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5.0 out of 5 stars This is the best television show, ever., February 4, 2011
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This review is from: Mannix: Fourth Season (DVD)
I confess to a love of this show that goes back to when I was six years old. Now, looking back over a lot of years, I realize how important this show has been to me, held largely in the background of my mind, for over forty years now. But, beyond my personal experience, there is case to be made that it was the greatest television show, ever.

First, in order to achieve greatness a television show has to have themes that are great. This show had a collection of some of the most fundamental and great themes that are important to our American culture: anti-establishment individualism, selflessness, a focus on deeds over money, wit and charm, and, above all, heroism, and it did it all without anything to hide behind.

Second, in order to achieve greatness, great themes must be presented in a pure form, without gimmicks, for gimmicks only serve to cheapen the themes and so when they are in the foreground, greatness cannot be achieved. If the hero has to hide behind something, then he cannot be great. This show had none of the gimmicks that were so characteristic of virtually all of the hero shows that came after. This was not a buddy show, nor a reluctant hero show, nor an overly clever crime solver in the raincoat show. This was a pure hero, portrayed beautifully by Mike Connors, who was ruggedly handsome and athletic, and yet seemed to have a natural way of fitting the range from extreme toughness to extreme gentleness, in the classic cynical yet gently humorous hero mold. He was just out there as the hero, trying to be as real as possible with it, but nothing held back and nothing to hide behind.

Third, great television is about characters. Books and movies can tell great individual stories, but television is unique in that it can allow you to develop a relationship with a character, so that the stories and settings ultimately serve to give that soothing, almost musical overtone to the way you see the character respond and behave on the screen. Great television is like great music. You can receive it over and over again. Each time, through the soothing, welcome repetition, it changes you. The same happens with relationships to great characters through the repetitive media of television. Thus, great characters in television portray reality in the character's responses to situations and do not get bogged down in the details of the situations that drive the dilemmas. Much has been made about too many beatings, bullets and car chases in this show. But how else do you portray themes of greatness and heroism week after week, so that you can be infused by the character's response? The story need only be plausible, the character is what matters. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mannix had one of the great musical themes of all time. Far from being separate, the beauty of the music and opening credits was entirely consistent with the rest of the show. Violence blended with beauty. Rage blended with gentleness. Toughness blended with humor. One drove the other like notes in a musical score that you can listen to over and over again. After all, the beatings, bullets and violence only serve as metaphors for our own reactions to psychological things that happen to us in our own considerably more mundane lives. Our hero gives us a model, or perhaps even just an excuse, for our own heroic responses when the metaphorical bullets and beatings happen to us over and over again as we try to contribute, help others and stir things us. Will we respond with such grace? Will we risk ourselves for the sake of others?

Fourth, great characters must be individuals. After all, our greatest challenge in life is, according to no less than Carl Jung, individuation. No other show has produced a hero with such focus on being an individual as this one - right in a modern-day setting, without government secrets or hidden access to larger organizations, and without pretense.

Fifth, greatness in television requires that the actor fit the role. This was one of those pairings where the actor fit the role so well, that it is almost inconceivable that it can be recreated. Sadly for Mike Connors, after Mannix was finished you almost couldn't stand to see him on TV as anything but Joe Mannix - seeing him otherwise was actually upsetting. The mix of toughness, humor, cynicism and overall easygoing nature that he brought to the role made you feel as if you just watched the character over and over again that you, personally, could do better - that you should do better. You didn't just watch this show to pass the time - you wanted some of what the character had. It made you feel better about yourself to watch.

Sixth, the time period of this show is, of course, the golden era of television. The dawn of great TV was when the movie studio resources and color first hit the small screen. This was also a highly creative period, during which there were no roadmaps, and little competition from a few networks. No less then Lucille Ball (Desilu) was involved with this series. Much like her TV series, this show was all about a character, only with a dramatic instead of comedic focus. At the same time, this was a unique time period in the US, the last of the post-WWII American optimism, fueled by the theme of the independent hero, which is perhaps the best kind of character America has to offer. The result is a great piece of Americana that should be enjoyed as such.

