Sunday, 21 February 2016
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.