I just polished off the last eight hours from the first season of Mannix in one viewing. It brought back some great memories and, more important, I was able to put the entire premiere year of the show into a informed perspective.
My memories of the first season of Mannix are better than most folks', but before my re-viewing, they were still dim. To the best of my recollexion, Joe Mannix's boss at Intertect, Lew Wickersham, had done little more than sit behind his desk and occasionally call Mannix into his office, either to hand him an assignment or grouse at him for not following company policy.
As it developed, my old impression was barely in the ball park. And very quickly, I realised that Lew Wickersham was an integral character, and a great deal was lost when he was tossed out with the Intertect bathwater after the show changed format in its second season.
From the second season to the end of its eight-year run, Joe Mannix operated as an independent private investigator, complete with all the stereotypical trappings: a fiercely loyal secretary and police contacts on a first name basis to smooth over things when Mannix's sleuthing frayed the edges of the law. Scarcely an original set-up. Original? Ye gods, even then, it had cobwebs. Detective novels and old radio shows had utilised the same format for decades. Fortunately, sharp writing and Mike Connors' charisma made it work.
But solo P.I. Joe Mannix was missing something. To really mine the best out of your hero, he should have a "trusted equal"---equal, that is, in the hero's estimation, if not necessarily in terms of position. The trusted equal grounds the hero not only by contributing realistic support (legitimate support, that is, and not just showing up after the action to sweep up the leftovers), but also by being a credible sounding board. If he disagrees with the hero, it is valid, requiring consideration, and not just a token argument.
On his own, Joe Mannix did not have this. His secretary, Peggy, was not an equal---most of the time, she made coffee for her boss and conversation which provided exposition for the slower viewers. Nor were Joe’s police contacts his trusted equals. He was on good terms with Lieutenants Tobias and Malcolm, not so good with Lieutenants Ives and Kramer. But no matter which cop it was, the role was strictly functionary---provide a few handy details about the case, mop up after Joe took out the bad guys, and occasionally rattle his cage. (“Pull another stunt like this and I’ll yank your P.I. licence so fast your head will spin!”)
The only time Joe Mannix had a real dynamic with any other routinely seen character was when he worked for Lew Wickersham.
Usually when a television series or a movie presents its hero as a “maverick”, it accentuates the rightness of his attitude by making his immediate superior someone so out of the loop, either in attitude or in competency, that obviously he’s wrong and the hero is right. The first season of Mannix didn’t go that route. In fact, Lew Wickersham probably could have carried a episode or two by himself and given Joe the day off.
To be sure, Wickersham was the perfect corporate executive---confident, polished, urbane, and the diction of a radio announcer. He was a hard-working, stern taskmaster. And he was no fool. Various episodes showed that he had a highly sophisticated intellect. (Interestingly, in that first season, we learn more about Wickersham’s background than we do about Mannix’s.)
According to “To Kill a Writer”, Lew held a law degree, which wouldn’t be terribly unexpected. But in “The Girl in the Frame", he was able to identify on sight the artists and vintages of several masterworks, indicating a deep education in fine art. And in “Deadfall”, he demonstrated sufficient knowledge of science to pose as a doctor of physics.
None of this, of course, would keep Lew Wickersham from being the classic “clueless” boss---except for one thing: Lew often proved himself to be almost as capable a detective as Joe Mannix himself. He was not a “gut-instinct” man, like Joe; he preferred to work with available data and reach logical conclusions. That’s why he loved Intertect’s computers---they were able to collect and collate fabulous bits of information. But he was also savvy enough about human nature to be able to read people with the best of them.
Nor was Wickersham a “desk-bound paper-pusher”. I was surprised to see in how many episodes Lew was out in the field, more than once, at Mannix’s side, gun in hand. And a few times, Lew actually arrived to save the day, just when Mannix was about to be plugged by the bad guy behind the whole thing. (For all of his complaining about Joe's uses of force, Lew racked up a pretty impressive body count of his own.)
