Wednesday, January 2, 2008

T.H.E. Best TV Show You've Never Seen

In 1966 the spy craze was at a fever pitch. The godfather of them all, James Bond, was in between the previous year's release of 'Thunderball', with 'You Only Live Twice' waiting in the wings. 'Our Man Flint' proved to be a popular competitor, while on the small screen, viewers could enjoy the campy 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.' or frontier secret service in the 'Wild Wild West'.

I was six years old in 1966. Not old enough to go to the movies, but old enough to watch tv and have a few shows logged in my impressionable mind. While I always had a fondness for 'Wild Wild West' and enjoyed the first season of 'Man From U.N.C.L.E. (where they played it straight), the show that continues to rank as one of the best adventure shows I've ever watched, only aired one season on NBC, but enjoys a small but devoted cult following, is T.H.E. Cat, starring Robert Loggia.

Loggia stars as Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat, a reformed cat burglar who makes a living as a professional bodyguard. Based in San Francisco, Cat drives a Black Corvette, generally wears all black and operates out of a jazz club called El Gato (The Cat), run by his gypsy friend, Pepe.

Created by Harry Julian Fink, who also created Clint Eastwood's laconic 'Dirty' Harry Callahan, T.H.E. Cat quickly carved out it's own unique style. While only 30 minutes per episode, and in color, the show had a unique film noir feel, with dark shadows and peculiar angles framing the action. And the action! Loggia did all of his own stunts and quite a bit of martial arts were on display in surprisingly brutal fashion for prime time television.

The music was another memorable asset of the show. Famed composer Lalo Schifrin (theme to Mission:Impossible) crafted the jazzy, mysterious theme and accompanying score. Interestingly, watching various episodes of T.H.E. Cat, I found several music cues that Schifrin repurposed throughout his score for Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon".

Never released on VHS or DVD, bootlegs, generally in black and white are around online and at comic book shows. You can see the intro to the show on YouTube. Recently there's been talk of NBC bringing the show back with Billy Zane (Titantic, The Phantom) in the lead. If that comes to pass, perhaps the original will receive a proper dvd release. In the meantime, if you run across the original, it will be a well spent 30 minutes of your time, especially if you find the episode featuring Robert Duvall as a competitive adventurer known as 'Scorpio'!

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