Barnaby Jones: The First Season
Directed by Walter Grauman et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 662 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 42.99
Release Date: February 16, 2010
Review Date: January 31, 2010
After a hugely successful nine-year run on The Beverly Hillbillies, Buddy Ebsen wasted almost no time at all jumping into another hit series. Barnaby Jones, another Quinn Martin production in an era when his shows seemed to rule the airwaves, gave Ebsen another healthy seven year reign as a top television star. And the show was an immediate hit premiering in the middle of the 1972-1973 television season and ranking at number 25 among the most popular shows on the air at the end of its first thirteen-episode season.
Barnaby Jones was not designed as a mystery series in which Ebsen’s cagey, folksy private investigator was searching along with the audience for whodunit. Almost every episode began with the audience witnessing the crime first hand. Rather, the show operated on a modified Columbo-type scenario in which we see Jones searching for clues to an identity we already know while we as an audience wonder why the crime was committed. By the end of each of these closed-ended episodes, both Barnaby and we have our answers.
The first episode set up the show’s premise. Barnaby had been a long-time private investigator in business with his son, but he had been retired for four years when, in the opening episode, his son is killed and Barnaby, with the assistance of William Conrad’s Frank Cannon moonlighting on this new show to give it a shot in the arm for CBS, goes on the prowl for the killer and the reason for his son’s death. Helping Barnaby with secretarial duties is his daughter-in-law (and now widow) Betty (Lee Meriwether). Barnaby is a one-man gang in terms of investigation procedures. In addition to doing his own legwork and swilling glasses of milk at every opportunity, he has his own darkroom and can develop his own pictures, and he has his own lab in which he can do his own forensics. (We learn later in the season that Barnaby has a degree in forensic science.)
The cases during the first season mainly dealt in murder, often with frame jobs done to innocent parties. Among the more interesting episodes, however, were some that veered away from that rather pedestrian crime occupation. In one, Barnaby is duped into transporting heroin across the Mexican border and must work overtime to track down the facts of his being hoodwinked. In the season’s best episode, an ex-con Barnaby helped finger is released from prison with vengeance on his mind stalking and taunting Barnaby and Betty over the course of four days until he can carry out his murder scheme.
The guest cast is a litany of guest stars from this particular era of American television: Bradford Dillman, Robert Hogan, William Shatner, Janice Rule, Gary Lockwood, Eric Braeden, Sharon Acker, Richard Hatch, Lloyd Bochner, Jack Cassidy, Cathy Lee Crosby, Anne Francis, Estelle Winwood, Jackie Coogan, Arlene Golonka, Roddy McDowell, Marlyn Mason, Reni Santoni, Claude Akins, Dabbs Greer, Neva Patterson, Bill Bixby, Louise Troy, Barry Sullivan, Meg Foster, Geoffrey Lewis, Gary Owens, and Peter Haskell.
Like many Quinn Martin productions, the episodes are each divided into four “acts” (though there is no prologue or epilog with Barnaby Jones). The following are the thirteen episodes contained on four discs in this first season box set:
1 – Requiem for a Son
2 – To Catch a Dead Man
3 – Sunday: Doomsday
4 – The Murdering Class
5 – Perchance to Kill
6 – The Loose Connection
7 – Murder in the Doll’s House
8 – Sing a Song of Murder
9 – See Some Evil…Do Some Evil
10 – Murder-Go-Round
11 – To Denise, With Love and Murder
12 – A Little Glory, A Little Death
13 – Twenty Million Alibis
The programs are framed in their original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio. In comparison to the dirty, badly color-timed promos which are attached to each episode, it takes only seconds to see what a remarkable job of remastering Paramount has achieved with these programs. Though a few stray dust specks and an occasional bit of debris or print damage may still be glimpsed, these programs on the whole look great with strong color, excellent sharpness, and fine contrast. Fleshtones are accurately represented, and black levels are surprisingly impressive. Apart from some sporadic moiré and a hair or two that were obviously part of the original photography, there isn’t much to criticize here. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters without the promos and 7 chapters with them.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix when decoded by Prologic comes through clearly and distinctly in the center channel. Typical of its era, all dialogue, music, and sound effects are blended into a more than adequate mono audio track which does the job splendidly conveying what’s being heard and seen on the screen. Occasionally poor ADR for outdoor shots is present and not unexpected, and there is some strange echoing of voices in several studio shot scenes in episode #11.
Each episode contains a one minute promotional preview of the episode to come. These may be watched or skipped from the user menu on each disc.
The first disc in the set contains trailers for Mannix, Cannon, Jake and the Fatman, and Hawaii Five-O.
3.5/5 (not an average)
What a pleasure to have the first season of Barnaby Jones join the growing roster of CBS/Paramount procedural releases. The episodes here look very good and despite the lack of real bonus material, the box set still is one I can heartily recommend.