Home Television Drama Private Eye

Private Eye

1 9 8 7 – 1 9 8 9 (USA)
12 x 60 minute episodes

Los Angeles was the location for Private Eye. It was set in the mid-1950s, which meant mile-long convertibles with flashing fins on the back and lots of driving down long, inky blue streets, past dream palaces of nightclubs and lavish houses, with lots of cool jazz to keep the juices flowing, lots of people smoking cigarettes, drinking booze and staying up all night, it seemed, in a city full of menace and lost, shadowy souls.

The series drew heavily on Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade, and the other tough-guy gumshoes of the past, with an edge of Mickey Rourke.

Private Eye was created by Anthony Yerkovich, who wrote for the first three seasons of Hill Street Blues and then came up with Miami Vice, to which this show owed some of its glamorous effects and detonator action offset by cool silences, not to mention clothes, the camaraderie of cops, their tricky personal lives and the evidence that, though they might be like steel on the outside, on the inside they are one big mushball.

The central character was Jack Cleary (played by Michael Woods) who managed only a couple of smiles throughout the series.

Not that Jack had a lot to smile about – he had been kicked off the force after being framed by the mob, his beloved private investigator older brother, Nick, had been brutally murdered during an investigation into mob-related payola scandals, and it seemed like everything was working against him.

He was also dogged by a wild street kid called Johnny Betts (Josh Brolin) who wanted to work with him.

For comfort, Jack had the bottle, a Dalmatian puppy back in his lonely motel room, Nick’s photograph, Nick’s old secretary, Dottie (Lisa Jane Persky), an affair with a woman who had been hired to spy on him but ended up falling for him (and he for her) and, eventually, Betts, who became his new buddy.

Jack cleared his name but decided to stay out of the force because: “too much has changed. I dunno if I can play it by the rules anymore”.

By this time Jack was off the booze, had shaved off his Mickey Rourke shadow and generally straightened himself out, even though he lost his girl and, before the show even started, his wife.

Private Eye was canned after only one season. Much of this was related to cost, with the first episode alone accounting for $6.5 million.

Jack Cleary
Michael Woods
Lieutenant Charlie Fontana
William Sadler
Lisa Jane Persky
Johnny Betts
Josh Brolin