A last-ditch effort to keep the teeny-bopper franchise going fails. Shout! Factory has released The Hardy Boys: Season Three, a three-disc, 10-episode collection of the aborted 1978-1979 season of the frequently revamped The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Never a big ratings winner in terms of the Nielsen's, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries's days were numbered from the start, anyway...but losing Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew and then fashioning Frank and Joe into grown-up Justice Department agents sealed the cancellation deal. No extras for these really marginal full-screen transfers.
Amateur detectives/full-time dreamboats Joe (Shaun Cassidy) and Frank Hardy (Parker Stevenson), the sons of renowned sleuth Fenton Hardy (Ed Gilbert), are (temporarily and inexplicably) residing in sun-kissed SoCal, when Joe decides to stay and marry his impossibly good-looking fiance, Jaimie (Kristie Welch). However, when a creep, under surveillance by the Justice Department, runs the just-marrieds off the road and kills Jaimie, instant widower Joe vows vengeance, with brother Frank, as always, backing him to the hilt. Despite the Justice Department's displeasure with the Hardys messing around their case, agent Harry Hammond (Jack Kelly) decides these boys are just what the Department needs, when old farts like himself and Fenton (now also working for the Department) would stick out like sore thumbs. So now, Joe and Frank find themselves as roving government agents, solving crimes and breaking hearts in far-flung, exotic ports of call, such as England, Greece, and Puerto Rico.
One of the great, innocent pleasures of my long-lost youth was discovering and devouring my older brothers' collection of hard-backed Hardy Boys mysteries. I'm sure I can't add anything new in the way of describing these truly iconic American literary creations, so I'll just say that few subsequent adult reading experiences, no matter how much more "worthwhile" in terms of literary content, have stuck with me the way encountering those books for the first time did--read on my front porch on lazy, hot, impossibly long summer days, or even better, way past bedtime, under the covers, with the old man's flashlight illuminating the pages. I was too young to have caught Disney's 1950s TV version of The Hardy Boys, with Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk (although I had fun a few years ago reviewing the DVDs), and for the life of me I don't remember any reruns of Filmation's animated version from 1969 (and who knows where that failed 1967 CBS live-action pilot is, starring Tim Matthieson and Rick Gates). However, I was probably in the right target range for ABC's teen version that premiered as a mid-season replacement for the 1976-1977 television year.
Debuting on Sunday nights at the kid-friendliest time possible--7:00pm--that first (half) season of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries was a fun alternative for an 11-year-old bored to tears with CBS' 60 Minutes ("Yes, Mother and Father, I too would like to watch sweaty Mike Wallace skew the news to the Left, thank you."), and quite sadly growing out of NBC's Wonderful World of Disney. My memories of those early episodes are hazy at best (has it ever been repeated anywhere with regularity?), but something about The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries must have recalled the appeal of the books, because I regularly caught the series...while certainly the hook of tuning in to see if innocently sexy Pamela Sue Martin might show, was fun, too. However, when Martin started appearing less frequently in the second season, eventually to be replaced by Janet Louise Johnson, I slowly tuned out; even as an 11-year-old I could sniff out a series that had jumped the tracks. By the time this third season rolled around, now simply monikered The Hardy Boys, I was long gone.
Watching this revamp 35 years later (!), it's not to hard to see why it was probably doomed to fail. As I wrote above, I fell in love with the fictional Hardy Boys through my brothers' collection of books--not my own. Sales of the books had peaked at least ten or more years prior to the launch of this series, so I'm not too sure there was that big of a pre-sold market for this show as ABC might have hoped. Some of singer Shaun Cassidy's minor fame probably fueled initial interest in the show, but he had peaked on the record charts by that first half-season, and as any fickle pre-teen girl will tell you, non-threatening pretty-boy singing idols are as perishable as an egg salad san left out in the sun. So then when the format kept changing--first back-and-forth anthology with Nancy Drew episodes alternating each week; then Nancy as a frequent "guest star" in the Hardy Boys episodes; then a new Nancy, and finally no Nancy at all as the boys turn international spies--it's not surprising that the few kids who did initially follow the show got distracted by other things (there's no overselling the appeal for young female viewers of having Nancy Drew a part of that overall package).
It certainly didn't help that the reboot of the show--the two-part The Last Kiss of Summer--is so patchily put together. Beginning indecipherably at about the one-third mark of the story (why are Joe and Frank in California? How did Joe meet Jaimie?), Joe's and Jaimie's beach/bikini/sunset montage, soaked in 70s Bread-induced ennui, certainly creates a romantic mood for the few remaining little girls in the Shaun Cassidy Fan Club...but honestly, how many of them wanted to see him marry? After all, marriage implies you know...actual sex, and even though Jaimie is thoughtfully bumped off before the two consummate their union (of course they didn't have premarital relations!), Joe's not acting like some cute-boy, wall-poster fantasy figure, but like a real man with some rather ugly implied desires...and that's pretty icky for a pre-teen idol (poor Parker Stevenson is clearly an afterthought here). The Last Kiss of the Summer and the remaining episodes are also just as surprisingly shoddy, with choppy editing and telegraphed scripts that are either results of these (probably) edited transfers...or a producer scrambling to save a sinking ship. Crappy execution, though, never torpedoed a kids show. What killed The Hardy Boys was a combination of its already built-in shelf life, and this reboot, which placed the "boys" (Stevenson was already 25) in adult action-mystery plots that looked like every other generic Mannix/Cannon/Barnaby Jones/Hawaii Five-O go-around. When the hippest, most teen-oriented story The Hardy Boys can muster up is a Edd "Kookie" Byrnes/Pamela Franklin/Nehemiah Persoff two-parter centered around a goddamned David Gates and Bread concert (jesus), you have to figure the guys in charge of the show hadn't talked to a teenager in ten years.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.