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Harry O

ABC (ended 1976)


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Harry O

Show Summary

A bullet lodged near his spine has forced former police officer Harry Orwell to seek new employment as a private detective to supplement his disability pension. As he is frequently in pain, it also limits his ability to engage in hand-to-hand combat with bad guys. And since his car is in the shop, waiting until he can afford a new transmission, he is also forced to pursue his investigations by bus or taxi, or even on foot. Thus Harry is unusual among private eyes in not engaging in fisticuffs or car chases. Harry O is one of TV's more bohemian private eyes, a loner living in a beachfront cottage near San Diego, spending his time re-building a boat in his yard. Harry's sometime nemesis, sometime ally, is Lt. Manny Quinlan of the San Diego Police Department. When Manny is killed off in February 1975, Harry moves his base of operations to Santa Monica. There he inherits a new nemesis, Lt. Trench, plus occasional unsolicited help with his cases from amateur criminologists Lester Hodges and Dr. Fong. He has an ex-wife but no steady relationships until the move to Santa Monica with episode 17, after which he has a fair number of gorgeous flight attendants as neighbors, including Farrah Fawcett and Loni Anderson.moreless
David Janssen

David Janssen

Harry Orwell

Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett

Sue Ingram [eps 21-42]

Anthony Zerbe

Anthony Zerbe

Lt. K.C. Trench [eps 17-46]

Henry Darrow

Henry Darrow

Det. Lt. Manuel "Manny" Quinlan [eps 3-15, 23]

Paul Tulley

Paul Tulley

Sgt. Don Roberts [eps 17-46]

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  • Languid, humane, and convincingly quirky, Harry O was the pinnacle of the TV detective show cycle. It's a pity the series didn't last... or is it?

    The bridge between macho Beat Generation holdovers like Mannix, Hawaii Five-0, and Ironside, with their initially hip but ultimately toxic efforts to bolster the white-male status quo, and the forensic exactitude and played-out moral certitude of the Law & Order and CSI franchises, Harry O offered viewers something few cop shows (or few series in any genre) could then or now: A jaded but recognizably human ex-civil servant who abhorred violence and generally kept to himself -- except when circumstances conspired to put some little guy under the wheels of some big guy and he was in a position to do something about it. Or, barring that, when he needed some quick cash.

    A handful of brave people deserve credit for the show's matter-of-fact brilliance: Creator and frequent writer Howard Rodman; producers Jerry Thorpe and Buck Houghton; directors like Richard Lang, John Newland, and Thorpe; writers such as Stephen Kandel and Robert C. Dennis; composer Billy Goldenberg; casting director Eddie Foy; and especially star David Janssen, who seemed utterly delighted to be playing someone who wasn't running from the law, and who got to bed a shocking number of beautiful women without being a pig about it.

    Janssen's slow-burning wit and prickly charm made the show gel (so much so that it's hard to believe Rodman had Telly Savalas in mind for the part), and his unself-conscious compassion and sentimentality -- he was far too earthy to be saccharine -- made Harry both unique to the format and indelible. (A diligently understated actor, Janssen didn't suffer hams gladly, either: His reactions to guest-star Stephanie Powers's scenery-snarfing outbursts in the first-season episode "Second Sight" are priceless.)

    It was all too good to last, I suppose: ABC got cold feet (or turned cheap) halfway through the first season and moved Harry from his digs in novel, laid-back SoCal backwater San Diego to L.A., where he generally got in more dustups and dodged more bullets. (He also got more tail, as his new neighbors seemed to consist exclusively of young, eager airline stewardesses.) His SDPD nemesis-cum-best friend, Manny Quinlan (the subtle, under-appreciated Henry Darrow), didn't survive the transition -- literally -- and was replaced by virtual co-leading man Anthony Zerbe as Harry's LAPD frenemy, Lt. Trench. Zerbe was great, too, and appeared to be energized by Janssen's ease and delight in the role. They played off of each other beautifully, and it made the show's transition to an edgier daylight-noir milieu easier to adjust to.

    Harry O remained great despite the network's lack of faith and tinkering, then, but it wasn't enough to ensure a third season. That's disappointing for sure, yet it's hard to picture the series going on indefinitely. Janssen famously checked out of The Fugitive long before that series ran its course, and its final two seasons can be hard to bear as a result. (Production changes didn't help.) I wouldn't have wanted to see Harry O go down that path, so in some sense I'm relieved it wrapped up relatively quickly. But one more season -- and ending on its own terms instead of the front office's -- would've been nice.

    Either way, RIP, Harry Orwell. It was a beautiful ride no matter how short it was.moreless
  • Harry O: Crime/detective tv series from the 70\\\'s with David Janssen and Anthony Zerbe

    Superb acting--excellent repore between Janssen and Zerbe. Janssen looked liked he really was the character and his portrayal seemed almost effortless.Unfortunately, the quality of the show wasn\\\'t appreciated by the powers that be during the 70\\\'s and it only ran for two seasons. It remains a classic and is just as entertaining today as it was back then.
  • Harry O was unique

    Harry-O was one of the greatest shows on television. One of the few detective shows with narration by the character. I’ve always liked that Philip Marlowe type narration. David Janssen plays the average ex-cop private eye Harry Orwell. He has a bullet lodged in his back, so he has to supplement his pension with an occasional case. Orwell’s style was unique, and during the flashy days of fast cars, and gun fights. When his car wouldn’t start, and that was a lot in the first year, Harry got to appointments by using cabs, buses and sometimes walking. Janssen took this role and made Harry Orwell and understandable and believable character. It had a superb cast of Anthony Zerbe as Lt. K.C. Trench, Henry Darrow as Manny Quinlan, and sometimes Farrah Fawcett as his next door neighbor. The show lasted two years and was cancelled. Harry O was unique and people are starting to look at it again on some of the cable networks.