Watching Harry O

I have been treating myself to episodes of HARRY O after a day of work. It's been an interesting experience. The first 13 episodes were shot entirely on location in San Diego and had a slow, laconic pace and a real style. David Janssen's Harry Orwell almost never did anything overtly physical…he had a bullet in his back, for God's sake, and he was hardly a buff guy. The plotting wasn't very rigorous, but individual scenes were often sharply written. But around episode 14, the show moved to L.A. and lost a lot, if not all, of its style. The main title theme/opening sequence was "toughened" and so was Harry, who although still world-weary, now gladly engaged in fisticuffs. Suddenly there were sexy and scantily-clad women everywhere and none of them could resist his non-existent charms (though he didn't seem very interested in bedding them). Much of the work that had been "on location" moved into the soundstage and looked it (one particularly cheap set was clearly, and superficially, redressed multiple times over two episodes). On the other hand, Anthony Zerbe came in as Lt. Trench, the best "friend on the force" in TV PI history (and a role that earned him an Emmy). The scenes between Harry and Trench, which would have been expositional hell in any other PI show (and in the first 13 of Harry O, with Henry Darrow as the cop, often were), crackled and became the best thing about the series. I am only three episodes into the LA-set episodes, though. There are still 24 more to see…including one where Henry Darrow's Lt. Manny Quinlan character came back to be killed off. (You can see the first scene of the second Harry O pilot and the first regular episode, "Gertrude," on YouTube)

4 thoughts on “Watching Harry O”

  1. I agree with you about Harry O’s style. I taped a number of them when they were rerun a few years ago and what I liked was how much time was given to giving the characters real depth. I remember seeing Janssen on the old Irv Kupcinet show when I was working out of Chicago. I suspected he might have had a drink or three before the show. What surprised me was how much he was like his characters, the melancholy especially. This might have been a pose for the show but somehow I doubt it. I have several seasons of The Fugitive that I haul out every once in awhile. They hold up very wel..

  2. I loved this series but haven’t seen it here in the UK since it was first shown.
    I’ve watched the You Tube videos and enjoyed seeing it again. Loved the voiceovers, reminiscent of the Raymond Chandler programmes. Gave it a nostalgic touch and listening to Harry voice his perspective on the world lifted it out of the run of the mill stuff you get today on crime drama.
    Is the series available on DVD now?

  3. FYI, Episode 14 was the last shot in San Diego. The show was moved to LA because its ratings did not justify the costs and the show did not revolve around SD anyway. The reason you see a change in episode 14 is because series producer, Robert E. Thompson was let go and Buck Houghton and Robert Dozier were put in to “turn the show around a bit”. Also FYI, the two pilot films were done on location in LA. AND, the LA episodes had just as much location work as the SD ones.
    I too preferred the Harry of the first two films and the first 14 episodes. That world weary voice is one I am trying to learn how to emulate in my writing. Once you get inside the head of the character, after a while it gets easier. Having all 46 stories on DVD and watching them a few times has helped! This show, as well as Longstreet, was probably among the better Detective shows of the 1970s, even if the scripts were sometimes commonplace.
    Someone here said meeting Janssen left them with the impression he was like HO. Reading about him books, it appears he was easy going on set and a real s**t to live with. Surely HO and Fugitive were his best roles.
    Finally, as one who does research for such things as TV trivia and some writing about it as well, I have found your Unsold Pilots book of use many times.

  4. As a real life P.I., I must say that Harry O was certainly easy to watch despite some procedural error’s throughout most of the show’s. He resided in Coronado and not San Diego and the move to Los Angeles was in my opinion the first step toward the show’s demise. This of course was the mid 1970’s, and I can only imagine that costs even then must have been prohibitive, therefore, it would again in my opinion nearly be impossible to bring him into the new century with all of the computer related data bases we use today to assist in investigations. I travel frequently to San Diego area to work cases and often while checking IPhones, GPS’s and traveling by car rather than bus, wonder how much easier in some ways it would have been to be Harry O!


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