1 9 9 0 – 1 9 9 2 (USA)
22 x 60 minute epiosdes
Gabriel Bird (James Earl Jones) was a large, intelligent black man with a thundering voice and a cross to bear. He had once been a Chicago cop.
One terrible day in 1969, he was involved in a botched raid during which he was forced to shoot his white partner rather than allow him to kill an innocent mother and child in cold blood during a police raid that was being used as a pretence for the assassination of the leader of a militant Black Nationalist organisation.
The jury considered this an act of murder, not heroism, and sentenced him to life in prison.
After twenty years as a model prisoner, Bird met Victoria (Laila Robins), an aggressive attorney fascinated by his case and the many irregularities in his trial. Convinced he was innocent, she got him released.
But the proud Bird found that life outside could be even tougher for an ex-con, especially since many on the police force still hated and distrusted him. Reluctantly, he agreed to become a private investigator for Victoria, using the inside knowledge he had gained on the force and in prison to good advantage.
Louis Klein (Dylan Walsh) was Victoria’s assistant, and “Empress” Josephine (Madge Sinclair) was Bird’s longtime friend and the proprietor of a café where Bird hung out – both for the food and for her company.
The downbeat premise of the series, coupled with Bird’s simmering anger at the injustices visited upon him, drove away viewers during the first season, leading to major changes (and a new title) in the second.
Returning in the fall of 1991 as Pros and Cons, the series was now about an upbeat Bird, who had almost magically shaken his anger and smiled continuously.
Moving to Los Angeles, he teamed up with colourful – if somewhat over-the-hill – private eye Mitch O’Hannon (Richard Crenna) in their own agency, O’Hannon and Bird.
The new, cheerful Gabriel and the mischievous, disorganised O’Hannon meshed perfectly.
Adding to Bird’s newfound happiness was his relationship with Josephine, culminating in marriage in October 1991.
Jones was superb in the role and earned an Emmy Award for his work, with Madge Sinclair also getting the Best Supporting Actress for her part as Josephine. Ratings, however, did not match the critical acclaim, struggling against the number one rated show Cheers and the superhero action of The Flash.
James Earl Jones
“Empress” Josephine Austin