Joe Mannix Makes the Scene

I like to binge-watch whole TV series on my lunch hours, an episode a day, every day. Lately, I’ve been watching Mannix, the CBS detective series starring Mike Connors, which ran eight seasons between 1967 and 1975. I’m not far enough into it to talk intelligently (or otherwise) about how it mirrors the culture of its time, although Mannix has his share of interludes with sweet young things dressed ’67-appropriate, and he drives a pretty cool car. I understand, from the tremendous profile of the series that appeared at the AV Club entirely by coincidence about the time I started rewatching, that in later seasons Mannix would embrace a trippy, almost avant-garde style for some sequences, but I haven’t seen much of that yet.

What’s most interesting about the first handful of episodes is that they contain appearances by fairly famous musical acts. The fourth episode, “The Many Deaths of St. Christopher,” aired on October 7, 1967. Joe Mannix meets a girl in a club called the Bad Scene, where a young singer with a guitar is performing—Neil Diamond, appearing as himself. In one sequence, Diamond performs “The Boat That I Row” and a song called “Raisin’ Cain,” which he has never formally recorded in all the years since. After a fight breaks out in the club and Mannix is knocked to the floor, Diamond walks over and says to him, “Hey man, you mind if I finish the set by myself?” In a second, shorter sequence, Diamond sings “Solitary Man.” On October 28, 1967, in “Warning: Live Blueberries,” an even-more-surprising act appears: in yet another club, the Buffalo Springfield play “Bluebird” through a better-than-five-minute scene, and come back later with a bit of “For What It’s Worth.”

Neither appearance was a walk-on by an unknown. By October 1967, Neil Diamond had scored five top-20 hits since the previous August, including “Cherry Cherry,” “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” and “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime.” “Kentucky Woman” would chart the week after his Mannix appearance. The Buffalo Springfield had been to the Top 10 with “For What It’s Worth” in the spring of 1967; “Bluebird” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman” both missed the Top 40, but their debut album had a 16-week run on the charts beginning in the spring. Neither does a lip-synch; Diamond appears to be playing live, while the Springfield sing “Bluebird” live over a recorded backing track and do “For What It’s Worth” unplugged. How well known either act was to the typical adult viewer of a detective show isn’t clear at 47 years’ distance. Nevertheless, it’s pretty cool to watch them now.

A more obscure group would appear on Mannix a year later, but they were not utterly unknown. The Peppermint Trolley Company did their spot in November 1968 on an episode called “Who Will Dig the Graves?” Their lone Hot 100 hit (which wasn’t what they sang on the show) was “Baby You Come Rollin’ Across My Mind” in the summer of 1968. You know them better as the group that wrote and performed the Brady Bunch theme.

So in his early years on the job, Joe Mannix had a hipness factor slightly higher than other TV detectives. Even without the rock stars, he comes off as much less of a stick-in-the-mud than his TV contemporary Steve McGarrett, and although Mannix was criticized for its high level of violence—I have yet to see an episode without a fistfight—its moments of darkness are few, at least as far as I’ve gotten. It cracked the top 30 in five of its eight seasons, including a rank of #7 for 1971-1972. Still, it was and will not ever be as beloved as Hawaii Five-O, get remade like Five-O, or receive a big-screen reboot, at least until Hollywood runs even further out of ideas than it appears to be right now.

I was interested to note in research for this post that Mike Connors is still alive, 89 years old this summer, and married to the same woman since 1949. Impressive.

4 responses

  1. I was more of a Cannon and Barnaby Jones fan, personally. And, although neither of them scored with the babes like McGarrett and Mannix, they still knew how to tame their personal demons: food and arthritis, respectively.

    Thanks for another lovely walk down memory lane.

  2. My mom and I watched “Mannix” every week in the later seasons. We lived in Long Beach, Calif., and I always liked seeing the opening titles for “Mannix” because you see him being chased along the Commodore Heim drawbridge by the harbor, which was a city landmark. As an impressionable kid, I found Joe Mannix cool, and I liked his relationship with his secretary, Peggy.

  3. Let’s not forget the fabulous Lalo Schifrin theme to “Mannix.” I passed on buying the “Mannix” music LP at a long-ago record show and haven’t seen it since. http://youtu.be/kLTb3_-pdU4

  4. […] —A genuinely un-hip 70s TV hero got caught up in the disco craze, while one of his contemporaries proved to be a little more with it. […]

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