Sunday, 21 February 2016

343 Petrocelli

First  viewed :  21 April  1978

After  Life  At  Stake  finished  its  run   we  had  a  feature  length  pilot  episode  introducing  us  to  Petrocelli   , an  idealistic  defence  lawyer   played  by  Barry  Newman. Newman  had  had  the  leading  role  in  films  such  as  Vanishing  Point  and  Fear  Is  The  Key  earlier  in  the  decade  but  never  quite  made  the  A-list.  He  first  played  the  role  in  the  film  The  Lawyer  in  1970  and  was  the  only  member  of  the  cast  to  make  the  transition  to  the  TV  series  four  years  later.

The  Beeb  were  slow  to  take  up  their  option  on  Petrocelli  ; the  series  had  been  axed  in  the  US  more  than  two  years  earlier. I'm  guessing  that  after  the  failures  of  Gangsters  and  Life  at  Stake  they  were  looking  for  something  cheap  and  cheerful  to  fill  the  slot  until  the  second  series  of  Target  was  ready  to  air.    

Tony  Petrocelli  worked  in  a  backwater  of  Arizona  where  he  lived  in  a  trailer  with  wife  Maggie  ( Susan  Howard )  while  his  house  got  built. The  standing  joke  of  the  series  was  that  the  building  never  got  any  further  towards  completion.  His  professional  role  allowed  for  a  new  twist  on  what  was  really  another  detective  series. Petrocelli  took  on  difficult  cases  where  the  odds  were  stacked  against  him  and  he  had  to  find  some  vital  piece  of  evidence  to  get  his  client  off. Part  of  each  episode  was  taken  up  with  flashbacks  showing  "the  facts"  of  the  case  from  different  perspectives, the  final  one  of  which  was  "the  truth"  uncovered  by  our  diligent  advocate. He  was  aided  in  his  investigations  by  cowboy  pal  Pete  ( Albert  Salmi ) and  the  obligatory  friend  on  the  force,  the  magnificently  named  Lt  Ponce  ( David  Huddleston ) . Occasionally  Petrocelli  did  eventually  realise  his  client  was  guilty  after  all  but  always  managed  to  persuade   them  to  change  their  plea  so  we  didn't  get  to  see  him  trying  to  get   someone  he  knew  to  be  guilty  off  the  hook. He  drove  a  pick-up  truck  like  a  madman, perhaps  in  jokey  reference  to  his  speed  freak  character  in  Vanishing  Point.

I  thought  it  was  quite  good  and  it  returned  for  a  further  run  after  Target  finished. It  was  also  broadcast  again  as  a  daytime  programme  in  the  late  nineties. Newman  has  continued  working  in  film  and  TV  until  quite  recently  with  a  regular  role  in  Nightingales  in  1989  the  subsequent  highlight. Howard   of  course  was  a  bit  luckier. The  producer  of  the  series  was  Leonard  Katzman  who  went  on  to  make  Dallas  and  gave  her  ( though  not  immediately )  a  leading  role  as  Donna  Krebbs  and  thus  TV  immortality.

1 comment:

  1. I have but the vaguest memories of this show, but I once caught "Vanishing Point" on late night BBC1 sometime in my late teens and it instantly became one of my favourite films... but I don't think I've seen Newman in anything else.