Home of the Forgotten: Television’s P.I. Agencies

....Why yes, I did hear a strange noise...
….Why yes, I did hear a strange noise…
Let’s face it. When you think of sociable people, the fictional private eye is not the person you think of first. PIs are supposed to be loners. The TV PI will tell you he is a loner, but then every week you meet another old close friend now in trouble. He spends quality time every week talking to his secretary, cop contact, legman, snitch, or anyone else available to help deliver story exposition. Suddenly, a PI agency with more than two employees makes sense.



21 Beacon Street (1959)

Perhaps the first TV series to feature a PI agency with three employees or more was 21 Beacon Street, which aired as a summer replacement series in 1959, then repeated on ABC a few months later. The half-hour mystery featured PI Dennis Chase (Dennis Morgan) and his staff of Lola (Joanne Barnes) his assistant, Brian (Brian Kelly) a law school graduate, and Jim (James Maloney) who specialized in gadgets and disguises.

Despite being the top rated summer replacement series of the year (according to Broadcasting), 21 Beacon Street suffered the fate of too many TV series, not only is it forgotten, but may be lost as well. We here at the Home, dedicated to saving the forgotten mysteries of the recent and distant past, will always keep a room reserved for such series with hopes we might get to watch it.

Eyes (2005)

The near-bankrupt agency Judd Risk Management was owned and run by Harlan Judd, a PI with the moral code of Sam Spade and the good looks of actor Tim Daly. With him was Nora (Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon) an equally beautiful, shady PI who was the agency’s undercover agent, and Harlan’s best friend Chris (Rick Worthy) the agency’s voice of reason and a former mental patient. The series featured high-tech gadgets and a large cast using shady methods solving entertainingly off beat cases. Meanwhile, a story arc played in the background involving a mole at the agency working for its competitor (Gregg Henry) who wanted to take over Judd Risk Management.

Baywatch Nights (1995)
Syndicated spinoff from Baywatch

Angie Harmon and David Hasselfhoff
And this is when people learned you don’t Hassel-the-Hoff.
Lifeguard-PI Mitch Buchannan (David Hasselhoff) explained it this way in the opening of the first episode, “…turns out my best friend Garner (Gregalan Williams) went partners in a bankrupted detective agency with a beautiful brunette PI (Angie Harmon) who left New York for the California sun and adventure.” By the second season, the typical TV PI cases were dumped and the series became an X-Files wannabe.

Search (1972)

Perhaps TV’s first series to portray computer geeks as normal people, ok, maybe the only TV series to portray computer geeks as normal. The series split time among three different field agents, James Bond wannabe Hugh Lockwood (Hugh O’Brian), ex-cop and accomplished foe of organized crime Nick Bianco (Tony Franciosa) and young C.R.—stood for Christopher Robin—Grover (played by Doug McClure). Each was a Probe agent for World Security Corp. Assisting the agents, with futuristic technology now outdated by the smartphone, was Probe control, a group of computer technicians lead by V.C.R. Cameron (Burgess Meredith).

Most Deadly Game (1971)

Three criminologists unite to fight crime. But wise Mr. Arcane (Ralph Bellamy), Vietnam war vet Jonathan Croft (George Maharis) and Arcane’s adopted daughter Vanessa Smith (Yvette Mimieux) didn’t fight just ordinary crime, they played the most deadly game, solving murders. The series never recovered from the behind the scenes tragedy when original female lead Inger Stevens died of an apparent suicide before the series began.

The Investigators (1961)

This series is another possible lost show, unavailable today even in the darkest most dangerous alleys of the collector’s market. James Franciscus played Russ Andrews, an insurance investigator working for Investigator Inc. Fellow detectives were Steve Banks (James Philbrook) and young Bill Davis (Alan Austin). Mary Murphy played secretary Maggie Peters. According to an article in Broadcasting magazine (8/28/61), the series suffered from script problems cause by the growing pressure from anti-violence groups and Congress on CBS.

Check and mate.
Check and mate.
Checkmate (1960-62)

Created by thriller novelist Eric Ambler, this series is one of the lucky forgotten, it has been released on DVD and not just any DVD, but a studio-approved DVD (oh, so cool). Don Corey (Anthony George) runs Checkmate, Inc .with  young assistant Jed Sills (hey, it's younger Doug McClure of Search), and college professor Dr. Carl Hyatt (Sebastian Cabot), the agency’s consultant. This was another detective series trying to offer a peaceful response to the popular Untouchables. If remembered today, it is due to its impressive list of guest stars that included Charles Laughton. Peter Lorre, Elizabeth Montgomery, Mary Tyler Moore, David Janssen, and Jack Benny.

Thanks to the Internet’s usual suspects for their help with this post, especially Thrilling Detective. http://thrillingdetectives.com


Michael Shonk can’t type, hates telephones, had people call the suicide hotline after a cup of his coffee, and is in awe of administrative professionals everywhere. Despite Michael’s limitations he is allowed to post blogs here and at mysteryfile.com/blog. http://mysteryfile.com/blog

Read all posts by Michael Shonk for Criminal Element.


  1. David Bushman

    Interesting concept, Michael. I am reminded of the difference between Sam Spade, who worked with a partner and a secretary, and Philip Marlowe, a real lone wolf.

    I feel like 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964) deserves at least some mention here, though hardly a forgotten show, because it was built around an office, and presented such strongly defined supporting characters (Suzanne, who was on the payroll fulltime; Roscoe, who may have been paid via a per-tip arrangement; and Kookie, who I assume was paid by Dino’s instead, at least in the beginning, before he joined the agency).

    My two favorite agencies of all time are still probably Blue Moon from Moonlighting and Angel Investigations from Angel — again, two shows that have hardly been forgotten. Cordelia Chase would get my vote for best detective’s secretary ever.

  2. michael shonk

    Thanks, David. The agency model remains common in today’s mysteries, it is the PI that is getting harder to find. Compare CBS next season series “Intelligence” to 1972’s “Search.”

    My favorite TV agency series people remember was season one of “Remington Steele.” The combination of Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan and James Read was near perfect. Doris Roberts is a wonderful actress but I preferred Janet DeMay as the secretary.

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