Formula for a hit: Match one slob and one sophisticate and let boil. No recipe is
foolproof, but the mixing of characters with contrasting lifestyles is a reliable pattern in show business - the stage, movie and television versions of "The Odd Couple" being prime examples.
And it has worked again. "Simon & Simon," an hour-long drama about two brothers who operate a detective agency, is winding up a third highly rated season.
plays AJ Simon, the button-down ambitious member of the team. Gerald McRaney is Rick Simon, the grubby older brother who regards detective work as a temporary means of solving his towering financial problems.
A confrontation in a recent episode was typical. AJ was upset because the phone company had shut off service to their office.
"What do you mean, you 'forgot' to pay the bill?" AJ asked.
"Aw, well, I didn't know the little blue card was a final warning."
"What did you think when they sent us a pink card and then a red card!"
"I didn't think they were serious! Relax. I'll give 'em their money and we'll have a phone again tomorrow...or the next day."
The arguments between the brothers never amount to much, because there's always some
distressed person at the door, pleading for them to take over where the police have fumbled. In their confident, low-key way, they move in.
Part of the charm of the series is that the plots tend to be a little offbeat. Obscure might be the word. One night Simon & Simon were being harassed by John
Dillinger, a Public Enemy No. 1 from the 1930s.
Now most folks
believe that Dillinger was killed by FBI agents in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago a half-century ago, but somebody was killing people gangster-style in the '80s and a Dillinger fingerprint was found at the scene of one of the crimes...
No use giving the plot away, because it will come up in reruns someday. "Simon & Simon" appears likely to follow in the flatfoot-steps of
"Rockford," "Barnaby Jones," and "Hart to Hart" in the late-night hours.
Viewers often wonder if there is much similarity between actors and the roles they play
in TV series. Philip DeGuere, executive producer of "Simon & Simon," was asked about the off-camera personalities of the title characters.
"Oh, I suspect
that subconsciously a producer is influenced by what type of actor he's considering for certain parts," DeGuere said. "For the Rick Simon role, for instance, we wouldn't have been likely to pick a Brooks Brothers type.
"It's true, however, that if a person plays a role long enough, it can influence his behavior. I hear that Jack Klugman began to think he really was a doctor
after a couple of years of 'Quincy'."
One of the real-life interests of actors Parker and McRaney is a factor in their series, according to DeGuere. They are both avid gun collectors.
"As a result, we are particularly careful about the use of firearms in the show," the
producer said. "The actors insist that guns be used correctly and safely."
The only other characters on "Simon & Simon" that
could be described as regulars are the detectives' mother, played by Mary Carver, and Tim Reid, who plays Downtown Brown, an undercover police lieutenant. Reid, who was disk jockey
Venus Flytrap on "WKRP," joined the show this season.
Brown has an uncomplicated arrangement with the private detective team, which is based on a simple understanding: "You do for me, and I'll do for you."
The compact cast gives "Simon & Simon" a flexibility, according to DeGuere, that is absent in shows that have a large group of recurring roles.
"When there are numerous actors who insist that they be involved each week," DeGuere said, "you
are restricted in your choice of stories. But we can build an episode around some guest star, if we want to, and not worry about including scenes for other people.
"When a show is a success, the producers can stretch their creative muscles and
not worry. If you have an established audience, they'll tune in next week, even if you have a bummer once in a while."
There have been a few changes in the basic story line of "Simon & Simon" since its
inception, DeGuere said. The only important switch, he believes, was to drop the pretense that the detectives are struggling for survival.
"After three years, it would be hard to swallow that. We go on the assumption that the Simon & Simon agency is well known now and that attorneys refer clients to
them for work outside normal police activity."
Production of the show has run smoothly, according to DeGuere, but the company is concerned now about the problems that the Olympic Games will present to TV
shows that are filmed in Los Angeles.
"The Olympics are going to take over the city for nearly a month," he said, "with
travel heavily restricted. We've been told, for example, that some of the freeways will be closed at various times.
"When we change locations, it means 30 or 40 vehicles moving somewhere quickly, so we'll have to find an alternative. Right now, we're checking out Paris,
where we might do a 2-hour opening episode for next fall."
A less exciting alternative would be to escape the Olympics by switching to San
Diego, where "Simon & Simon" is supposed to be taking place. AJ might suggest it, but Rick would veto that dumb idea in a hurry.