Seventh, greatness often includes a contribution, over and above the bold portrayal of universal themes and types. This show had, I recently learned from PBS's Pioneers of Television, a unique take on the way the story was told - a faster pace, more "set-ups" as Mr. Connors explained on the PBS show on Crime Dramas. But, a major contribution that was left out of that PBS series discussion was the relationship between Mannix and his secretary, Peggy Fair. He was white, she was black (as was proper reference in those days), and they were two individuals, sharing an awful lot of stuff and clearly displaying considerable affection, but of opposite gender. Has there even been a pairing on TV quite like that in the past four decades? And there were just the two of them, the only constants in the seven years of the series beyond season 1. While Peggy's race was often simply ignored, it did occasionally come up and was addressed - which is much more honest than simply ignoring it, as Robert Culp claimed was the premise in I Spy. Race was actually addressed in other ways in this series as well, and it was done so in such a way that it did not make a big deal out of it, did not take credit, it simply pushed forward. Beyond that, Gail Fisher was a great actress - it is worth going through the DVDs just looking for the scenes between Joe and Peggy. They fought with each other in a close, adult way, this white guy and black woman, with a platonic closeness that has been unequaled on TV. While the platonic closeness was forced by the lack of acceptance for an inter-racial relationship at that time (ironically, seven years after President Obama was born), the lack of being able to go any farther only served to fuel the closeness. These were people who were like each other, but of different races and genders, with a bond formed through by having common goals - and platonic relationships like that can be of the most intense kind we encounter in real life. And too, these were actors who could convey so much with their eyes. Don't believe me? Just get loaded up with the context of the characters by watching all of season 2 (in which Peggy first appears) and then make it to DVD #3 of season 3, which includes, "The Sound of Darkness." Enjoy them relating to each other in that show, and then get to the very, very end. When Joe's sight comes back, the communication is conveyed almost completely without any words at all. It is all done through the eyes and it is intense - and once you care about those characters you can watch that scene over and over again in the way great movie scenes can be watched.

Finally, I will relate a personal story. Recently I started to watch seasons 1-4, after having collected the DVDs, but having to shelve them because of the need to deal with both personal and professional crises. And too, I was afraid to become re-invested in a series I know I once loved, in case there was some stoppage of the release of the DVDs. But, with half of the series in hand as of early January, I started to risk re-investing and watching during this past month. In so doing, I realized that I watched this show from the time I was six years old - before I could read or write, with season 1 literally overlapping first grade (in an era without kindergarten). I had a child's eye awareness of specific episodes of season 1, and progressive familiarity with subsequent seasons. Some of the scenes of season 1 were familiar as if viewed by another person held inside myself, and it was uncanny. Most likely my parents had it on while I was allowed to stay up late on a Saturday night. I now realize that I formed a relationship with the character, starting from then, and, as I grew, the show remained deeply important to both my internal fantasy life and external connection to the world around me until Paramount sadly ended it too soon in 1975.

Overlapping the very end of the series and over the course of the many years that have followed, I've had to survive some pretty extreme kinds of things, in both my career and family life. In viewing these DVDs, I've come to realize that elements of this character, this show, have always been buried deep inside my head, and much to my surprise, even formed an excuse for the formation of some elements of my own character, elements for which I'd spent years wondering about the origins. I seem to always need to go against the system (I am a female in a profession dominated by men from all sorts of cultures), am very unconventional in my work (academic research), and I'd rather make a difference than make a lot of money. I try to be tough. I try to stand up for others. I take risks. I try to have a sense of humor about the stuff that does happen to me. Others in my family are not like this, and, believe me, I had no role models. But now, through a lens of 40 years, I can see how I formed my model of what great character was. And, I realize that some of the things I took away from this show formed the foundation of the best parts of myself. Now, I realize that this will sound strange to many, and some will try to label or psychoanalyze me from a distance - but why? Through all of recorded history, great stories can sustain us through a lifetime. Why not great characters?

