So I was kind of surprised when I tuned in an hour or two ago and found RTN showing in The Bold Ones’ time-slot a fairly forgotten crime drama entitled Sarge, which starred George Kennedy as a former homicide detective turned man of the cloth. It premiered in the fall of 1971 on NBC’s Tuesday night schedule at 8:30pm—but its competition (CBS’ Hawaii Five-O) was so formidable that the network moved it back an hour in November and it still got its ass kicked (by Glen Campbell, believe it or don’t). The inspiration for the series came from a TV-movie that had been shown earlier that year entitled The Badge or the Cross, which laid out the “origin” of Kennedy’s character (his wife having been killed, “Sarge” Swanson retires to the priesthood, and several years later discovers her killer at the parish to which he’s been assigned…only to learn that he was gunning for Swanson), and a week before the series’ official premiere there was a special entitled The Priest Killer which allowed Swanson (now christened Father Samuel Cavanaugh) to work alongside Chief of Detectives Robert Ironside (Raymond Burr) in the hunt for a serial killer croaking priests. (Ironside was to be the lead-in for Sarge, so NBC promoted the new series with this team-up that also featured Don Galloway and Don Mitchell in their Ironside roles as Det. Sgt. Ed Brown and Mark Sanger.)
The episode of Sarge that was shown today was one of the installments from the short-lived series’ “homestretch”: “A Bad Case of Monogamy” (11/23/71) stars Monte Markham as an ex-con who’s becoming a pain in the ass to his ex-wife (Arlene Golonka—and you know, now that I’ve found out that Sam Johnson can’t tell the difference between Golonka and Sue Ane Langdon, I don’t feel so bad about the Betsy Blair thing) and her new husband (David Sheiner) because he claims to be a strict Catholic and in the eyes of the Church, he’s still married to her (despite their divorce). Markham’s out to provoke Sheiner into a fist-fight, and Golonka—who only earlier expressed to “Sarge” that she was in fear of her life now that he’s out—isn’t helping much because she’s hooked back up with Markham, insisting “he’s changed.” I’m not quite certain how this constitutes a crime (not that Kennedy’s character could do anything about it in the first place) and I’m definitely flummoxed by the fact that Sheiner never considered getting a protection order to keep Markham from sniffing around—but the conclusion of this story is pretty hard to swallow, even if Sheiner’s character is a real toothache of a man. I don’t like to judge series on the basis of seeing one episode, but I’m starting to understand how this one drew its rations fairly early in its run.
The thing I’m curious about is—did Universal make Sarge part of The Bold Ones’ syndication package in an attempt to “beef up” the number of available episodes? (Bold Ones’ total output numbered eighty-six installments, and I’ve heard that one hundred shows is the ideal number to “strip” these series five days a week, which would allow Sarge to fit like a glove with its fourteen episodes.) It wouldn’t be the first time Universal did this; they took a chainsaw to some hour-long episodes of The Sixth Sense (a supernatural-themed series starring Gary Collins and Catherine Ferrar that had a brief run on ABC in 1972) and presented them along with the Night Gallery episodes they also hacked up into half-hour form; Paramount also burned off episodes of the short-lived Barefoot in the Park sitcom in their Love, American Style package. Perhaps Mike “Mr. Television” Doran or Brent “Child of Television” McKee can answer this one—I’m anxious to know whether or not I guessed correctly.