There seems to be a bit of confusion regarding Alby/Chip. I did some research and found that I'm not crazy. IMDb reports that Stanley Adams played "Alby" in "Portrait Of Blues", the first episode of Season 8.
OK, so we know IMDb can be wrong. Thus, I checked the actual episode. When Stanley Adams first appears, he's greeted and addressed by Joe as "Chip", and is dressed similarly to the character we know as "Chip" from "A Choice Of Victims". So at this point I'm figuring that I only associated the character with Alby because of the IMDb.
But not so fast; the end credits tell a different story.
So now it's not so clear just who this character is supposed to be. But my theory is this: The role in the first S8 was originally written for "Alby", but as a last minute bit of continuity, someone in the MANNIX production staff realized that Stanley Adams did not quite have the same on-screen presence as the prior Alby actors, so they gave him a new name, "Chip", onscreen, but neglected to change those closing credits.
Then for "A Choice Of Victims", he was brought back and properly credited as "Chip".
That's my story - and I'm sticking to it...
Now, that's some pretty good detective work!
Despite the fact that I was caught in an obvious error:
I don't think the actor who played Chip ever played Albie Loos -- and Chip only ever appeared once, in this episode. Albie was played by one actor in season 2 (Joe Mantell) and then by another in season 6 (Milton Selzer), in that re-worked episode from season 1, "Search for a Whisper."
I truly love it when this sort of thing is discovered -- love the concern for the series and the discussion. Of course, this means that Chip appeared in both "A Choice of Victims" and "Portrait in Blues."
Alas, I had to go back and re-watch "Portrait in Blues." When I did, I discovered something -- other than the fact that your conclusions seem dead-on right -- that a brief and very Albie-like scene seems to have gone to "Chip" at beyond the last minute. I discovered that this is one of a few episodes of Mannix that I seldom watch. I think I might have seen it only a few times since season 8 fell back into my hands. That is one reason the scene with Chip never stuck in my head.
I wondered why. It is a decent episode, if not a great one. But, a lot of episodes of Mannix are like that (hey, great is a relative term here), and I watch those quite a bit. But, this one I tend to avoid.
So, this was a season premiere -- and the last season premiere. My guess is that bit has something to do with my avoidance of the episode -- there is a certain sadness to it. Something about the Fall, ironically, the time of year we are fast approaching, made anticipation of those opening episodes such an incredible thing to look forward to. We looked forward to them for months. What would be different this year? The opening? The jackets? The car? The office?
In this case, it was both the opening and the car -- as well as Art Malcolm's office (Joe's changed in season 7, then remained the same for season 8). And, too, the actors always look a bit different -- and, in the case of Mannix, the way MC played Joe Mannix always varied slightly, from year to year. I can almost picture the people behind the show getting together in a room, in-between seasons, and coming up with a slightly different theme or tone to the season. As I've mentioned before, the episodes are inter-related in ways I never understood before but have deep admiration for now -- for example, season 3 explores a very different thread than season 7, with some episodes seemingly filling in what you might consider to be missing scenes from other episodes.
Perhaps for this reason, Chip is established (or Albie would have been re-established) in this episode in a scene which hardly matters -- why couldn't Peggy serve the same purpose Chip does here? He is there because he is going to be used later on, in "A Choice of Victims." One theme in season 8 tended to be more humor, more lightness, which carried throughout the season -- and Chip was needed as a foil for that episode. He has gone completely missing in season 7, and hardly appeared since season 2!
On a related note, one thing about this episode that I had all but forgotten, since I do not watch it very much, is that scene when Joe comes into his office to find Peggy reading the newspaper -- and she is in a sour mood. I mean, Peggy has had some dark moods, but never sour moods! Joe notices and has some Joe-like interplay with her -- in effect, teasing her out of it. The series seemed to be poking some fun at itself -- even as it does in "A Choice of Victims." But, in this one, it is poking fun at Peggy's constant upbeat attitude. These episodes are related in tone -- and represent a kind of poking fun of itself humor largely unique to season 8. Some of that same kind of humor also appears in "The Survivor Who Wasn't" as well as a few other scenes (yet to come) in season 8.
