30 June 2006 | Cheyenne-Bodie
Steven Spielberg directs Martin Landau in an unsold pilot from Levinson/Link ("Columbo")
"Savage" was a pilot with enormous potential that didn't really deliver. Jose Ferrer did a much better job with a similar hero as director/co-writer/star of "The Great Man" (1956).
Martin Landau played an investigative reporter named Paul Savage with a TV show called "The Savage Report". Paul Savage was a combination of Edward R. Murrow, Mike Wallace and Jeff Dillon. Barbara Bain played Savage's producer. Dabney Coleman was a network vice president. Paul Savage had a young genius cameraman/director named Jerry who Levinson/Link clearly modeled on Spielberg.
Richard Levinson and William Link's script, based on the first "Name of the Game" episode, was about a Supreme Court nominee (Barry Sullivan) who may have sexual skeletons in his past. Paul Savage investigates. Unfortunately the script was nowhere near as compelling as the later Clarence Thomas hearings (or the Monica Lewinsky affair).
Martin Landau should have been superb in the lead, but he was too smug, too successful, too well-dressed and smiled too much for my taste. Barbara Bain's producer character was a cipher. It looked like Landau and Bain were just asked to play themselves.
I had been a big fan of "The Senator" (1970-71) with Hal Holbrook, and I hoped "The Savage Report" could be a successor to that fine show. But the story and the main characters, at least in this pilot, just weren't vivid enough.
Steven Spielberg's direction is predictably stylish, but this is one of his lesser early TV efforts. Spielberg had already done "Duel", and he tried as hard as he could to get out of doing this banal script. But the head of Universal, who was his mentor, insisted. (Spielberg's best TV work were his two brilliant episodes of "The Psychiatrist", his Columbo" episode with Jack Cassidy and "Duel.) "Savage" turned out to be Spielberg's last TV project before "The Sugarland Express" and "Jaws".
John Badham might have been a better choice to direct "Savage". He could have used the semi-documentary approach he used so well on "The Senator" and later on "The Law".
Even though the "Savage" pilot wasn't strong, a resulting series might have been better. The basic premise was solid and Landau is a terrific actor. Maybe if producer David Levinson ("The Senator") had been brought in, he could have found more compelling stories and a more suitable style. And maybe Landau could have made his character a little darker and a little less perfect. This show could have made a good alternating 90-minute segment on one of NBC's mystery wheels.
The next year producer David Gerber ("Police Story") made another pilot movie with the same premise. The pilot was called "The Girl on the Late, Late Show". Don Murray played a TV investigative reporter and Laraine Stephens was his lovely boss. The writer was Mark Rodgers, who had written the "Name of the Game" episode that "Savage" was based on. It was a rather fascinating effort, but again NBC wasn't buying.