PETER GUNN

U.S. Detective Program

Peter Gunn, a top-rated detective drama, ran on NBC from 1958 to 1960, and then on ABC in 1960 and 1961. The television series was distinguished for its stylish and sophisticated lead character, Peter Gunn, and is also remembered for the jazz-influenced music of Henry Mancini. Created and produced by then neophyte filmmaker Blake Edwards, Peter Gunn was typical of the male private-eye genre of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The lead character was handsome, dashing, and consistently well--dressed in tailored suits, which never seemed to wrinkle even after the usual scuffles with the bad guys. Edwards clearly modeled the character of Peter Gunn on Cary Grant, considered one of Hollywood's most debonair leading men. The actor chosen to play Gunn, Craig Stevens, even bore a close resemblance to Grant.

The series was set in Los Angeles, and, more often than not, inside a jazz club called Mother's. The story line essentially centered around Gunn solving his client's problems, which always involved his having to deal with an assortment of hit men, hoodlums and assorted "hip" characters found on the jazz scene. He is often aided by his personal friend and confidant, police Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi). Although Gunn often had to endure many thrown fists, he himself did not advocate brutality, and violence was not a feature of the series. In the end, the crime was always solved, the criminals behind bars, and Gunn was shown relaxing at Mother's, where his girlfriend, the vocalist Edie Hart (Lola Albright), was the main attraction.

The style of Peter Gunn has been described by some viewers as borderline parody. The dialogue is delivered in a hip, deadpan fashion, and at times the series seemed to be poking fun at more conventional private-eye series. Blake Edwards attributed the critical success of Peter Gunn to the series' tendency to be somewhat over the top. The success of the show spawned many similar private detective dramas in the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as Philip Marlowe and Richard Diamond.

An important ingredient in the show, and which provided its unique character, was the music of Henry Mancini. He provided a new score for each episode, and when released on the RCA label, the two albums The Music of Peter Gunn and More Music From Peter Gunn proved to best-sellers. (The "Peter Gunn Theme" continues to be played on mainstream radio and has even been used as the vehicle for modern rock versions). Mancini's music was an integral part of the show's action, and here too it set the precedent for shows that were to follow.

Although the show lasted for only three seasons, by stressing style and sophistication, Peter Gunn caught the attention of many viewers. The combination of the main character's smooth, stoic demeanor, together with Henry Mancini's outstanding jazz themes, worked to leave a lasting impression in the minds of fans.

-Gina Abbott and Garth Jowett

 


Peter Gunn

CAST

Peter Gunn ..............................................Craig Stevens Edie Hart................................................... Lola Albright Lt. Jacoby......................................... Herschel Bernardi "Mother" (1958-1959)............................... Hope Emerson "Mother" (1959-1961)............................... Minerva Urecal

PRODUCERS Blake Edwards, Gordon Oliver

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 114 Episodes

NBC
September 1958-September 1960         Monday 9:00-9:30 ABC October 1960-September 1961  Monday 10:30-11:00

FURTHER READING

Collins, Max Allan. The Best of Crime & Detective TV: Perry Mason to Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files to Murder She Wrote. New York: Harmony, 1988.

Larka, Robert. Television's Private Eye: An Examination of Twenty Years Programming of a Particular Genre, 1949 to 1969. New York: Arno, 1979.

Meyers, Richard. TV Detectives. San Diego, California: A.S. Barnes; London: Tantivy, 1981.

 

See also Detective Programs