30 August 2007 | blondiesguy2004
This is how a TV detective show should be
During the early 1960's, the series "77 Sunset Strip" (one of my favorites...) spawned a rash of hip detective knockoffs, many of them from the same studio, Warner Brothers, several more from other studios. Surprisingly, Revue Studios, known mainly for its cookie-cutter formulaic dramas, came up with one that stood head and shoulders from the rest of the imitators, and was an original in its own right. "Checkmate" is the name of a detective agency in San Francisco with an unusual twist: not just content to protect their clients, their aim is to prevent the crimes before they start. The approach is like a game of chess, hence the name, "Checkmate".
First and foremost, "Checkmate" strayed from the pretty-boy lighthearted mysteries, and settled for taut, intelligent, serious cases with a noir fashion. The fact that famed mystery writer Eric Ambler created the show speaks for itself. Plus, while "77 Sunset Strip" relied on Warners' stock company of character actors and rising young stars, "Checkmate" had the ability and the budget to include major big guest stars like Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre, Mickey Rooney, David Janssen, Harry Guardino, Julie London, etc., giving it a sheen of class denied the other imitators.
The regular cast contained no slouches. The recently deceased Anthony George played Checkmate's deep-voiced head honcho Don Corey with more intensity than even the Strip's Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Doug McClure played Jed Sills with a self-depreciating flair, playing off his obvious good looks; when "Checkmate" was canceled, McClure would pull it off again in the role of Trampas on "The Virginian". The real highlight here is the late, great Sebastian Cabot, playing the esteemed scientific consultant, Dr. Carl Hyatt, with a blend of haughtiness, exasperation, and intelligence; a blend that was put to good use (or waste, depending on how you see it) when he later took on his signature role as Mr. French on "Family Affair".
And I also might add, the theme song wasn't a bouncy rock and roller like 77SS and the rest, but a tense, moody jazz instrumental by the legendary John "Johnny" Williams.
If you can find "Checkmate" on DVD, which, sadly, is the only way you'll get to see this wonderful lost gem, I strongly recommend you pick it up. Compare it (and for that matter, "77 Sunset Strip") to the current wave of police procedurals on TV today. See which is better.
"Checkmate" is a JaMco Production, financed by Jack Benny (yes, THE Jack Benny, who also did a guest spot here), and filmed by Revue Studios in Hollywood and San Francisco. 70 episodes were aired on CBS between 1960 and 1962.