There are certain TV shows for which I must confess inexplicable affection, and Quincy, M.E. is one of them. While certainly not a bad series—the receipt of 10 Emmy nominations during the show’s eight-year run indicates that it was a cut above the usual fare—Quincy, M.E. simply used a fresh gimmick to explore familiar murder-of-the-week terrain. The gimmick, of course, was forensic medicine, which is now commonplace on the small screen but which had not been the focus of a weekly TV show prior to 1978. Yet while the device of finding clues on corpses gave Quincy, M.E. novelty during its first few years, the real glue of the show was Jack Klugman’s delightfully cranky performance in the title role. Seemingly every week, the intrepid coroner lost his temper because someone failed to value human life as highly as the abrasive but saintly Dr. Quincy. Just as often, Klugman exclaimed some variation of the phrase, “It was murdah!” Good stuff.
The show’s pilot movie, subtitled “Go Fight City Hall . . . to the Death,” provides 75 minutes of solid entertainment, with all of the show’s cast and tropes fully formed. When a woman is murdered on a Los Angeles beach, medical examiner Quincy finds perplexing clues, much to the consternation of hardnosed LAPD detective Lt. Frank Monahan (Garry Walberg), who’s all about closing cases quickly and therefore doesn’t have time for Quincy’s conspiracy theories. Yet the coroner is unstoppable when he detects something amiss at a murder scene, so Quincy connects the woman’s death to her job at City Hall, then finds a pattern linking the woman’s demise to the deaths of other City Hall employees. Quincy yells at people a lot, shaming them into supporting his investigation, and the pilot’s main running joke involves Quincy ditching his girlfriend, Lee (Lynette Mettey), in the middle of dates so he can pursue leads. Present and accounted for are series regulars Val Bisoglio, as Quincy’s bartender buddy, Danny; Robert Ito, as Quincy’s lab assistant, Sam; and John S. Ragin, as Quincy’s unctuous boss, Dr. Asten. (Pilot guest stars include Hollywood stalwarts Henry Darrow, Woodrow Parfrey, Hari Rhodes, and George Wyner.)
Written by series creators Glen A. Larson and Lou Shaw, the pilot grinds through a few pedestrian sequences—including the requisite car chase—while also reaching unique high points like the scene in which Danny and Quincy get a prostitute drunk so she’ll stick her head into a noose for a medical experiment. If the mark of a good mystery show is the unconventional lengths to which the hero will go to answer difficult questions, this scene alone explains the appeal of Quincy, M.E. by combining Klugman’s mischievous charm with the character’s obsessive nature. Added bonus: The pilot contains the full scene from which producers extrapolated the show’s opening-credits vignette, featuring Quincy dissecting a corpse while police recruits faint.
Quincy, M.E.: GROOVY