Shout! Factory's packaging for Quincy, M.E. - Season 6 describes Jack Klugman's title character as "the original crime scene investigator." That's not really accurate, because Quincy's medical examiner character almost never spent time combing through crime scenes. He was almost strictly a lab man, his job more closely resembling the much less glamorous county coroner long played by Robert David Hall on CSI - Crime Scene Investigation. But Quincy undeniably bridged the personality-driven mystery series of the 1970s with today's CSI, Law & Order, and NCIS-type crime investigation shows. Unlike those series, on Quincy the sight of a corpse was extremely rare and the graphic recreations of autopsies were out of the question.
Quincy had an unusual history. It began as part of the same NBC Mystery Movie series that included Columbo, McMillan & Wife, and McCloud. However, those shows all rotated wheel-like on alternating Sunday nights. Quincy had the misfortune to be scheduled on similarly rotating wheel spin-off from that concept, The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie, whose less-remembered programs included Banacek, Madigan, and Lanigan's Rabbi.
Quincy, M.E., debuting in 1976, was the only lasting success of the Wednesday night series, and as the novel rotation format was dying off anyway (even Columbo was gone by '78), the decision was made to retool Quincy midway through its first season from an occasional series of 90-minute TV movies into a weekly hour one.
Universal released seasons one and two in 2005, but took four years to get around to season three, then abandoned the series altogether after that. Thankfully, Shout! Factory has picked up the mantle, and has released seasons four, five, and six all within the last eight months. (There are two more to go.) The video transfers are good and the packaging includes helpful plot synopses and airdates.
Quincy M.E. follows forensic pathologist Dr. Quincy (Jack Klugman) - like Columbo, Quincy has no other name - as he uses cutting-edge science to solve unsolvable crimes, and to play Devil's Advocate in otherwise "open and shut" cases. In most episodes he's aided by long-suffering assistant pathologist Sam Fujiyama (Robert Ito), long-suffering boss Dr. Asten (John S. Ragin), and long-suffering LAPD Lt. Monahan (Garry Walberg). Quincy also spends a lot of time at the local bar, Danny's, run by long-suffering pal Danny Tovo (Val Bisoglio). Unilaterally their sole function is to fight or put up with Quincy's outrageous theories and social irresponsibility.
Where Columbo's success rested on a combination of star Peter Falk's unendingly entertaining portrayal of that title character and a sure-fire formula that, with care, could be milked ad infinitum, the secret of Quincy's early success fell almost entirely on star Jack Klugman's shoulders. At first.
The series was co-created by Glen A. "Grand Larceny" Larson, whose bad taste gave "Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen a run for his money, and who within the television industry had a notorious reputation has a fairly blatant, unapologetic plagiarist. (James Garner, who minces no words in his memoirs, calls him a thief and recalls decking Larson after one such bit of chicanery.) One thing's for sure, Larson wrote teleplays that could turn normal brains into cottage cheese before the first station break. One early Quincy script co-written by Larson was so bad Klugman refused to appear in it. On his own show.
In the earliest, Larson-influenced episodes, Klugman's Quincy was an unstoppable dynamo, a one-man army fighting the system, like Charles Bronson's character from the Death Wish movies, only instead of a .45 Quincy's got a mouth. Armed with wild theories, forensic evidence and, especially, with his own intensity, Quincy sanctimoniously badgers and screams and whines through clenched teeth. Neither Quincy nor Klugman for that matter is one to do things half-measure. Quincy is a fidgety workaholic, antsy even when on vacation or aboard his dry-docked boat in Marina del Rey. Klugman's Cagney-esque intensity (in the good sense), where even the most innocuous scene is played at a "10," was its main appeal, often nearly crossing over into high camp.
I had watched Quincy when it first aired but apparently not that first season or two. I had remembered a better, more interesting show, and Quincy, M.E. - Season 6 is a lot more like the Quincy I had recalled. Apparently Larson, busy anyway with other projects, was more or less kicked off Quincy and more talented hands were brought in at the helm.
By this point, Dr. Quincy is much more laid-back, genial and very much a team player. Instead of the lone wolf he was in those earliest episodes, Quincy by season six is as much a teacher for the younger pathologists, and whose expertise and experience are called upon as needed. I'd forgotten how much less of Quincy, M.E.'s later seasons center around Quincy than they do about the workplace generally and the procedural and evidence conflicts arising among various colleagues and with their law enforcement liaisons. The season premiere, for instance, is more concerned with guest star William Daniels's problems (in a warm-up role to his St. Elsewhere part) with Quincy more on the sidelines. Same goes for the next episode, which is primarily a "Sam" episode, while a medical student's conflicting lab results with a respected pathologist (Harry Townes) are at the center of things in episode three.
The scripts are far better than the genre's unimpressive battling average for early-‘80s TV. Quincy, M.E., often addressed serious issues more along the lines of the unjustly forgotten Lou Grant, shows in which Klugman, the producers, and their writers could be justly proud. Season six shows address SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), airline passenger safety, and dangerous fad diets.
Busy, familiar character actors from both Klugman's generation and younger talent pop up in these episodes, this season including Philip Abbott, Clifton James, Warren Stevens, Tyne Daly, Patricia Barry, Charles Aidman, Dennis Patrick, Carolyn Jones, Ed Begley, Jr., William Sylvester, Ezra Stone, Sid Haig, Albert Paulsen, Robert Emhardt, Martine Beswick, Robert Alda, Joe Maross, Joseph Campanella, Michael Constantine, Fritz Weaver, William Prince, John Ireland, Ron Masak, David White, Lonny Chapman, and Paul Koslo.
Video & Audio
Quincy M.E. looks good for its age in bright, clean transfers presented in their original full-frame ratio. For the most part the images are free of dirt and wear, and have not been time-compressed. No complaints here. The mono sound is equally acceptable for its age, with optional closed-captioning. The season's 18 episodes are spread across five single-sided discs. No Extra Features
Though clearly dated in many respects, I'm having a ball revisiting Quincy, M.E. and I suspect those with a like-minded nostalgia will enjoy them, too. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.