Why did they want someone named Chip instead of someone named Albie? Maybe its because they didn't want to have three actors play Albie. Or maybe its because no one could remember how to spell Albie's name. I've seen it as Alby and Albie (the IMDb has it as Albie Loos in s2's "Merry Go Round For Murder," but a quick search for "Albie Luce" reveals lots of webpages where people think it is spelled that way). Is it Albie Loos or Albie Luce or Alby Loos or Alby Luce?
Let's just go with Chip and be done with it.
It would seem that Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts stayed with Mannix for the full seven seasons, something rare these days, since they obtained new credits as script supervisors (if memory serves, this happened in season 7). If so, maybe they were concerned with the relationship changing with Albie -- Joe never took advantage of him before, in the way he sort of does with Chip's car! Or maybe it is just another of the collection of things that changed with season 8 -- which no longer had Adam Tobias or Sutton Roley and which now put Art Malcolm in a Kojak-style office on a police floor, instead of a more private office. Probably the lightness in season 8 was related to the lighter tone adopted in many of the more recent detective series, including Kojak and Rockford.
If that is the case -- and I bet it is -- then I'm amazed at the way Mannix blended toughness with lightness -- truly amazed -- because it managed to include the humor more, but never sacrifice its tough core. And, as a result, the humor worked that much better.
So, going back to the reason I never seem to watch "Portrait in Blues," aside from the sadness of this episode being the last season opener, something still seems wrong about it. After thinking about it some (so as to give the best possible answer to your post), I think it has to do with the story, itself, which was actually written by Mel Torme.
These young singers, Kim Milford and Bruce Scott, who played Chris and Danny, actually composed the songs in the episode, according to the credits anyway. Bruce Scott, according to the IMDb, played "himself" in a few episodes of other series -- suggesting he had aspirations for a recording career. And Kim Milford is described as a signer/songwriter on the IMBb as well. So, watching the episode, it was kind of confusing. These guys seemed to be singing these real songs, and yet, if they wanted real careers, it does not seem to be a lot of help to portray the outcome of this particular episode the way they did.
On the other hand, if the point of the episode was to try to launch the singing careers of these two, then it ties into the theme of using Mannix for other purposes, the way we surmised "Enter Tami Okada" might have been intended to be a pilot.
This suggests another reason why the episode is hard to watch. They seemed to be setting the singing duo up as the sort of "stars" of the episode -- and in a Mannix opener? It felt wrong -- worse, it felt suggestive that the people behind Mannix were growing tired of it, trying to branch out to other things.
Thankfully, the season did not materialize that way!
Season 8 does come home, gets better and has its own, new, authentic Mannix feel to it.
By the way, since I was on that particular disk, another episode that I seldom watch is "A Fine Day For Dying." That episode is production number 172, making it the third episode produced in season 8 (behind "Game Plan" and "Desert Sun."). Notice the story about Joe's car being filled with bullet holes, suggesting he needed a rental car -- and he winds up with this boat of a red convertible (what was that car, anyway?) -- the last time we see him drive a convertible (or so I believe) -- but this one is a mid-70's boat. Since he was out of town, Joe did not need his own car in either of the previously produced episodes -- and so the season 8, blue Camaro does not appear until -- your guessed it -- production number 173, which is "Portrait in Blues" -- the season opener.
So, maybe they wanted to give us the whole picture for the changes in season 8, to include Joe's new car -- and this is the first episode that has it all.
Aside form that, and in the category of noticing too much -- Joe's license plate number for season 8 -- the one that appears on his blue Camaro for the rest of season 8-- actually appears on some other car just sitting parked to the side in a street scene of "A Fine Day For Dying." It makes one wonder how license places were worked out between the state of California and the Hollywood studios. But, once they picked a plate for Joe, they seemed to stick to it, despite changing cars in season 5!
Great discussion -- and I love those screenshots!