1 9 8 7 – 1 9 9 0 (USA)
74 x 60 minute episodes
Filmed on location in Vancouver (Canada), this show was never a ratings success, but it developed a cult following among viewers and TV writers alike when it debuted on CBS in 1987.
Via an innovative story structure, Wiseguy followed the adventures of undercover cop Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) who worked for the Organised Crime Bureau (OCB) and infiltrated various mob organisations to take them down from the inside.
In order to establish his credibility with the underworld, Terranova had served eighteen months in prison.
Under the watchful eye of superior Frank McPike (Jonathan Banks) and with the covert assistance of communications expert “Lifeguard” (Jim Byrnes), Vinnie first went after Atlantic City kingpin Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey) before moving on to tackle the wacky brother and sister team of evil, utterly unstable crime-king Mel Profitt (Kevin Spacey) and his sister Susan (the pneumatic Joan Severance).
Mel and Susan enjoyed a “very close relationship” and spent a good deal of their time aboard their huge yacht, dubbed Hotel. Mel and Susan used the boat mainly as a floating drugs-and-sex crash pad when they weren’t gallivanting about the world cutting various narcotics and arms deals.
From there, everything got messy, both on and off-camera. Mel ended up killing himself, Susan wound up in a mental hospital, and Vinnie uncovered a near-incomprehensible arrangement involving rogue CIA operatives.
As a result, Vinnie quit the OCB and took a job at a gas station in his old Brooklyn neighbourhood. Unfortunately, exposure to the racists in the neighbourhood convinced him he could bring them down by going back to the Bureau.
He then went undercover as a garment centre security consultant to save the Elrose Fashions dress firm belonging to Eli Sternberg (Jerry Lewis) from the clutches of mobster Rick Pinzolo (Stanley Tucci).
Vinnie’s next undercover job, as the owner of Dead Dog Records, gave him the chance to nail corrupt players in the big-money rock music business. It also resulted in a torrid love affair with Amber Twine (Patti D’Arbanville), the wife of his music business partner, Isaac Twine (Paul Winfield). Real-life rockers Deborah Harry, Glenn Frey, and Mick Fleetwood made guest appearances.
Meanwhile, Vinnie’s mother, Carlotta (Elsa Raven), had married Rudy Aiuppo (George O Petrie), the most powerful organized crime boss in New York. An assassination attempt on Don Aiuppo, ironically, left Vinnie with his seat on ‘the Commission’ – the governing body of New York’s organised crime.
While his stepfather recovered in the hospital, Vinnie worked to track down the people responsible for the hit as well as to provide information to the OCB.
Pressure from politicians who believed Vinnie was a mobster forced him out of that position, but not before Don Aiuppo found out his stepson was a Fed.
Vinnie’s last major case for the OCB took him to rural Lynchboro where, as Vince Kozak, he sought to bring down reclusive Mark Volchek (Steve Ryan), the demented man who ran the town.
After witnessing the electrocution/ suicide of Lynchboro’s sheriff, Vinnie went into an emotional funk and disappeared, taking menial work and trying to get himself together.
He was last seen in a wharfside church where a former foe, seeking revenge, tried to take him out, killing the priest and wounding Frank McPike instead.
Meanwhile, after what most in the know termed a “disagreement” with series creator and all-around TV legend Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero), the show returned to the airwaves with no Wahl and Steven Bauer as Vinny replacement Michael Santana.
What happened? Only the players themselves know for sure. Cannell said Wahl quit. Wahl said he was pushed out. Either way, they managed to sort it out to shoot a TV movie revival for ABC in 1996.
“Lifeguard” (Daniel Benjamin Burroughs)
Carlotta Terranova Aiuppo
Don Rudy Aiuppo
George O Petrie
Fr. Peter Terranova