Thomas Banacek (played by George Peppard) was a suave, debonair, freelance insurance investigator who specialized in taking on impossible theft cases at twice the normal insurance company recovery fee.

See the Banacek Show Intro

He was well-known for his idiomatic Polish sayings, which, though peculiar, had a curious and penetrating logic to them:

  • “Though the hippopotamus has no sting, the wise man would prefer to be sat upon by the bee.”
  • “A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a unicorn.”
  • “If a wolf is after your sleigh, throw him a raisin cookie — but don't stop to bake him a cake.”
  • “Just because the cat has her kittens in the oven doesn't make them biscuits.”
  • “You can read all the books in the library my son, but the cheese will still stink after four days.”
  • “No matter how warm the smile on the face of the Sun, the cat still has her kittens under the porch.”

The show ran for two seasons in the early '70s. At the end of a typical episode, Banacek's chauffeur Jay Drury (Ralph Manza) would often ask him “What does it mean, Boss?” Drury himself was never at a loss for a possible solution to a case, but Banacek always shot it down. Another long-running gag was for other characters in the show to mispronounce his name, often on purpose.

Banacek often turned to rare-bookstore owner Felix Mulholland (Murray Matheson) and/or his sometime lover Carlie Kirkland (Christine Belford) for help in finding obscure information that helped him solve his cases.

His investigatory talents allowed him to live well. In addition to his limo and driver, he drove an antique 1941 Packard convertible, and lived in a mansion on Beacon Hill in Boston. He had a mobile phone in each of his cars at a time when such things were rare and costly. Brilliant, educated, and cultured, Banacek was also an unapologetic ladies man who enjoyed the company of beautiful women — but he was street-smart too, and knew how to handle himself in a fight.

There was always an ambitious insurance agent trying to beat Banacek to the prize (and thus save the insurance company Banacek's hefty fee). The most notable of these was Carlie Kirkland (Christine Belford). Her technique was simple: she got close to Banacek to learn what he learned in the course of an investigation, then tried to recover the stolen item just ahead of Banacek. Banacek, of course, was fully aware of this, but was so good at what he did that he ended up winning anyway.

The TV critics liked Banacek, but in the two years it was on the air, it never got the breakthrough ratings it might have. In the end the show was a casualty of the troubled personal life of its star. Peppard quit Banacek before it could be renewed by NBC for a third reason. Why? He didn't want his ex-wife, Elizabeth Ashley, to get a larger percentage of his earnings as part of their divorce settlement.