That’s what made the interaction between Mannix and Wickersham credible. It wasn’t “Brilliant Hero versus Moronic Boss”. Wickersham had enough on the ball that you had to listen to him. And as the scripts had it, he wasn’t always wrong, either. Even when he was wrong, his arguments were reasonable and well founded. These were two skilled professionals and friends who respected each other. The source of their friction was in approach. That, and the fact that, as the CEO of Intertect, Lew had a concern that Mannix didn’t---the reputation and success of the firm.
Wickersham was proud of Interect and all of its high-tech systems. He had a right to be. He had built it from a one-man business out of a ramshackle office into an international concern with branches in all the major cities.
Another thing I liked about how the series carried out that first-season format was we saw more of the company’s structure than just the computer room and rows of office spaces for window dressing. Several episodes made it a point to devote scenes to various aspects of Intertect that one would expect to find in a top-flight detective agency. Intertect provided its operatives with constant training in martial arts, physical fitness, lockpicking, safecracking, and other skills handy for gumshoes. It had a private firing range and a survival course. You really got the impression that Intertect was a real company that had been put together professionally.
During one of my viewing sessions, the Good Mrs. Benson was watching the episodes with me, and in one opening scene, a client is requesting Intertect’s help. Wickersham assigns one of his operatives, Howard Pender, to the case. The client says, no, she wants Intertect’s best man. Which is, of course, Joe Mannix. The GMB laughed and said, “They always ask for the best man. That must make the second-best guy feel totally worthless. He must sit in his office all day playing solitaire because nobody ever asks for him.”
The character of Howard Pender happened to be on the screen at that moment. I pointed to him and said, “Well, that’s the second-best guy right there.” As it turned out, he probably was. Pender, played by Morgan Jones, appeared in dribs and drabs over the course of the first few shows. In those moments, he never fulfilled more than a functionary purpose, checking on something for Wickersham or running a make on someone. I had been impressed, though, at the show’s attention to detail in giving even such a throwaway part to the same actor and making him the same character.
But as the season went on, Pender started getting more screen time and more important things to do, occasionally pairing up with Joe (though getting the grunt-work portion of the case). He was good, just not as good as Mannix, and after the GMB made that crack about the clients never asking for the second-best employee, I couldn’t help but start seeing Pender as the poor guy who would have been top dog, if Joe hadn’t been around. Instead, he was the fellow stuck with sitting in a cramped sedan all night on stake-out while Mannix got to schmooze with the pretty girl of the episode.
The two-part episode “Deadfall” is undoubtedly the best for understanding the relationship between Joe Mannix and Lew Wickersham. In this effort, an Intertect operative named Reston is murdered, apparently, because he is on the verge of uncovering the individual stealing industrial secrets from one of Intertect’s business clients. Making matters worse, a rival company has passed off those secrets as its own inventions, leaving Intertect taking the fall for failing to stop the thievery.
Mannix is assigned to the case, but Wickersham has run out of patience with Joe’s “shake the bushes and see what falls out” methods. With so much at stake, he decides to investigate it himself from a different angle. Here we get a ring-side view of how differently the two men approach the matter, and also how similar they are. Besides relying on the data he can draw from the computers, Wickersham also effectively applies the more standard sleuthing techniques.
When their individual efforts lead Joe and Lew to different conclusions, it brings them more into conflict than ever before. We learn here that their friendship goes ‘way back. Mannix mentions that he and Lew had “been through wars together. I saved his life---he saved mine.” Still, their clashes grow more angry and divisive than we've ever seen.
The episode is marred, in my opinion, by a sub-plot which involves Wickersham’s behaviour becoming more and more erratic, due to some experimental steroid medication he is taking for an infection. This causes him to eventually become so unbalanced that he and Joe finally come to blows, practically tearing apart the computer room. Notably, Lew holds his own against “tough guy” Joe Mannix (granted, though, Joe was just coming off a thorough beating by a pack of thugs) and fights him essentially to a draw.