The too-long era of focus family values, greed and security has proved to be depressing for me. But, I watch these DVDs and I feel re-energized, as if there is still a time and place where heroism, rugged individualism, a quest to lead an interesting life, and more of a desire to take risks in order to help others mattered more. Why in the world would Joe and even Peggy repeatedly put their lives in danger all of the time? After all, they had to know the next danger was coming. Maybe they just wanted to lead interesting lives. Maybe they wanted to live in the moment. Mannix is about the American way of living in the moment, portrayed so perfectly sweetly that I can't wait to get back to the four seasons of DVDs I currently have in hand.

I can only hope that CBS/Paramount releases the remaining four seasons. I've never understood why any form of art can be made unavailable to the public, either put in the public domain or made available for sale. Art is what defines us as a culture, and this series so uniquely captured American values that it is truly a piece of Americana. How can art be held from us? After over forty years of walking around, living a mildly interesting and challenging life, and now looking back, this particular form of art - this character, this television series - the way I connected so deeply, is likely the source of some of the best parts of me. I am so glad to have half of it back that words can't properly express it. Now, I just hope for the rest of it to appear on DVDs, so that I may be infused by the visual symphony that is Mannix over and over again, and feel just a little bit larger than life, just a little bit more on track, just a little bit better potential of what I can accomplish as a human being and how I respond to life's situations each time I watch.
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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 24, 2011 10:27:23 AM PST
GranO says:
I remember thinking that Mannix was canceled at the end of it's 7th season, and being elated when it returned with new episodes in fall, 1974.

Posted on Feb 25, 2011 9:31:03 AM PST
JM Paul says:
I put the comment in there about Mannix being canceled "too soon" because of two things I found on the internet, and one thing I remember as a kid. First, in an interview, Mike Connors said that CBS wanted to renew Mannix for a 9th season, but Paramount wanted to syndicate it. In those days, shows with new episodes were not simultaneously shown in syndication, even though this practice changed soon after. Second, the ratings actually increased from season 7 to season 8!

Also, even from many years ago, I remember the crazy timeslots CBS put the show in, starting with the 6th season. It actually aired Sunday nights at 9:30, then 8:30 -- and those bizarre half-hour start times made no more sense then than they do now, especially the early one for such a dramatic show. Even harder to take at the time was its bundling with other shows (Cannon, Barnaby Jones), which I never felt were in the same league and certainly didn't seem to appeal to the same kind of audience.

As a bit more evidence of that, recently I've discovered that Mannix has been mentioned in the following shows in recent years: "Caroline in the City," "Monk," "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons," "Everybody Loves Raymond," Boston Legal," and "Men of a Certain Age," -- these are all within the past 12 years or so, and many of these references are very recent! Add to that the episode on "Diagnosis Murder" which was devoted to reprising the character. Is this list even complete?

Is there another TV character that has been mentioned in so many other TV shows like that over the years?

This was truly an iconic show. I can only hope CBS/Paramount does the right thing this time around and finally reunites us with high-quality, uncut episodes for the entire run of a series that is beloved to many people.

BTW, for those who watched the show on TV Land, I was able to catch only a few of those, but the way TV Land cut them almost made me cry. The show was so tightly edited in its original form -- that was part of its unique style. A lot was left to the imagination, which was another reason it appealed to an intelligent audience. But the cutting just ruined it. The uncut episodes are a joy to have back -- finally.

