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In the early days of TV, the opening billboard sequences of TV shows were often better than the shows. But with 'Touch' Connors behind the voice, the ultimate film noir voice-over had been met and joined with the premiere of this show.
I would die just to hear Connors do the opening sequence to the show, let alone get DVD copies.
Connors played an undercover cop who wore his .38 stuffed in a holster in the small of his back. He wore a black suit in every episode, and was as cool as a TV detective can get. The series was as noir as TV could manage. The suit was always dark, so was Touch's hair, the rooms were dim and dingy, but the night was bright with dark promise.
In that opening Billboard, Touch would recite the litany of the undercover man walking that tightrope, and my brother and I would be writhing with excitement from the effect, in our chairs. Then the show would come on and it would be something of a letdown. But Tightrope was a good show as fifties detective shows go.
Later, Connors would get a bigger TV show called Mannix, which was not as good, and become famous for the sense of parody he brought to the voice-over. I'm not sure he intended that, but years later, after Mannix was ancient history, the effect was saluted in an episode of Murder She Wrote. Connors played a disembodied voice, whose recording was used to illustrate his own murder. A little like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, only trashier.
It was great. Elizabeth Ashley played a down-at-the-heel waitress in the episode, and Connors' voice-overs were wittier than a dead man should be, and funny.
But its the Tightrope Series that I long for. Could some of the others among you try to help start a drumbeat for this series to appear on DVD? Just write to Sony and beg them to produce a DVD series.
TV and movies today are now so boring that the old stuff is bound to come back on DVD.
Besides, someone has to try and bring this marvelous series back. Someone has to walk that tightrope and that someone is you!
Connors narrated each episode, and he was the only regular. He would worm his way into the confidence of criminals who were planning a big job. At the end of the episode, almost all the bad guys would be captured in a surprise police raid but "in the confusion, one man escaped-me". However, in one episode a cop who doesn't know Connors is undercover shoots him as he tries to escape.
Connors carried a gun that was in a holster attached to his belt in the small of his back. When he was searched, no one thought to pat him down there. When the bad guys believed they had him covered, Connors would swivel and come up with the gun seemingly out of nowhere. It was a great gimmick that I never tired of.
There were fine ending scenes of a lonely Connors walking the city streets at night narrating his thoughts. This gave the show a nice noir feel and made you feel close to the romantic existential hero.
'Tightrope" was well paced, and the 30-minute episodes flew by.
Guest stars included Kent Taylor, Richard Jaeckel, Gerald Mohr, Robert Lowery, Whitney Blake, Connie Hines, Paula Raymond, Jean Byron, Barbara Bain, Paul Burke, Karen Steele, Ed Nelson, Leslie Parrish, Mike Road, Ruta Lee and June Vincent.
The producers were Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, who wrote the brilliant Edmond O'Brien thriller "DOA" and won an Oscar for "Pillow Talk". Rouse and Greene also did the fine Glenn Ford western "The Fastest Gun Alive" and the Stephen Boyd guilty pleasure "The Oscar". Rouse and Greene were masters of pulp melodrama.
Writer Ben Maddow (the screenplay for "The Asphalt Jungle") was the creator of "Tightrope". The show was suggested by the experiences of a real cop, who appeared on "To Tell the Truth" the week before this show premiered. As I recall, the guy even looked a little like Connors.
This was a great role for Mike Connors, sort of a combination of Richard Diamond and The Fugitive. He was superb.
Two hour-long pilots were made in the early 60's in an attempt to revive the series. The first was "The New Tightrope" and the second was "The Expendables". Both starred Connors. "The Expendables" was aired in 1962, but the semi-documentary approach used took all the juice out of the concept. I turned it off after a few minutes, even though Dina Merrill and Zachary Scott were intriguing guest stars, and "Tightrope" had been my favorite show.
One more ambitious attempt was made to bring back "Tightrope" in a 1972 movie pilot called "Man on a String". Christopher George ("The Rat Patrol", "The Immortal") played a dirty cop who is thrown into jail. Of course it is just an act so that George can go undercover. The director was the great Joseph Sargent ("Tribes", the "Longstreet" movie pilot, "The Marcus Nelson Murders") and the cast included Keith Carradine, Joel Grey and Jack Warden. Ben Maddow was the writer. They tried hard but no cigar.
"Tightrope" was done perfectly the first time, and the new pilots never recaptured the magic.
This was at the time that the James Bond books were THE big seller and talk was of a film (imagine!) and I remember thinking that Connors, with his dark, good looks, stylish dress sense and even the errant lock of hair that fell across his forehead was exactly as described in Fleming's books. An American as Bond? Well, they've had a Scot, an Irishman, and an Australian so it's not such a leap - I'll bet Connors could have done the accent, too!!