Today, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box begins a weekly Saturday rundown of “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” as researched and written by Todd M. Pence. (This series ran originally in the Classic 1960’s TV Facebook group.)
Only six episodes were ever made of The Protectors, but one of those six merited a spot on this list.
In the fall of 1969, NBC came up with a novel way to repackage several traditional dramatic television genres. It unveiled a brand-new primetime show called The Bold Ones. But the gimmick was that The Bold Ones wasn’t just one show, it was three programs in one! A completely different series would rotate under the title each week. The network felt that having three similarly themed shows sharing the same time slot would help to ease production schedules and keep costs down for each show.
There were The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, which was (you guessed it), a medical drama; The Bold Ones: The Lawyers (right again!, a legal drama!); and the series that concerns us today, The Bold Ones: The Protectors.
The Protectors was the designated police procedural show of The Bold Ones. The series starred Leslie Nielsen as Sam Danforth, police chief of an unnamed California city. Hari Rhodes was Nielsen’s co-star as District Attorney Bill Washburn, the latest in a burgeoning force of African-American performers earning starring TV roles. The show’s chief drama came from the clashes between Danforth and Washburn as the two had different political viewpoints.
Guest star Robert Drivas plays Martin Sitomer, a man serving a death row sentence for a brutal rape and murder. While in prison, he spends his time writing and actually becomes a popular author. This status gives him a fan base indifferent to the heinous crime he has committed. A public movement to give Sitomer a retrial begins to groundswell under the rationale that a murderer would be incapable of writing the literature he has produced. The episode profoundly examines the issues of redemption and the morality of the death penalty.
As indicated above, while The Young Doctors and The Lawyers would both have successful runs, The Protectors would be axed after this season. Its replacement in 1970 was The Senator, starring the recently deceased Hal Holbrook as . . . well, I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself. That show would also only last one year. NBC would later have a great deal of success with the rotating format in its weekly Mystery Movie, which spawned a trio of hits in Columbo, McCloud and McMillan & Wife.
In later years, Leslie Nielsen would also play a television policeman, this time strictly for laughs. 1981’s Police Squad! was a farcical parody of the genre, built around sight gags and puns, with Nielsen as the straight man deadpanning his way through the role. Like The Protectors, this show would also only last six episodes.
(Top image source: IMDb)