Remember when you made plans to watch the new television shows debut in early September? In 1967, there were only three original TV networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC. Now there is more competition from the cable networks. Perhaps that is why NBC hopes to reinvent success by bringing back Detective Robert Ironside. But before you get too excited, this will not be set in the San Francisco Police Department, as was the original series. And there are more differences. Let’s begin with a historical review.
On March 28, 1967, we met Chief of Detectives Ironside in what was then an unusual way to introduce a series by first presenting a feature-length, made-for-TV film. The Chief of Detectives, a gentleman who always wore a suit and tie, had been forced to retire from the San Francisco Police Department after being hit and paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet. He gets himself appointed as a SFPD consultant and lives in a specially designed apartment to accommodate him in his wheelchair in the SFPD headquarters building. Raymond Burr, coming off the success of the “Perry Mason” TV series that ran from 1957 to 1966, plays Ironside. He is joined by Detective Sergeant Ed Brown, played by Don Galloway, and Officer Eve Whitfield, played by Barbara Anderson. Ironside also recruits an African American ex-con, named Mark Sanger, to become his personal assistant. That character, played by Don Mitchell, becomes a police officer and also goes to law school. San Francisco scenes were used, including landmarks such as Coit Tower.
Here is a clip from the movie that introduced us to our San Francisco Ironside:
The TV series, simply called “Ironside,” debuted on September 14, 1967 and ran until January of 1975. Thirty-eight years later, on October 2, NBC will present the new “Ironside” TV series starring African American actor Blair Underwood as the lead character. Ironside is still in a wheelchair and he is a police detective, but that is where the similarities end. The most important change for us City folks is that the new Ironside works for the New York City Police Department. Speaking at the Television Critics Association in July, reporter Ray Richmond quotes Underwood as saying, “We took his name, the fact he’s a detective, and the fact he happens to be in a wheelchair. Everything else has been reimagined. There are all new characters, new city, new texture, new storytelling, new audience, new expectations. We’re now a crime drama wrapped in a character study.”
Here is the official trailer for the new “Ironside” series:
Raymond Burr died in 1993, at the age of 76, at his home 70 miles north of San Francisco at his farm in Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Beyond being an award winning actor, his reputation remains as a very thoughtful and generous man. His donations to charity included all of the money he made from his Perry Mason movies and his ongoing support of 26 foster children. As a hobby, he cultivated wine grapes and made wine at his farm. After his death, the property was renamed the Raymond Burr Vineyards and the public can visit his winery:
And if you would like to see our San Francisco “Ironside,” all of the old TV series episodes are available on DVD.