THE NAME OF THE GAME

U.S. Adventure/Mystery Series

The Name of the Game occupies a unique place in the history of prime time-television. Notable for the ambitious scope and social relevance of its stories and for its innovative 90-minute anthology format, the series was perhaps most influential in its lavish production values, which aimed to recreate the audio-visual complexity of the movies. In 1969 TV Guide reported that the show's budget of $400,000 per episode made The Name of the Game the most expensive television program in history. The series also functioned as a kind of apprentice field for writers and directors who later achieved great success, including Steven Bochco, Marvin Chomsky, Leo Penn and Steven Spielberg.

The two-hour pilot film for the series, Fame Is the Name of the Game, was broadcast in 1966 as the first World Premiere Movie, a weekly series of made-for-television films produced by Universal Studios for NBC. The series itself, which premiered in 1968, retained the fluid, quick-cutting visual texture of the pilot and added a pulsating jazz theme by Dave Grusin. Tony Franciosa, star of the pilot film, returned to the series as Jeff Dillon, ace reporter for People Magazine, in a rotation every third week with Gene Barry and Robert Stack. Barry played a Henry Luce-type media mogul, Glenn Howard, CEO of Howard Publications, while Stack--in a role intended to recall his performance as Eliot Ness, the crime-fighting hero of The Untouchables--played Dan Farrell, a retired FBI agent now a writer-editor on Crime Magazine. Providing continuity, Susan St. James appeared in every episode as Peggy Maxwell, who remained a research assistant and aide-de-camp to the male stars through the run of the series despite her Ph.D. in archaeology and her knowledge of five languages.

Because each episode was essentially a self-contained film, the series offered a rich venue for performers and served as something of a refuge for journeyman movie actors drawn to television by the breakdown of the Hollywood studios and the disappearance of the B-movie. Among the movie actors who appeared in the series: Dana Andrews, Anne Baxter, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton, Broderick Crawford, Yvonne DeCarlo, Jose Ferrer, Farley Granger, John Ireland, Van Johnson, Janet Leigh, Ida Lupino, Kevin McCarthy, Ray Milland, Gene Raymond, Mickey Rooney, and Barry Sullivan.

One of the first television programs to deal directly with the increasing social and political turbulence of late 1960s, The Name of the Game regularly confronted such topics as the counter culture, racial conflict, the sexual revolution, political corruption, environmental pollution. Its ideology was a muddled if revealing strain of Hollywood liberalism, and its rotating heroes, especially Gene Barry's elegant corporate aristocrat, were enlightened professionals who used the power of their media conglomerate to right injustice and defend the powerless. If many episodes ended on a reformist note of muted affirmation for an America shown to be flawed and endangered but resilient and ultimately fixable, individual scenes and performances often dramatized social evils, injustice, moral and political corruption with a vividness and truthfulness rare in television during this period.

As it continued, the series became more imaginative and unpredictable, experimenting at times with unusual and challenging formats. "Little Bear Died Running" (first broadcast 6 November 1970), written by Edward J. Lakso, uses a complex strategy of multiple flashbacks to reconstruct the murder of an American Indian by a "legal" posse, in the process powerfully exposing the racist attitudes of an apparently enlightened white culture. "Appointment in Palermo" (26 February 1971), directed by Ben Gazzara, is a zany, affectionate parody of the godfather genre, its comedy notably sharpened by a clever use of actors familiar to us from straight gangster films: Gabriel Dell, Brenda Vacarro, Harry Guardino, John Marley and Joe De Santis. In "Los Angeles 2017" (15 January 1971) Glenn Howard falls into a nightmare of ecological disaster in which a vestigial American population survives beneath the polluted surface of the earth in USA, Inc., a regimented society run by a corporate elite. This notable episode was directed by Steven Spielberg from a thoughtful screenplay by Philip Wylie.

Even in its less imaginative and intellectually ambitious episodes, The Name of the Game held to consistently high standards of production and acting. Both in its formal excellence and in the intermittent but genuine seriousness of its subject matter, the show brought a new maturity to television and deserves recognition as an enabling precursor of the strongest prime time programming of the 1970s and 1980s.

-David Thorburn

 


The Name of the Game

CAST

Glenn Howard ..............................................Gene Barry Dan Farrell ................................................Robert Stack Jeff Dillon ..............................................Tony Franciosa Peggy Maxwell ....................................Susan St. James Joe Sample................................................ Ben Murphy Andy Hill...................................................... Cliff Potter Ross Craig ..................................................Mark Miller

PRODUCERS Richard Irving, Richard Levinson, William Link, Leslie Stevens, George Eckstein, Dean Hargrove

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

NBC
September 1968-September 1971          Friday 8:30-10:00

FURTHER READING

Gianakos, Larry James. Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Chronicle, 1959-1975. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1978.

Perry, Jeb H. Universal Television: The Studio and Its Programs, 1950-1980. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1983.

 

See also Detective Programs