25 April 2007 | Cheyenne-Bodie
Leslie Nielsen as the first Quinn Martin hero
Quinn Martin produced the first season of "The Untouchables" (1959-60) for Desilu, and then left to form his own production company.
"The New Breed" (1961-62) was the first QM production. "The New Breed" was set in modern day Los Angeles, but it was basically a remake of "The Untouchables". Lt. Price Adams (a modern day Eliot Ness) led an elite squad of college-educated detectives who handled the most challenging cases. This special unit was called the "Hot Shot" squad.
Quinn Martin's biggest skill as a producer was choosing seemingly perfect leading men. David Janssen, Robert Lansing, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Roy Thinnes, William Conrad and Michael Douglas made wonderful QM heroes. Thirty-five year old Leslie Nielsen had worked for Quinn Martin as a guest star on the first season of "The Untouchables". Nielsen was a strong and highly respected dramatic actor, but at this point in his career he just didn't make a very interesting hero. Nielsen didn't let you see the humanity, self-doubts and quirks of Price Adams. His Price Adams was too much the usual flawless, upstanding, dedicated, humorless hero. Nielsen would become a big star many years later making brutal fun of just such a character, Lt. Frank Drebin.
Nielsen started to get interesting as a dramatic actor in the late 1960's as he began to gray. He was fascinating as character leads in the TV movies "Shadow over Elveron" and "Trial Run". Nielsen made a terrific cop in "The Protectors" segments of "The Bold Ones", seven years after "The New Breed".
Quinn Martin later said he didn't know where he went wrong in casting Nielsen, but that maybe he was just too muscular to appeal. Quinn Martin must not have been too mad at Nielsen for the failure of "The New Breed". Nielsen was later an ubiquitous guest star on QM shows including "The Streets of San Francisco", "The FBI", "Cannon" and "Barnaby Jones".
It is not so easy to say who could have made a better Price Adams than Leslie Nielsen. Some ideas: Charles Aidman, Gary Merrill, Keith Andes, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, Keith Larsen, Jason Evers, George Grizzard, Michael Tolan, James Coburn, Robert Sampson, David McClean, Jack Lord, and Vince Edwards. Frankly, I'm not sure any of them would have been any better than Nielsen. Making a cop role compelling (and convincing) is not as easy as it looks.
The most memorable episode of "The New Breed" was "Lady Killer", where Robert Redford played a psychopathic serial rapist. Anne Francis was his latest victim, and Martin Balsam was her husband. This was an unusually stark and adult subject for the time, and it was well handled. Redford was superb, and I bet Quinn Martin offered him a series. Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen had worked together five years earlier in "Forbidden Planet" (1956).
Peter Falk had two early guest star roles on "The New Breed". Other guest stars included Telly Savalas, Robert Blake, Jack Klugman and Charles Bronson.
Quinn Martin hit the bullseye in casting the lead in his next series, "The Fugitive". But Martin actually cast Barry Morse as Lt. Gerard before David Janssen. Morse had greatly impressed Martin with two guest star performances on "The New Breed".