Fortunately, Wickersham is forced to go “cold turkey” from the steroids when he is caught by the main villain and imprisoned in storage container. When his mind is finally back together, Lew manages a very resourceful escape. In the meantime, Mannix has tracked down the villain and his hirelings in mid-getaway. Mannix clobbers the lot of them, but gets the boom lowered on him at the last instant. The villain is about to put a slug in Joe when Wickersham arrives in time to save his best man’s hide.
Occasionally, I will read a review of Mannix, and on those rare times when the reviewer mentions the first season, the comment is almost always about how contentious Joe and Lew Wickersham were. I’m guessing that impression came from “Deadfall”, where the over-medicated Lew spends half the run time practically shrieking at Joe.
The fact of the matter is, while they did disagree many times, the friction was much less. Wickersham would get annoyed, peeved, irritated, but ultimately, he respected Mannix’s abilities and backed him up. For his part, Joe tried to toe the line as much as his sense of duty would permit. And the fact of the matter is, for all of his talk about there never being a computer that could “smell a lie” or “read the truth in someone’s eyes”, Mannix relied upon Intertect’s resources more than he would admit. He was more than willing to require the oft-beset computer tech Parker to run background checks on suspects or order other company operatives into action when he needed it.
In one notable instance, from the episode “License to Kill---Limit Three People”, Mannix is trying to locate a man who has deliberately gone missing. Wickersham virtually drags Mannix into the computer room, Joe griping the whole time. Lew interrupts his tirade, telling him, “You’re the one who’s always saying that when a man disappears on purpose, he falls back on something from his past.”---Lew hands him a two-inch-thick print-out---“There it is, Mannix, information on every home, job, hobby, and personal friend and acquaintance David Tate ever had.” It’s a rare occasion when Joe has to eat his own words.
The last first-season episode, “The Girl in the Frame”, was particularly pre-occupied with the running debate between “maverick” Mannix and “company man” Lew. It’s likely mere coincidence since, as I understand it, the decision to change formats wasn’t made until after the series went into summer hiatus. Still, it’s an interesting way to go out, with so much emphasis on the matter of hunches and instinct versus computer analysis. Especially when, in an unknowingly prescient moment, Joe tells Lew, “One day, I’ll get an agency of my own . . . .”
Reportedly, it was Desilu head Lucille Ball who ordered the change in the show’s format. She believed that the viewers did not grasp the idea of computers and were bored by the scenes involving them. Hard to say then; hard to believe, now. But she felt that Mike Connors could carry the show all by his lonesome, without the backdrop of Intertect as a source of minor conflict. And, of course, that meant good-bye to Lew Wickersham.
Of course, there’s no arguing with success. The change was enacted with little in-story fanfare. The first episode of the second season has Joe mentioning to a client in passing that he had quit Intertect and went out on his own, and Mannix went on for seven more years. But while the show remained entertaining enough, it had, to me, lost the significant pizzazz from the first season.
And now you know more about the first season of Mannix than you probably ever wanted to . . . .
My pleasure, ma'am.
I've never looked at the "What Are You Watching Right Now?" thread before, but I was glancing over the post excerpts in the Latest Activity column and noticed your lead-in comment that you were watching the first season of Mannix on DVD. As you saw from my pieces, finding the first season of Mannix anywhere at all is a rare thing. And it's even rarer to find someone who's seen it or has knowledge of it.
Because of that, the DVD set of Mannix's first season is the only DVD set of a television programme which I own. (Other seldom-seen series, I'm sure, are going to show up on some on-line site, such as Hulu; but I don't expect the first season of Mannix to do so.) Before viewing the DVD's, my only memories of the first season were those I carried from watching it when it first aired, back in '67. But they were enough for me to prefer the Intertect format over the solo-P.I. format of the subsequent seasons.
I was pleased to discover, from the DVD's, that my memories did not let me down in terms of the quality of that first season of episodes.
And, naturally, I'm interested in other folks' impressions and opinions of that first season. That's why I revived the threads I wrote about it. Thanks for reading them and thanks for posting your comments on the show.