Now we just need those next four years, some of which I can hardly wait for, after all these years.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2011 11:14:33 AM PST
GranO says:
I did not have a color television during the original CBS run of Mannix, but was really impressed with it's color and look when abc reran the series as a late night entry in 1978-79. I enjoyed the interview with Joseph Campanella and Mike Connors on the season one DVD (where he talked about Lucille Ball going to bat for him with the network brass). Are there any archival interviews with the late Gail Fisher that could be included with future season releases?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2011 11:45:40 AM PST
JM Paul says:
Yes, the series was visually very well done -- color, settings, attention to the balance between close-ups (which were excellent), outside scenery and things in-between. And, because of that and the tight editing, it was simply unique -- you can almost pause the DVD and stop and think, in-between scenes, "now what happened in-between there?" This in sharp contrast to modern-day TV where most of it looks like filler and you sit there and think about other stuff when you are watching it.

As for interviews with the late Gail Fisher, I've searched the Web and there don't seem to be any, which is really too bad -- not that the Web would have some that were buried somewhere though. She ran into some personal trouble after the series ended -- the price paid for being so identified with a character (a good example of the paradox of the price sometimes paid for doing a job so well). Maybe someone will find some interviews, but I've also heard that CBS does not tend to include extras on its classic TV show releases beyond the first season.

Also regarding that, I saw another interview with Mike Connors who said that he and Bruce Geller had to go to bat for Gail Fisher to appear on the show at all -- the network was afraid how she would be accepted in the South -- this was 1968! In order to have her on, they had to agree that she would be written out if the letters were extremely negative -- but they were not. That intrigued me -- because the show was almost canceled after the first year, and yet they put the series on the line to include her. If you notice the sequence of the episodes of season 2, they have a lot of her up-front, then a few episodes in which she is hardly in it at all. Then she comes back more towards the end of the season, really setting up the rest of the show. Also notice how she doesn't even call him Joe until episode 18 of season 2 ("Death in a Minor Key") ! He's "Mr. Mannix" or "Mannix" or just nothing where lots of "Joes" would go in later years. Lots of stuff going on behind the scenes there in season 2, until she becomes accepted -- and yet, that is really a great season to watch, in its own right. Actually, each season of Mannix sort of has a different underlying theme, it evolves because the main characters evolve, which is one thing that keeps good shows on a long time.

I always wondered if the level of support it took to have Gail Fisher on the show affected the chemistry between Joe and Peggy on screen, because, that was quite a risk to take for Mike Connors, who had no other series (unlike Bruce Geller who had Mission Impossible). It seemed like there might be an interesting back story there.

Still, I wouldn't want anything to get in the way of the release of the remainder of the show, including about 36 episodes that were never seen on TV Land, even in the hacked-up form in which they presented it. So many of those episodes feel like old friends.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2011 12:34:12 PM PST
Mulroon says:
I too did not see Mannix in color until reruns (my folks got their first color TV in 1976), but really enjoy it on DVD. My mother, who was a big Joe Mannix fan in the '70's, has been renewing her enjoyment of the series again by collecting the discs). The same guest stars appear in Mannix as Mission Impossible and Star Trek, as all three Desilu programs had the same talent coordinator, Joseph D'Agosta. Selling a show into an early syndication, brought a pre-mature end to The Phil Silver's Show (Bilko), and F Troop, which were renewable had they not been sold to syndicators for quick cash. Robert Reed said that his recurring character of Adam Tobias on Mannix for seven seasons, from before, during, and after his five on The Brady Bunch, kept him from being completely typecast. Did Joe Mannix ever freelance for his old boss at Intertech, during the later Peggy seasons?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2011 1:32:52 PM PST
JM Paul says:
The shows producers handled the whole Intertect thing in a way that seems strange, but, in retrospect is completely consistent with the spirit of the show, and a part of what made it so special.

Reference to Joe ever being at Intertect, or having ever worked somewhere else, is, to the best of my knowledge, in only four shows -- three near the beginning of year #2 and one near the beginning of year #4. Season 2, Episode #1 ("The Silent Cry,") has Joe telling a client that he used to work at Intertect, but that he couldn't get along with the computer so had to quit. Then, Season 2, Episode #3 has Peggy actually going to Intertect to see Parker and run something through the computer. When Joe finds this out he says to Peggy, "I'm going to strangle you." In Season 2, Episode #5 ("The End of the Rainbow"), Joe visits someone who works for a computer company, and, after she loads her card deck, he pushes the run job button to the woman's surprise. Joe says, "I used to work in a place like this." Then, the whole thing is dropped -- until Season 4, Episode #3 ("Time out of Mind"), when Peggy tells Joe that if he does not deal with accounts receivable, he's going to have to "Go back to work for someone else."

