Burke's Law

Burke's Law was a detective show that ran three years on ABC, from 1963 to 1965, achieved a cult following after its demise, and lived to air another day, on another network, CBS, in the '90s. It starred Gene Barry as Amos Burke, the urbane, millionaire captain of an L.A. police homicide division, who solved crimes while being chauffeured around town in his Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II. While the original series was converted to a spy drama in its last season, the revived series returned to its cop show roots.

The title of each episode started with the tease “Who Killed...?” with the victim's name finishing the question (said victim always died in the show's opening minutes). A slate of “special guest stars” made up the episode's suspects.

In the original show, Burke was aided by Detectives Tim Tilson (Gary Conway) and Les Hart (Regis Toomey) and by chauffeur Henry (Leon Lontoc). Other recurring characters included coroner George McLeod (Michael Fox) and comely desk sergeant Gloria Ames (Eileen O'Neill). Tilson was a young go-getter whose aptitude for investigating seemed never to solve any murders, since he was always bested by Burke's suave intuition. Hart was a no-nonsense, been-there/done-that veteran, in what was perhaps a nod to actor Toomey's many cop roles in feature films.

A guest appearance by Anne Francis, as female detective Honey West, spawned a brief spin-off series.

The Amos Burke character actually preceded Burke's Law by a couple of years; it was first played by Dick Powell on the opening episode of The Dick Powell Show in 1961. The first version of the series was produced by Four Star Television, Powell's production company. Like its successor, the episode featured a number of well-known TV and movie stars in cameo roles as suspects – one of whom was the murderer (in the original Dick Powell show, Ronald Reagan was one of the suspects).

In the third and last season of the original series (1965–1966), the show was completely overhauled and retitled Amos Burke, Secret Agent. Burke went to work for a secret government agency, but still drove around in his Rolls, which was prudently bulletproofed by the agency. The supporting characters of the earlier seasons were jettisoned. The change in formula was an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the studio to profit from the hugely popular spy trend touched off by the James Bond films, along with the TV success of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. (That year also saw the debuts of I Spy, The Wild Wild West, and Get Smart.) Audience reaction to Secret Agent Amos Burke was tepid, and only 17 episodes of the new show were made (compared to the 32 of the first two years).

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