'Simon'  a Surprising Survivor

by Jerry Buck

Los Angeles -  By all rights, the CBS series 'Simon & Simon" shouldn't even be on the  air, let alone be a hit.

"Simon & Simon" like the movie "Rocky," got off the canvas and came back a winner.  As a result, it has been renewed for fall.

In the 1981-82 season, its first year on the air, it plummeted to the bottom of the ratings. All that remained was writing its obituary. Then someone at CBS put it on the schedule behind "Magnum P.I.". It reversed directions and  shot to the top of the chart.

Philip DeGuere,  the creator-producer, smiles and says, "It certainly has had an unusual  history."

The decision by  CBS to try to salvage the series is an example of what is happening at all three networks. The networks are sticking with shows that in the past  would have been given the gate because of marginal ratings. Mostly, it's an economic decision.

Sometimes, as  in the case of NBC's "Hill Street Blues" and CBS' "Simon & Simon," it pays off.

"Simon & Simon" stars Jameson Parker and Gerald McRaney as two detective-brothers who are at opposite extremes yet have a sort of mystical Corsican brothers  relationship.

But there is much more to the peregrinations of "Simon & Simon" than its ratings  history.

The show was born about three years ago as "Pirates Key," set in Florida.

"Essentially, I was looking for a comedic relationship of two  males who bicker with each other," DeGuere says. "It grew out of a  conversation with Kim LeMasters (CBS Entertainment vice president for  development). I said, 'What do you want? A modern-day Butch Cassidy and  the Sundance Kid?' So I began to examine the charm of that  film.

"Obviously, you  couldn't have them robbing trains today, but it became apparent that the  good old private eye is a literary hero who stands outside the law."

In the beginning, Parker was an apprentice investigator for a big company and McRaney was an independent private detective. They were not brothers at  first. DeGuere says, "They became brothers because there is no drama or humor without conflict. So what would keep them together despite the conflict? I made them brothers, and the audience would know they would stick together no matter what."

The series was set on a mythical island in the Florida Keys. But the logistics - for  instance, US Hwy. 1 is the only highway in the Keys - and the high costs forced them to shoot on the mainland in Florida. The difficulties of  running a production long distance from Los Angeles also became a factor.

CBS was looking  for a "blue sky adventure," but it settled on Hawaii-based "Magnum, P.I.,"  and "Pirates Key" was dropped.

The show, as it  turned out, was not dead. It became "Simon & Simon" and the locale was moved to San Diego.

When CBS renewed "Simon & Simon" for the current year it decided that San Diego  wasn't "sexy" enough and that it was too limiting. It did not want a  specific locale.

But the folks  in San Diego wouldn't give up. A campaign was organized and the network, Universal Studios and newsmen were inundated with postcards pleading that the show stay in San Diego. The network capitulated.

Despite all  these setbacks, why did the show succeed?

"I think it's a  mix of four or five very interesting elements," DeGuere says, "There's the  chemistry between the two leading characters, and there's the relationship  we writers maintain toward them. I think when we made them brothers, we tapped into a kind of relationship that has never been done on television  before."

© Associated Press, "Chicago Tribune TV Week" July 3-9, 1983. This site is non-profit - I don't make a dime. On the contrary, it is my hope the copyright holders  will make more stuff available so others and I can spend more  money!