I know it was popular, but THAT popular? The critic in me just can't let it go. Everytime I caught an episode it seemed to be one of the Higgins nagging/Thomas whining-and-smirking episodes. The most sustained gay fantasy ever on American television. Why do you think none of those women lasted?

COLOMBO and ROCKFORD I can live with, although I think Rockford should have been number one. Both great, great shows.

MIAMI VICE? At number four? Get outta here! Popular once, fer shur, but last summer's movie probably did more for its ranking than anything. A quick glance at the show itself (coincidentally SLEUTH is currently re-running it) reveals it as mostly empty style and severely dated, something the far more popular in its time and stylish PETER GUNN -- which should have made the list -- never was. You wanna talk cool music and sharp clothes, those wimps from Miami wouldn't last a night at Mother's.

QUINCY? Was it really so popular? Why not BARNABY JONES, then, which ran even longer?

And if doctors, why not lawyers? PERRY MASON and RUMPOLE immediately spring to mind.

Ah, but RUMPOLE was British, you say? Well, so was SHERLOCK HOLMES. So, was was America's Top Sleuths supposed to be America's Top AMERICAN Sleuths?

If not, what about JANE TENNYSON? HERCULE POIROT? MISS MARPLE? CRACKER? All very popular in these here United States.

REMINGTON STEELE, MURDER SHE WROTE and CHARLIE'S ANGELS I can live with. Not my favorites, necessarily, but obviously wildly popular shows.

And it was nice to see Farrah Fawcett's major, uh, assets still as perky as ever.

And so it goes. Some of the choices seem downright peculiar (the LETHAL WEAPON movies, but not JAMES BOND?) And were the FLETCH movies really that popular and well-regarded? Ever?

Indeed, if they were going to include comedy why not the far superior, far funnier and far more popular BARNEY MILLER?

And if they were going to include SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and FARGO (both fine films, mind you, but top twenty-five?), what about THE BIG SLEEP or CHINATOWN or HARPER? Or THE THIN MAN (imagine MOONLIGHTING with brains and class and very little shark-jumping)?

And what about the great (and popular) TV shows that were skipped over? MANNIX? The afore-mentioned PETER GUNN? Pembleton from HOMICIDE? MIKE HAMMER? CAGNEY AND LACEY?

Even 77 SUNSET STRIP can still make a bigger case for its "popularity" than some of the shows that made the cut.

And Mrs. Thrilling wants to know what happened to McMILLAN AND WIFE and SIMON AND SIMON.

HARRY O wasn't even included, and it could easily have made -- at least in a just world -- the top ten. Maybe the top five.

And was it really necessary to mention Mel Gibson and Robert Blake's recent tabloid-ready escapades at all, or were their recent travails actually the reason they made the list? I mean, does anyone really think BARETTA will stand the test of time? (Except in a car crash way?)

Nope, the criteria for inclusion seemed too willy-nilly and wonky for my liking. Mixing TV and film was one major hurdle (does one popular film trump a long-running series?). Never quite defining what a "sleuth" is was another.

So this poll will never be more than a curiousity, a simple, enjoyable diversion.

But so what?

It was fun.

Now if only SLEUTH would air some of these.

But don't get me started on what SLEUTH should be airing. That's a whole other column...


Blogger Jim Winter said...

"Yep, while not in anyway involved (except by voting -- and I'm not even American!)"

[Knock at Kevin's door. It's Hugo Weaving in full MATRIX gear. Yes, he's not American, but he's very, very menacing.]

HUGO: Mr. Smith, we'd like a word with you.

KBS: What did I do?

HUGO: You voted.

KBS: It was a television poll.

HUGO: That's beside the point. You're a Canadian citizen voting in an American poll. You're a threat to Homeland Security.

KBS: But I married an American!

HUGO: Ms. Killian, I'm sorry. You're single now. We have to throw your husband back over the fence.

Mrs. KBS: What? Are you insane?

HUGO: I'm with the government, ma'am. I'm paid to be insane.

KBS: What fence?

HUGO: We've built a prototype of the fence we're building on the Mexican border along the Canadian border. We're going to have to throw you over it.

KBS: But all I said was I didn't like Magnum.

HUGO: I know, sir. But because of that, the terrorists win.

6:33 AM, October 21, 2006  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Given that this was essentially a name-recognition/popularity contest, I'm impressed that Rockford placed as high as he did.

Magnum, P.I. struck me as a mix of serious and humorous that didn't quite work, but it was the kind of show that could be enjoyed casually. Good-looking protag, exotic locale, car chases, shootouts, rockin' theme music.

Incidentally, in the original pilot script, Magnum was a more classical James Bond-type with a girl on each arm. Tom Selleck wanted to play someone quirker, less perfect, and Bellisario agreed. IMO, Bellisario's current show, NCIS, is a more successful blend of serious and quirky.

8:13 AM, October 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vox populi, vox Dei.

Try as I might, I can't remember Magnum ever working a real case.

He did work at least ONE case, right?

3:10 PM, October 23, 2006  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Jim, someday you'll go far. Maybe even as far as Nova Scotia.

Thanks for making my day.

4:02 PM, October 23, 2006  
Blogger Jim Winter said...

"Maybe even as far as Nova Scotia."

Ssh! Di doesn't know where we're going on vacation next summer.

6:11 PM, October 23, 2006  
Blogger Christopher Mills said...

Um... I *like* Magnum.

2:42 PM, December 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed watching this list, but found it was from 2006. Harry O was great, Peter Gunn also, but what about Mannix - which was one of my favorites and wish it would come to Sleuth channel. Miami Vice was voted big, but frankly I enjoyed Nash Bridges even more - maybe because I am a West Coast resident. Also, nobody mentioned Walker, Texas Ranger, and it ran a long time also. I could go on and on with many more. I was surprised that films were included, though I could never complain about Humphrey Bogart.

Darlene Howard

4:19 PM, June 30, 2007  

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