Working with Ernest Kinoy on Diagnosis Murder

Diagnosis Murder castI just learned that Ernest Kinoy. one of the most honored writers in TV history, passed away this week. I was fortunate enough to work with him on two episodes of DIAGNOSIS MURDER.

Dick Van Dyke really wanted us to do an “important” episode of DIAGNOSIS MURDER and felt we should get a “major” writer to do it (I suppose we could have been offended by that…the implication that we were doing mediocre episodes and were mediocre writers, but we chose not to take it that way). William Rabkin and I, who were the show runners at the time, were glad to do it. We saw it s a chance to not only work with a writer we admired, but also to get some critical attention. So we decided to aim high, to find an acclaimed, award-winning writer from the “golden age” that Dick would immediately recognize and respect…but that would be an honor for us to work with as well. Whoever we chose also had to be a writer with episodic experience, someone who wouldn’t have a problem working with continuing characters and delivering a story that worked within our franchise. That narrowed the field a bit. Our first pick was Ernest Kinoy but, to be honest, we thought he’d turn us down flat. After all, this was the guy who wrote Skokie, Roots, Murrow and  Victory at Entebbe and classic episodes of such dramas as The Defenders, Naked City, Route 66 and Playhouse 90. 

So we gave him a call…and to our astonishment, he was genuinely interested. We sent him some episodes of our show, as well as some issue-oriented story areas that we were kicking around. He immediately jumped on a notion we had about HMOs…insurance plans that require patients to use specific hospitals and doctors and that leaves life-changing medical decisions in the hands of bureaucrats who are more concerned with the bottom line than patient health.

Kinoy’s only hesitation was that it had been decades since he’d written an episodic teleplay and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to pull it off.  He had no reason to worry. The guy was pro…one of the greats of our business.

He delivered a powerful story and a terrific script, entitled First Do No Harm, that stood out as the only episode of the show that didn’t have a murder. Yes, someone died, and Dr. Sloan investigates the death, but the perpetrator was a system, not an individual. The script captured the voices of our characters…but it was Kinoy’s voice that really came through. His dialogue had a unique cadence, one that Dick embraced. It was a real thrill for us, professionally and personally, to work with him, although it was long distance, by phone and fax.

We liked the experience so much that we invited him back to do a second episode the following season…another issue-based story, this one about assisted suicide…and it gave us the chance, as an added bonus, to reunite Dick with Kathleen Quinlan, his co-star in  the film The Runner Stumbles, his most dramatic role. Dick relished the part and we relished working with such a gifted writer. It was the last episode of season 6, the final episode that Bill and I produced of the series, and it was a great way to go out.

The two episodes ended up being Kinoy’s last, produced credits. I hope he was as proud of the episodes as I am.


6 thoughts on “Working with Ernest Kinoy on Diagnosis Murder”

  1. What a wonderful tribute, Lee. Your words tell bunches about who YOU are, too, in your character-soul, besides the man you admired. You are so talented in your own right, yet you recognize the gifts of other writers and are respectful of them. Also, how great it is that you and Rabkin worked together so well. Seems to me there should be a book in the making about that relationship. It would be a manual in the Dummies format showing how to get along with co-workers so that the result is something above and beyond what just one worker can do on his (or her) own. Today you continue in that spirit with Joel Goldman of Brash Books and Janet Evanovich on that exciting amusement park ride! Thanks for penning the tribute.

  2. Lee,

    Thank you for the kind words. I can confirm that my father was indeed proud of those two shows and he appreciated he opportunity to work with you and your partner. It tickled him to do episodic scripts again and he enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

    He was a great admirer of Dick Van Dyke, I think we watched every episode of the old Dick Van Dyke Show. Remember, he’d worked on the Imogene Coca show, so he knew Sid Caesar and the writers of the Sid Caesar show. There was an episode where Allen had rejected a sketch by throwing the pages back into the hallway over the transom above hie office door. Maury Amsterdam examines page dejectedly and observes, “Yup, that’s Allen’s crumple…” That was one of the few times I saw him actually laugh out loud (he usually went only so far as a restrained chuckle).

  3. I always liked Diagnosis Murder, well written, produced and performed, and I like mysteries and am a fan of Dick Van Dyke.
    The Hallmark Movie Channel has been playing this series and I’ve been realizing that it’s even more than I originally thought.
    There seem to be a lot of truths exposed in this enjoyable fiction, that are hidden from general knowledge and news.
    In the years between the time the series finished and the years I was able to watch the reruns, something happened to me.
    I got sick and went to my official internist, and then to a specialist. They both felt I needed immediate treatment and it was very serious. I was paying a large portion of my income for health insurance. The specialist said we would need approval from the insurance company. They denied approval, the doctors and I kept fighting for it, and eventually I got sicker and suspect the ins. co. hoped I’d die, so they wouldn’t have to pay. I called an ambulance and made sure they took me to a hospital that was in network for my insurance. I died and was brought back to life, with permanent conditions and a million dollars of bills the insurance refused to pay. I lost my income and gained a lot of debt. Even though the doctors and hospital were in network for my insurance, the doctors in the hospital were not and even the specialist worked at the hospital under a group that was not in network. I also found out that ambulances aren’t part of local emergency services, and I had to pay. Today I watched “First Do No Harm” and realized that a character was named Dr. Gould, the same as the specialist who couldn’t get approval for me to be treated.

  4. Just today, I happened to watch DO NO HARM about the restrictive rules of HMOs. The writing was so skillful in putting forth the hazards of impeding medical services. And then I viewed tonight the assisted suicide episode. The writing showed thoughts on the subject from different points of view. And the final line from the doctor, “What would you vote in a jury” was powerful. I recall hearing Ernest Kinoy’s credits often during the great days of radio. Thanks for this write-up by Lee Goldberg. It would be wondrous if DIAGNOSIS MURDER would re-start, perhaps under a different name. However, the cast was just superb. Dick Van Dyke was most convincing as Dr. Sloan. And his sons were also good as was the rest of the cast.


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