Right off the bat, let’s applaud the greats things done by Quincy M. E., the hit US TV show which ran from 1976 through to 1983 under Universal Television/NBC.
Quincy showed actual forensic procedure – the first TV show of its kind to do so. Prior to this, medical examiners looked at fingerprints for five seconds and then disappeared off screen. With Quincy, we learned about autopsies, laboratory tests, and genuine crime scene investigations (albeit without sexy acronyms as yet).
It promoted a profound social agenda and led to open dialogue and a change in federal laws on key issues, which included unions, abuse, and malpractice. Episodes like:
- Give Me Your Weak (s08 e03) which resulted in 1983’s Orphan Drug Act
- Suffer the Little Children (s08 e21) and A Good Smack in the Mouth (s02 e08) – both dealt with child abuse
- Valleyview (s02 e12) – tackled the issue of elder abuse
- Accomplice to Murder (s03 e16) – which highlighted domestic violence. I spoke with Jack Klugman in the late 90s, and he cited this episode as one of the proudest moments of his life, as it led to an increase both in public awareness and legislation, and to the establishment of more purpose-built shelters.
It inspired a generation of shows like CSI and NCIS and established the once radical two-hour pilot episode format.
Over 148 episodes Jack Klugman played an irascible, hard-headed, soft-hearted Los Angeles County medical examiner, aka a forensic pathologist. Each week he butted heads with boss Dr Robert Asten (John S. Ragin) and Lieutenant Frank Monahan of the LAPD’s homicide department (Garry Wahlberg). Each week he, and he alone, held the vital clues and argued the case against all the odds – and won convictions.
As with most non-detective detective TV shows, you did start to wonder why the police even bothered to turn up. (See Dick van Dyke as paediatrician turned sleuth in Diagnosis Murder or William Petersen as, you guessed it, forensic pathologist turned crime-solver in CSI.)
Next Stop, Nowhere
Each week Asten and Monahan identified their suspect in a cut and dried open and shut case. Each week Quincy screamed at them for 55 of the 60-minute format. And Quincy proved right – every single time.
Apart from infamous must-see episode – Next Stop, Nowhere, which aired on December 1st, 1982.
Behold the premise – young punk Zack (uncredited) slam dances the night away at the Ground Zero and winds up with an ice pick in the back of his neck. He’s no Trotsky, but the police have the murder weapon and tonnes of fingerprints to boot, so they can find the murderer and the job is done.
And then Quincy steps in.
Initial suspicion falls on Zack’s naïve girlfriend Abby (Melora Hardin), who receives psychiatric counselling from Quincy’s girlfriend Dr Emily Hanover (Anita Gilette). We know that Abby is a troubled teen because she wears black lipstick, mopes on her bed a lot, and listens to Mayhem, the house band at Ground Zero, a club which boasts full lighting and seating, and where everyone seems to enjoy a full conversation without the need to yell in each other’s ears. I’ve never seen a club where the punters consume vast quantities of illegal substances under full strip lighting, but there you go.
But, as Emily insists, and Quincy later agrees, Abby belongs to a new generation of troubled teens. Why, he pleads, those hippies did something about the world! Those beatniks changed things! These punkers (his words not mine) listen to music about death and murder and nihilism.
This Man’s Been Zapped By the Brain Police!
“This music is killing the kids!” he shouts, live, and on air.
I may suffer from amnesia here, but I thought drugged-up Hell’s Angels murdered Meredith Hunter in the crowd at Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969, no? And did young Beat author Lucien Carr not kill his Columbia college professor David Kammerer in Riverside Park ? But no. Quincy goes on record that punk kills people.
An interjection here, if you will. At this point in the proceedings, Quincy listens to around 5 minutes of Mayhem on stage at Ground Zero. Based on this, he declares punk as the evil to end all evils and goes on a media crusade.
Now Mayhem sound awful, I’ll give him that, but like bands such as the MC5 and The Stooges before them, they don’t say anything new or radical. God only knows the apoplexy Quincy would endure if he’d stuck around for Cop Killer. I shudder to think.
The whole episode manages to come off as both ridiculous and offensive at the same time, with Quincy as the same sort of reactionary straight man as Edward Woodward’s character in The Wicker Man, who blunders into a situation he knows nothing about, and yet still shouts the odds as to what is right and what is wrong.
In actual fact, it transpires that fellow punk Molly (Karlene Crockett) – who looks more like a Goth with white face paint and black lips – killed Zack under the haze of drugs. So you can blame drugs, not music – right justified anger from Quincy, wrong social ill.
Next Stop, Nowhere boasts a massive following, and until Quincy came out on DVD in 2005, this episode proved almost impossible to track down. Critics point to a jump the shark moment. But in all honesty, the last couple of series of the show displayed a slow descent from a platform to change society to plain and simple old fart preaching. It feels so out of touch, so well-meaning Uncle who tries to be hip.
I Believe That the Music I Heard is a Killer
Other examples of this, some more risible than others, include the portrayal of flower children in The Lucy Show, the dreadful punk song in CHIPs episode Battle of the Bands, Dragnet’s Blue Boy, and it pains me to say so but pretty much all of The Mod Squad.
Producers modelled the character of Quincy in part on Thomas Noguchi, the so-called Coroner to the Stars. Noguchi served as the Chief Medical Examiner/Coroner for the County of Los Angeles and handled such autopsies as Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy, Sharon Tate, Natalie Wood, and John Belushi.
Throughout his tenure from 1967 to 1982, he spoke to the media about high profile cases (unauthorised and unofficially), and moonlighted a fair bit, much like the fictional Quincy.
Inspiration also came from the novel Where Death Delights by Marshall Houts, and the Canadian television series Wojeck, which starred legendary Blaxploitation actor John Vernon.
Quincy debuted as four 90 minute episodes in the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie series of 1976. This season also included Colombo, McCloud, and McMillan (previously McMillan and Wife).
Jack Klugman reprised his Broadway role as Oscar Madison in ABC’s The Odd Couple, which ran from 1970 to 1975. A prolific star of stage, film, and television, Klugman died on December 24th, 2012.