The Protectors 1.20 – Vocal

I love our little coincidences. I picked this episode because Shane Rimmer is in it, and also because Brian Clemens wrote it. I had no idea that Clemens co-wrote The Watcher in the Woods, which we watched last night, but they ended up on the schedule back to back anyway. I like how that villain with Rimmer is wearing a transparent plastic mask. I bet Clemens remembered the visual and decided to reuse it for his New Avengers episode “The Last of the Cybernauts…??” a few years later because it looks so good.

Anyway, I’ve probably watched five or six Protectors before now. I’ve thought of it as popcorn, just middle of the road adventure stuff, competent and occasionally good. “Vocal” is by a mile the best one I’ve seen. Tony Anholt’s character is temporarily blinded. Only he can identify a criminal, but the criminals need him alive because only he can identify who they believe is another witness. There’s a great twist in this one as well as a really good fight scene. Robert Vaughn’s barely in it. They must have been filming him for another episode while Shane Rimmer, playing a criminal who can mimic anybody’s voice, impersonates Harry.

One reason I’ve enjoyed doing this blog is that it’s given me many opportunities to give our son a good history lesson in how television used to be made. I mentioned Jack of All Trades last time, and the reason that show reminded me of The Protectors was the curious nature of its production. Jack was born because there were stations around the US that ran Hercules: The Legendary Journeys on Saturday evenings at seven, and Xena: Warrior Princess on Sundays at seven, and were looking for half-hour shows to lead into them. Other stations were looking for a one-hour block of programming. So they could buy Jack of All Trades for one night and Cleopatra 2525 for the next, or the stations that needed an hour could get both shows as the “Back2Back Action Hour.”

The Protectors was born because of similar circumstances a generation earlier. ITC’s salesmen had been hearing station managers tell them they needed a half-hour for Saturday nights, because they had an hour of local news, then half an hour of their network’s national news, a thirty minute gap, then the network’s prime time lineup. Other stations had a shorter half-hour local newscast and needed a full hour. In time, these gaps would be filled by game shows, chat shows, scandal shows, or whatever, but in the early seventies there was still a small window for dramas to get on the air. There are some lost media enthusiasts who remember a secret agent show called Monty Nash that appeared in this sort of slot briefly in 1971, but didn’t sell to enough stations to warrant making more than 14 episodes and is apparently missing apart from fragments.

ITC had the idea to produce a pair of half-hour adventure dramas, with American stars, to fill this need. Stations could buy The Protectors along with The Adventurer, with Gene Barry, and run them in an hour block, or any other way they chose. It worked incredibly well, and while The Protectors doesn’t have anywhere near the strong reputation as some of ITC’s other drama series that went straight into American syndication, it was remarkably popular among audiences and station managers. The Adventurer didn’t get a second season even though many stations must have wanted one – tales of the unhappiness among everybody involved, especially its star, are legend and hilarious – but the sponsors and stations were so happy with The Protectors that it continued production even without its stablemate. I wonder why ITC didn’t come up with a different half-hour show to accompany it, though.

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