Bravo had an idea. On the surface it was actually a pretty good idea. They realized that of all the well known and critically acclaimed show runners out there with their hugely successful shows, there must have been some flops along the way. After all, no one hits a home run all the time. They also correctly assumed that some of these shows might have been pretty fair efforts that for some reason or another just didn’t last long enough to catch on. Furthermore, it was a rather clever marketing decision that there were folks out there who would like to see some of this stuff again. Even the idea of DVD releases was a smart strategy. The fatal flaw is the way they released this material. The DVD contains but a single episode of four very different programs. For three of the entries, these aren’t even pilots to properly introduce us to the characters and circumstances surrounding each show. Touching Evil is the worst of the lot in this department. From the very beginning, it’s obvious that we’re in the middle of a huge story with rather complicated character interrelationships. We’re left feeling like outsiders. For me that made it almost impossible to fairly evaluate the series. The added “Previously On” was completely inadequate to catch me up. In fact, it actually left me with even more questions.
Johnny Staccato is the shorter of the presentations at about 25 minutes. The series starred the wonderful John Cassavetes as a night club piano player who does a little gumshoe work on the side. The style is very much a 1950’s Sam Spade atmosphere and works quite well. The episode “Tempted” is a pretty nice affair starring Bewitched’s Elizabeth Montgomery as the apparent “damsel in distress”. Many plot twists in a short time move the story along pretty well. This is the only entry in black and white..
Judd Hirsch and Hill Street Blues’ Charles Haid star in the more familiar Delvcecchio. This was a Steven Bochco effort that contained more than a couple future Hill Street regulars throughout its run, including Michael Conrad as Delvecchio’s boss. Dom Delvecchio was an L.A. detective with a desire to become a lawyer someday. He would juggle his cop duties with his studies to pass the bar. In Licensed To Kill, we really don’t see any of the show’s trademark juggling act. Here Dom must try and stop a dirty doctor who caused a family friend to commit suicide while at the same time getting a set-in-his- ways priest to deliver a requiem mass against the church doctrine. A pleasant surprise is to see The Godfather’s Woltz (John Marley) as the tough priest. This is the only series I had actually seen, and by far the longest running of these shows. This is not anywhere near a banner episode for the series.
Louis Gossett Jr. does a tremendous turn playing Dr. Gideon Oliver. This one reminded me a bit of the current Fox hit Bones. He even gets to ID some dog bones in this one. Oliver is a professor of human behavior and anthropology at a major university. He lends his academic knowledge to the police to catch the more elusive of criminals. He uses scientific method over traditional police procedures and often appears to be at odds with those he’s trying to help. This show came from the mind of Dick Wolf, best known for the plethora of Law & Order shows. This is the longest of the shows here at almost an hour and a half. The reason for this was that this series was a Mystery Movie that alternated with the likes of Columbo in a revival of the 1970’s wheel of mystery shows that brought us Quincy, McMillan and Wife, and McCloud. Sleep Well, Professor Oliver is thankfully the only series pilot offered. Investigating the underworld of child pornography and cult devil worship offers plenty of rich material for our anthropologist professor to delve through.
Last is the weaker of the episodes on the disc. Surprisingly, or maybe not so, is that it is the most recent. Touching Evil was a 2004 show on both USA and The Sci-Fi Channel. It’s an American version of a British series that is loosely based on The American X-Files. How’s that for convoluted. We’re talking special branch of the FBI that investigates organized and serial crimes, but which obviously delves into some paranormal stuff. David Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan) is the main agent, and appears to be somewhat different because of a bullet to the brain that pretty much once killed him. He also appears to have a close friend who thinks, or perhaps is, I’m not sure, an alien. In K, the story seems relatively mundane if not graphic. A group of students butcher some horses, leading our OSC team to track them as potential future serial killers. They’re right, of course. The kids are also killing folks in their bid to please an artistic leader of yet another cult. Again, this is the hardest to follow when you are thrown into the middle of the mix.
The entire collection is full frame. The first show is in black and white while the remaining three are presented in color. Quality varies significantly here, as you can imagine. The source material ranges from 1959-2004. I considered the first black and white effort to show the best restoration. The contrast was excellent and detail rather fine. Because these were considered flops, you can expect not a lot of effort was made to clean these prints up. Consider your expectations fulfilled. Colors are usually soft with plenty of print wear and grain. This is archive quality only, folks.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is usually up to the task. Dialogue is clear on all of the shows. You’ll encounter some hiss on Delvecchio and Gideon Oliver. There is also some musical warble on the later program. Again, you must consider the age ranges and the limited importance of the show during its original airing.
I think the idea of Brilliant But Cancelled is a great one. I was able to catch Steven Bochco’s 1970’s Invisible Man series from this idea. I think a better release concept would be series box sets so that we can enjoy the full range these shows might have had to offer. At the very least a few episodes of each show. This sampler concept doesn’t cut it for me at all. So what we have here is “three different attackers and a fourth who lost his nerve.”