Earlier this month, Glen A. Larson — the television producer responsible for some of the greatest shows a boy could want in the 1970s and ‘80s — passed away, age 77. He left behind a legacy that included the careers of Tom Selleck and David Hasselhoff, so… okay, maybe that’s not the best way to honor the man’s memory.
Instead, here’s a suggestion: why not spend some time this Thanksgiving weekend reliving some of the high points of Larson’s career by cherry-picking some episodes from his Netflix-available oeuvre? There’s no better way to recover from over-eating and overexposure to family than settling down with some comfort viewing, after all. Here are ten ways to remember what Glen A. Larson gave the world.
QUINCY, M.E. (1976-1982)
Inspired by a tell-all book by a former FBI agent — Where Death Delights, by Marshall Houts — Larson and Lou Shaw originally created this vehicle for professional scenery-chewer Jack Klugman as part of the same strand of NBC Mystery Movies that also produced Columbo and McMillan and Wife. One of Larson’s first creations, it’s got all the hallmarks that fans would come to expect from him in later years: an amazing theme song, a ladykiller leading man with a taste for dry quips and the same actors showing up over and over again as different characters in multiple episodes (Anita Gillette plays Quincy’s dead first wife and his second wife at various points in the show, impressively).
The stories to watch:
Season 2, Episode 3: “…The Thigh Bone Connected to The Knee Bone…”: Quincy leads a group of medical students in an accidental investigation into a cold case when what was supposed to be an animal bone turns out to be… human. Season 4, Episode 5: “Images”: Quincy thinks he’s solved the mystery behind the death of a television anchor woman — so how has she shown up alive and well?
THE HARDY BOYS NANCY DREW MYSTERIES (1977-1978)
Despite the title, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew tended to work alone — well, kind of alone, in the Hardy Boys’ case — in this adaptation of the kids book series that somehow managed to last two seasons on ABC. (There was, officially, a third season that dropped Nancy altogether and re-titled the show The Hardy Boys Mysteries, but let’s just pretend that didn’t happen; no Pamela Sue Martin, no deal.) That’s not to say the titular heroes didn’t occasionally get together, as in the story we’re suggesting you check out…
The stories to watch:
Season 2, Episode ½: “The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula”: If you’re not already sold on watching based on that title alone, then perhaps this factoid will convince you: Bernie Taupin — yes, the songwriting partner of Elton John — makes his acting debut in this two-parter, playing a musician who performs with Joe Hardy as everyone searches for Hardy Snr., who disappeared while looking into a series of art thefts in Eastern Europe. Was this the zenith of 1970s television? Quite possibly. Season 2, Episode 16: “Sole Survivor”: Long before Buffy the Vampire Slayer did that episode where she woke up in a mental hospital and discovered that her entire life had been a lie — hint: that may not have ultimately turned out to be the case, as evidenced by the fact that the series continued for some time afterwards without changing its title to Buffy the Entirely Normal Girl In A Mental Hospital — poor Joe Hardy went through almost the same thing. We’re not saying that Glen Larson is Joss Whedon, we’re just saying.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978)
The original version of the show that would, a quarter century later, become a critical darling was met with a lot of derision upon its debut, and it’s easy to see why: even with Star Wars-fever gripping America, I’m not sure that anyone was ready for the sheer disco of the whole thing. It’s definitely an impressively garish show, but once you can get past the mirrorball of it all, it actually holds up surprisingly well. You can see what brought Ronald D. Moore back to pick over its bones and remake it for the post-9/11 world — it’s just that this version is far more shiny and upbeat than it has any right to be. (And the less said about Galactica 1980, the better.)
The stories to watch:
Season 1, Episodes 1/2/3: “Saga of a Star World”: The three-part opener sets up the mythology of the series so well, it was released as a stand-alone movie in theaters internationally. (The movie version is slightly different — and better — than the TV episodes, because the Cylons just kill Baltar at the end. Spoilers!) But everything you could want from a space opera is here: Awesome-looking aliens! Great space battles! Lorne Greene! Season 1, Episode 12/13: “The Living Legend”: The second of two stories that made it over to the later series, “The Living Legend” brings in the one remaining Battlestar to survive the Cylon apocalypse — the Pegasus. While the 2000s-era BSG was commanded by Michelle Forbes, however, the 1970s version had an even-more-impressive leader: Lloyd Bridges. Yeah, now you want to watch, don’t you?
MAGNUM P.I. (1980-1987)
Perhaps more than any other series — with the arguable exception of the final one on our list — Magnum P.I. set the agenda for what it meant to do a weekly crime show on television in the 1980s. This show had it all, from the charisma and facial hair of Tom Selleck to the officious sidekick, gratuitous helicopter shot in the opening title and exotic locale of Hawaii. Midway through the show’s seventh season, it even had a crossover episode with Murder, She Wrote, which so perfectly encapsulates everything that happened in 1980s American Network Television that is should be preserved forever for our descendants to study in great depth.
The stories to watch: Season 3, Episodes ½: “Did You See the Sunrise?”: Almost impressive in its grimness, this two-parter gives some sense of closure to Magnum’s experiences during the Vietnam war as he and a couple of former army buddies chase down a Russian who held them captive during the conflict. For all his lovable roguishness, what Magnum does at the end of the story proves that there was more to the character than just the grin and a bad taste in shirts. Season 7, Episode 22: “Limbo”: What happens when you end a series and nobody notices? In what was originally intended to be the final episode of the show, Magnum suffers a life-threatening injury and, in a coma as a result, says goodbye to all his loved ones before dying. Selleck later agreed to do an eighth season, meaning that his death turned out to be… well, not so deadly, really. (The next episode showed him waking up from his coma! Surprise!) It’s a shame; it’s actually a surprisingly well-done finale.
KNIGHT RIDER (1982-1985)
Bringing together a pre-Baywatch Hasselhoff, the voice of the redoubtable William Daniels as his sidekick and faithful vehicle KITT and the inescapably exciting prospect of a car that thought for itself, Knight Rider was arguably Larson’s last great series — especially when you factor in that theme music, which was written by Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ Stu Phillips. If there was one problem with the show, it was that it often had trouble coming up with threats as interesting or exciting as its protagonists — but the two stories we’ve selected below demonstrated that it could be done, and how.
The stories to watch: Season 1, Episode 9: “Trust Don’t Rust”: The basic concept behind this episode was staggeringly obvious — if the good guys had an intelligent car that could talk, then why couldn’t the bad guys? Enter KARR, a tortured acronym if ever there was one — it stood for Knight Automated Roving Robot, should you be curious — but a truly worthy adversary for our heroes. It’s to the series’ eternal shame that he only ever showed up in one other episode (Season 2’s “KITT vs. KARR”). Season 2, Episode ½: “Goliath”: Having gone the evil twin route with the cars to great success, it’s not entirely surprising that the show’s producers then did the same thing with Hasselhoff’s heroic Michael Knight the next year. What makes “Goliath” so great, though, isn’t just the actor playing an evil version of himself — complete with nefarious facial hair, to prove that he’s not to be trusted — but the fact that he’s driving a massive truck just as indestructible as KITT. To be fair, it was the only thing big enough to hold the Hoff’s broadness in this two-parter.