TV Guide article

June 8-14, 1985

A hit detective series without strong plots, robust action and heroes in peril?
By Michael Leahy

"We're not doing 'Othello' here." Tim Reid, a co-star of CBS's Simon & Simon, said it, and he should know, because It was his script they were shooting  at Universal Studios that week - another loosely constructed one-hour episode of Implausible plot shifts, facile coincidences and sarcastic exchanges between a devoted brother detective duo as they outsmarted a band of amazingly dimwitted thugs. "You can't tell a cohesive story in 45  minutes and change." blissfully explained executive producer John  Stephens, and coordinating producer Mark Burley brightly added, "The story  is just a vehicle to hang the characters of AJ arid Rick Simon upon." With their eccentricities and glib buddy humor, the characters had become the shows raison d'etre. They were highly likable, and the chemistry between  them was nice, if not scintillating. It was not "Othello" or Playhouse 90 or even Cagney & Lacey that they ware doing but it was indisputably successful, the seventh highest rated show on television. So,  increasingly, the producers were being asked how they had done it.

oh myOn the set, one producer shrugged and  pointed at two figures slumped in director's chairs, heads dawn. "I think,  without those two the show doesn't make it ," said the producer, pointing at Jameson Parker and Gerald McRaney. "Just look at them interact  together."

Actually, at that moment they were not interacting at all. Each man was engrossed in a  set of magazines. McRaney scoured the Hollywood trade publications, while  Parker alternated his attention between the New Yorker and an antiques catalogue. Five minutes later, Parker peered over McRaney's shoulder.

"I'm checking  to see what movies I'm going to go to." said McRaney. "Here's another I want to see when it comes out," and he pointed at a small item about a  picture in production.

Parker snickered: "The film that had to be made: Rambo: First Blood Part II.' Sylvester Stallone. A can't-miss, huh?"

It was something that the highbrow, often elitist A.J. Simon might easily have  said to lowbrow Rick Simon. Parker rolled his eyes and went back to reading The New Yorker. McRaney refers to the magazine as Yankee Snob. It  is what he sometimes calls Parker, too. For his part, Parker needles  McRaney about his retreating hairline and his build, which Is basically on  your skinny side except for a pot belly that McRaney does a nice job at  sucking in whenever Parker gets on his case, which is often. McRaney, who is, at 37, less then a year older than Parker but looks about five,  somberly tells people That his blond, boyish-looking co-star looks so good  because he ingests monkey glands. "You have to sympathize with that kind  of guy," said McRaney compassionately.

They carry on  this way when they are frolicking on the town together with their wives or hunting, 500 miles away, in some wilderness. "You know, I have to look after the pretty boy," said McRaney. Their off-screen friendship,  paralleling as it frequently does their on screen antics, has led some to  believe that it is one of the subtle reasons behind the series' success. "This is like a marriage," said Parker. "You have to work at it."

Yet the  "chemistry" that the producers love to talk about was there from the  beginning when, as strangers viewing each other with mutual dislike and  suspicion, they read a scene together before a small group of executives. "They just played off each other so well," recalled the creator of Simon & Simon and the executive producer at the time, Philip DeGuere. "Plus, I think that they left very comfortable in these roles. "I think there is  a part of Jameson, for instance, that is quite a bit like A.J. I think his friendship with McRaney only added to what they already had."

DeGuere had  created his show around two brothers because he felt that he needed familial bond that would survive even when Rick and A.J. began sniping at  each other over professional foul-ups He also gave the brothers a fiercely  devoted mother. In the process, he received a dimension that he had not  considered. "We were testing the pilot before people who turned knobs to indicate whether they liked what they ware seeing." recalled DeGuere. "The women had their knobs turned way up; they loved what they were seeing -  the presence of a tightknit American family. I was excited, because women  control what is watched in most households."

The success of what they were making could best be seen In the geography. Simon &  Simon scored respectably in major urban markets, but where the series thrived was in the "C and D counties," as marketing analysts labeled them, smaller cities and rural areas, often in the Midwest and the South, where series with some sense of family had traditionally done well. "I think  there were many people out there," explained DeGuere, "who were craving a reinforcement of old values, family and otherwise, that had been kind of tattered over time. Simon & Simon was reassuring to them. Watching it,  you were laughing and it was all very light, but some of the family stuff was right there just beneath the laughs and the action."

In 1982, DeGuere, realizing the 'visceral elements he had stumbled upon, was  careful not to make too much of them. "This was never intended to be a show about serious themes." DeGuere said. "This was to be simply a romp,  something strictly entertaining where the audience would have fun. I didn't want to be trivializing all kinds of social problems."

After DeGuere  left the series last year in a series of disputes with. Universal Studios, successor Stephens continued to follow the DeGuere philosophy. "We try to write scenes that accentuate the chemistry between A.J. and Rick," said  Stephens. "We don't go in for a lot of car crashes and special effects. We never have downbeat endings, and we don't place A.J. or Rick in peril  often, because the audience knows that they'll get out of it anyway. You  can't take it too seriously. Remember it's a romp."

Can you say His words came to mind on the set of Universal  studios where Jameson Parker was concerned about his character's  motivation in a scene. "What is this guy doing?' he asked the director, Vincent McEveety, while pointing at the script.

McEveety grinned. "I don't know."

The plot line, as usual, was strictly Grade B. What you usually got from a Simon &  Simon episode were a few funny, even inspired, exchanges, like the one  after a beautiful and apparently promiscuous client of the Simons had concluded her first meeting with them by giving Rick a long, soulful kiss, fraught with promise of lust to come. The brothers watched her walk away,  open-mouthed.

RICK: I'm  telling you, A.J., there's a notch on her bedpost with my name on it. AJ: Rick, the woman Is a renowned carnivore. She'll exploit you for her own  pleasure. She'll use you.

RICK:  (gleefully): Yeah...

Jameson Parker,  who In real life drives a Ford pickup truck, knows that the ambiance engendered by the Camaro, along with its symbolic importance, counts for a  great deal. "The ambiance is in marry ways responsible for our success,"  he said. "I think we could capitalize upon it to do a few more serious  shows, Because we do some that are pure froth. This year we did an episode  about drug abuse that I think was good, though there was some controversy. You should ask Mackie about that. He directed it."

Mackie is a  nickname for Gerald McRaney, who, the next day, was sitting in a T-shirt  in his dressing trailer, talking about why the drug-abuse episode had been  so important to him. "It was substantial; it had to do with things that  are really happening," he said. "The controversy for me came when the network wouldn't allow us to put phone numbers of drug abuse clinics at the end of the episode. They said, 'You're not supposed to do a message.' I fought that battle and lost but, even so, I think we could do a few more serious episodes."

Now it was the last day of shooting for Parker and McRaney, and the mood on the set was  giddy. "Get as tightly together as you can while playing this scene," director McEveety commanded them, and the actors put their arms around  each other and burst into an impromptu harmony.

Even McEveety  laughed. It look a while to get everyone quiet, and then they went ahead  and shot the scene in one take. Maybe it was fluff, and maybe it was  slickly contrived, as some critics insisted, but it was fun, too, a nice place to be. "Viewers like to see a romp with nice people," said Stephens  simply, and that is probably as good an explanation of Simon &  Simon's success as any.

 

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