To the best of my knowledge, that's it. But, then again, I haven't seen seasons 5-8 in nearly 40 years! With any luck at all, I will again in the next couple of years though ;)

But, the whole philosophy of the show, coming from Bruce Geller (and perhaps some from Ivan Goff & Ben Roberts, but certainly Bruce Geller) was to leave lots of stuff to the imagination -- for the viewer to fill in. This allows for so much more to happen -- action that cannot be contained in the time to tell it -- similar to the way the visual opening conveys more action than a 2D screen can show. So, you, the viewer, are left to imagine all sorts of things -- like when Joe hires Peggy, for example. You never see that. You get to wonder though. It really engages the imagination, and makes every scene that you do get so much more powerful.

Your comment about Robert Reed is very interesting to me. If you could tell me where you found that, I'd be interested. Those Adam Tobias scenes are very enjoyable -- I always thought he and Mike Connors enjoyed working with each other, and, of course, "The Sound of Darkness" is one of the very best episodes of the show.

Interestingly, you said Robert Reed was on Mannix for seven seasons - but I looked this up recently, and he does not seem to appear in season 8. I wondered why that might have happened, but, "The Brady Bunch" ended in 1974 and Mannix ran until 1975, so perhaps there were contractual issues with Paramount?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2011 12:09:15 PM PST
GranO says:
Robert Reed did not show up to work for the final episode of season 5 of The Brady Bunch, annoyed over what he considered to be a deplorable script (involving hair dye). He had been arguing with producer Sherwood Schwartz about the quality of that series for some time. You are correct that he did not appear in any Mannix season 8 episodes. Though the internet movie database list his years with Mannix as 1968-75, he was actually there spring, 1969 to spring, 1974.

In one of the many Brady Bunch retrospectives, the actors mention playing on the Bonanza set at Paramount Pictures; that Robert Reed was very proud of his work as Adam Tobias on Mannix.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2011 5:15:21 AM PST
JM Paul says:
Thanks very much -- I wondered how Robert Reed felt about playing Adam Tobias, and wished he could have played him more.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 10, 2011 9:17:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 18, 2011 2:16:30 PM PDT
Mulroon says:
Robert Reed was also in the highly acclaimed The Defenders (1961-1965), not to be confused with the 2010-11 series of the same title. He and E.G. Marshall played a father and son lawyer team. The show won 11 Emmy Awards in it's 4 seasons. I did see an interview with Marshall where he talked about how great it was to work with Robert Reed, and mentioned that CBS sold that show into syndication for only one season of reruns, explaining that is why it is virtually unknown compared to Perry Mason, which has never stopped rerunning.

TV Land dropped the ball in the past decade by replacing many classic shows that you don't see often, with marathons of recent shows that are also on other cable stations. Some of their 60 minute shows air in a 68 minute time slot (30 minute shows in a 34 minute slot) but still have program content edited out for even wider commercial placement.

The National Association Of Broadcasters formerly required that a program's content be no less than 46 minutes per each hour. Stations had the choice of editing to get down to 46 minutes, or time compression (running a program slightly sped up) so it will fit a time slot.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 13, 2011 10:50:43 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 13, 2011 11:09:09 AM PDT
GranO says:
Bonanza is presently broadcast on TVLand in 68 minute blocks weekday afternoons, but it's original 50 minute length has been chopped to 43 minutes. That means 25 minutes of advertisements in each episode. When Mannix was on TVLand in 1998-1999, some of their commercials were called Retromercials (classic commercials).
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