Monday, September 24, 2018

Peter Gunn Turns 60

When it comes to American television in the late Fifties, it is best remembered for the huge number of Westerns that aired during the era. That having been said, there was another cycle on American television that was also notable, one towards detective shows. It was during this period that Richard Diamond, Private Detective; 77 Sunset Strip; Philip Marlowe; Johnny Staccato; and Michael Shayne debuted. Among the most famous detective shows to debut in the late Fifties was Peter Gunn. While the series only ran for three seasons, it has persisted in syndication ever since and remains one of the best known detective shows of the era. It premiered on September 22 1958 on NBC.

Peter Gunn was created by Blake Edwards, the well known movie director responsible for such classics as Operation Petticoat (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), The Pink Panther (1963), and The Great Race (1965). Blake Edwards had created the radio show Richard Diamond, Private Detective, which debuted on NBC in 1949. It would later be adapted as a TV series in 1957. In 1954 Mr. Edwards had directed an unsold television pilot titled Mickey Spillane's 'Mike Hammer!', starring Brian Keith in the title role. Although Peter Gunn would become Blake Edwards's best known detective show, it was then actually the third time he had visited the genre on television. The show was originally going to be titled Gunn for Hire, but Paramount complained that the tile was too close to that of their 1942 feature film This Gun for Hire.

Peter Gunn centred on the detective of the title, who was played by Craig Stevens. Gunn was a former police officer who worked out of Los Angeles. He frequented a jazz club called Mother's, where his girl friend Edie Hart (played by Lola Albright) worked. The owner of Mother's was simply known as Mother, and had run speakeasies during Prohibition. She was played by Hope Emerson. Among Gunn's friends was Lieutenant Charles "Chuck" Jacoby, played by Herschel Bernardi.  

Peter Gunn was a TV show known for its style. It featured a good deal of modern jazz, numbering among the first TV shows ever to do so. Not surprisingly, prominent jazz musicians occasionally appeared on the show, including trumpet player Shorty Rogers, saxophonist Ted Nash, and drummer Shelly Manne. The show is still remembered for the "Peter Gunn Theme", written by Henry Mancini. It has been covered many times since. In 1959 RCA Victor released a soundtrack album with music from the show titled The Music From Peter Gunn. The theme itself reached no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The show as also known for its often stylish clothing. Peter Gunn's usual fee was $1000, and this was often reflected in the clothes he was. Lola Albright's gowns were provided by the Jax boutique in Beverly Hills.

Peter Gunn proved to be somewhat successful. For its first season it ranked no. 16 out of all the shows on the air. Unfortunately, ratings for Peter Gunn dipped in its second season and NBC cancelled the show. It was picked up by ABC for its third season. For its third season Peter Gunn ranked no. 29 out of all the shows on the air for the year. Sadly, it would also be its last season. The show ended its run at the end of the 1960-1961 season.

The show was also nominated for several Emmy Awards, all of them in 1959. Craig Stevens, Herschel Bernardi, Lola Albright, and Hope Emerson were all nominated in the acting categories. The series itself was nominated for Best Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour. Blake Edwards was nominated for Best Direction of a Single Program of a Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour for the episode "The Kill", as well as the Best Writing of a Single Program of a Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour for the same episode. Despite the number of Emmy Awards for which it was nominated, Peter Gunn won none of them.

While Peter Gunn ended its network run in 1961, it would not be the end for the private eye. Craig Stevens reprised his role as Peter Gunn and Blake Edwards handled both the directing and writing chores on the 1967 movie Gunn. None of the rest of the original cast appeared in the film. In 1989 a pilot for a new series, also titled Peter Gunn, aired on ABC. It was written and directed by Blake Edwards. The pilot starred Peter Strauss in the title role. More recently, a new Peter Gunn series was in development at the cable channel TNT in 2013. The new series never came to be. Of course, while the show was still on the air there was a novel published in 1960 and comic books published by Dell Publishing, as well as a board game.

Although it ran for only three years, Peter Gunn would prove to be among the most influential detective shows of all time. The initial success of Peter Gunn would lead to further detective shows on American television in the late Fifties and early Sixties. What is more, it prove to have a lasting impact on detective shows and movies released since then. Peter Gunn forged a link between the detective genre and jazz music that has never quite gone away. Peter Gunn persists in reruns to this day. The entire series has been released on DVD and it is also available on the streaming service Amazon Prime. Peter Gunn may have only aired for a few years, but it has proven to be popular for decades.


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