The Outsider (1968–1969)
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There's one scene I remember vividly and it encapsulates the "loser" aura of McGavin's character in the show. He is looking out of the window of a tall office tower and sees someone in the parking lot far below backing into his car. He watches helplessly as the driver gets out, writes a note and slips it under his windshield wiper. Later, when he gets back to his car he reads the note. I can't remember the exact words after 40 years but it says something like "Sorry I dented your car. There are people watching and they think I'm leaving my name, address and insurance company. But I'm not!" I still grin at the memory of that scene, and it sums up the character's life. You have to feel for him and when he manages to solve a case you have to rejoice for him. Our natural support for the underdog is one of the main reasons for watching this series.
I can understand why I love this show, because the Rockford Files is another of my favourites and they are similar except that Jim Rockford has family and friends (some of them false). But David Ross doesn't seem to have anyone. To that extent The Outsider is what the title announces it to be, and to that extent it's a bit bleak. But it has some wonderful moments - at least in my memory. Faced with the rubbish that is on TV today I am dying to see it again.
Darren McGavin is always able to inject cynical humour into a part. Like Vincent Price you can always detect that he as a real person is relishing his role. This is why he is one of my favourite actors of the period. I think he was sadly underused, and when I caught up with him later he always seemed to be playing superior villains in roles which restricted him. As an aside I may be the only person alive who never saw him in The Night Stalker.
In fact--'The Rockford Files' WAS a reworking of 'The Outsider'. You listed some of the similarities, but left out the fact that they were BOTH ex-con P.I.s. David Ross had served his time & was paroled. That's why he carried a hidden pistol on his ankle. Rockford had been pardoned. They gave him family, too. This softened some of the cynicism of the lead.
See--Roy Huggins created both shows. After 'The Outsider' failed--he later pitched the idea to---Stephen J. Cannell! They reworked it, lightened it & created 'The Rockford Files' together. The reformulated show was a smash.
In "The Outsider" Huggins imagines what would have happened if Richard Kimble had gone to prison for a long period and then been pardoned.
I think Huggins was looking for an actor similar to David Janssen to play ex-con private eye David Ross. Jack Lord, who was in the David Janssen mold, was first offered the role. He would have been perfect casting, but Lord astutely chose "Hawaii 5-0" instead. (When Huggins remade "The Outsider" as "The Rockford Files", he cast James Garner, who was also reminiscent of David Janssen.) Janssen and Huggins had worked together three times, the first time being way back in 1957 on "Conflict".
Huggins had written a superb and original character in David Ross, but casting the role was critical. I would have considered Robert Lansing, Pernell Roberts (without toupee), George Maharis, Stuart Whitman, John Saxon, Bradford Dillman or Rip Torn. Or maybe Huggins could even have got David Janssen with a sweet enough offer.
Darren McGavin was one of the greatest television actors of his generation, but he wasn't in peak form here. He had already brilliantly played private detective Mike Hammer, so he wasn't the freshest casting. McGavin was forced to wear a toupee as Ross, and the toupee made him less interesting looking. McGavin didn't project the great soulfulness and weariness that David Janssen might have and that could have been appropriate for a man who spent a long period in jail and was a lifetime outsider.
Huggins wasn't able to find a way to properly exploit the ex-con aspect of his hero. Maybe Ross should have been trying to find the person who committed the crime he went to jail for.
"The Outsider" made too much use of tired old Universal sets and there was little location shooting. Also Pete Ruggolo's music was way too reminiscent of Huggins' "Run For Your Life". The sets and the music were really disappointing. The cinematography didn't give a distinctive noir look to the show. There should have been more night for night shooting. And Huggins didn't seem to spend as much on each episode as Leonard Freedman did on "Hawaii 5-0" and Quinn Martin did on his shows. "The Outsider" seemed to be done on the cheap.
But Huggins' basic conception for this show was near brilliant. Huggins tried to turn all the TV private eye conventions on their head (conventions "77 Sunset Strip" helped introduce). David Ross didn't live in a magnificent apartment with a view of the city, he didn't have a leggy secretary, he didn't drive a sports car, he wasn't highly educated (actually he wasn't even a high school graduate), he didn't have a close pal on the force (the police treated him like scum), he didn't have handsome partners who were like brothers, he wasn't a great humanist who took cases for free, he wasn't rich (actually he was poor), he didn't refuse divorce cases on principle....
Even with a less than perfect execution, "The Outsider" is one of television's finest examples of the private eye genre.
The hit private eye movie "Harper" (1966), where Paul Newman played a version of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer, also appears to have been a strong influence on "The Outsider". I think Huggins got the name of his hero David Ross by combining the first names of David Janssen and Ross Macdonald.
My dad used to love this series. I remember him being pretty amused by the credits where Darren opens his fridge and slugs down some milk only to discover it had gone over.
The show and actor were soon, and forever, nicknamed "Sour milk" in our house.
Later I caught the premiere of the "Night Stalker" movie. I was hooked.
Darren presented himself in most of his characters, in such a way that you wish that you could have known him personally. He was the irascible uncle with the heart of gold.
Darren passed away this last weekend. The world is poorer for his passing.
When became aware of the genre this show grew out of, I came to believe that it (the show) was an homage to Raymond Chandler. I can think of very few others that captured the spirit of those detective novels so well. Of course this is looking back in memory and it has been many years.
I would love to see how this series stand the test of time. If this were available I would buy it in a minute. Does anyone know if it is available or if it soon might be?
It was O.K., but frankly fell into the species (genus?) of L.A. P.I., not the most original idea. In a way, however, THE OUTSIDER may have anticipated the wildly successful ROCKFORD FILES, with its small-time and financially struggling sole proprietor, but the latter was far more lively, stocked with interesting characters, and had a whimsical touch. The T.V. movie which preceded THE OUTSIDER, if I recall it accurately after more than thirty years, promised more than the series subsequently delivered. Too bad, because Darren's good.