Mannix was a detective series that ran from 1967 to 1975 on CBS. Created by Richard Levinson and William Link and developed by executive producer Bruce Geller, the title character, Joe Mannix, was a private investigator played by Mike Connors. It was the last series produced by Desilu Productions.
“A private eye—in the classical tradition,” was Joe Mannix’s unassuming self-description, which he offered with a dry smile. This throwaway line from an early episode became a well-worn meme in later ad campaigns for the show. But it captured the essence and ethos of Mannix, a just-the-facts-ma'am detective drama that would serve as the template for a torrent of early '70s crime series. Cannon was the fat private dick, Barnaby Jones the old one, Longstreet the blind one. Mannix was the original.
In Season One Joe Mannix worked for a large Los Angeles detective agency called Intertect — which at one time was going to be the title of the show. His superior was Lew Wickersham, (Joseph Campanella) with the agency relying on computers to help solve crimes.
Wickersham’s name was a pun/mashup based on a person — Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman — and a street — Lankershim Boulevard, off of which the main entrance to Universal Studios lay. In 1959, Universal had been bought by MCA, a talent agency with a cutthroat reputation. Many MCA agents became Universal executives, and wore corporate uniforms of black suits and ties. MCA president Wasserman was infamous for his bad temper and his never-cluttered desk (paper was for peons, after all). By the late ’60s, Universal had built itself into the biggest TV factory in Hollywood, conducting business out of a sinister, glass slab known as “The Black Tower.” It was also the first studio that kept track of its employees with computer punch cards. Link and Levinson, who'd written for Alfred Hitchcock Presents there, wove these inside-baseball details into Mannix and Intertect.
As opposed to the other employees who must wear dark suits and sit in rows of desks with only one piece of paper permitted on their desk at one time, Mannix was a throwback, a classic American detective archetype who usually ignored the computers' solutions, disobeyed his boss's orders and invariably did things his own way. He wears plaid sport coats and has his own office that he keeps sloppy between his assignments. Lew has cameras in all the rooms of Intertect monitoring the performance of his employees and providing instant feedback through intercoms in the room. Unlike the other Intertect operatives, Mannix attempts to block the camera with a coat rack and insults Lew, comparing him to Big Brother.
To improve the ratings of the show, Desilu head Lucille Ball and producer Bruce Geller brought in some changes making the show similar to other private eye shows. Lucille Ball thought the computers were too high tech and beyond comprehension for the average viewer of the time and had them removed.
And so in an episode near the end of Season One — “You Can Get Killed Out There” — Joe and Lew's differences reach a crisis point, and Joe leaves Intertect rather than take an assignment. The next episode, “Another Final Exit” has him cutting all ties with the soulless company. Few viewers seem to recall the first season, and that's no surprise — it was rarely syndicated with the others.
From Season Two on, Mannix was a free agent, aided by loyal secretary Peggy Fair, a police officer's widow played by Gail Fisher – one of the first African-American actresses to have a regular series role. He also has assistance from the L.A. police department, the two most prominent officers being Lieutenant Art Malcolm (Ward Wood) and Lieutenant Adam Tobias (Robert Reed). Other police sources included Lieutenant George Kramer (Larry Linville), the partner of Peggy's late husband, and Lieutenant Dan Ives (Jack Ging).
While Mannix was not generally known as a show that explored socially relevant topics, several episodes had topical themes, starting in Season Two. In Season Two alone, there were episodes featuring compulsive gambling, deaf and blind characters that were instrumental in solving cases in spite of their physical limitations, and episodes that focused on racism against blacks and Hispanics. Season Six had an episode focusing on the effects the Vietnam War had on returning veterans, including the effects of PTSD.
In the 1969 season, he also employed the services of a competitive private investigator, Albie Loos (Joe Mantell) as a sort of investigative gofer. In 1972, Albie would return, only played by a different actor (Milton Selzer).
Mannix was a regular guy, without pretense, who has a store of proverbs to rely upon in conversation. What demons he has mostly come from having fought in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, where he was initially listed as MIA while he was a prisoner of war in a brutal POW camp until he escaped. Unfortunately, over the length of the series, a sizable percentage of his old Army comrades turn out to have homicidal impulses against him, as did his fellow running back from his college football days. During the series, it is also revealed that Mannix worked as a mercenary in Latin America. Like the actor who plays him, Mannix is of Armenian descent. Mannix was shown to speak fluent Armenian during the series as well as conversational Spanish.
He was renowned for taking punishment. Over the course of the show, Mannix was shot and/or wounded over a dozen times, knocked unconscious more than 50 times, frequently took brutal hits to the gut, often for quite extended periods of time by existing TV standards. Mannix was a violent show. Whenever he gets into one of his convertibles, Mannix can count on being shot at from another car, run off the road by another car, or find his own car sabotaged. Still, he keeps his cool and perseveres until his foes are defeated. While making the television pilot “The Name is Mannix”, Connors dislocated his shoulder running away in a From Russia With Love-type pursuit with a helicopter, and broke his left wrist punching a stuntman who was, unbeknownst to him, wearing a steel plate.
Starting in Season Two, Mannix lived at 17 Paseo Verde, in West Los Angeles. Mannix grew up in a town called Summer Grove, where he was a star football and basketball player. Summer Grove had a thriving Armenian immigrant community. As of 1969, Mannix's mother had died ten years earlier, and Mannix had not been back to the town since the funeral. Mannix's estranged father, Stefan, was still alive and still living in Summer Grove, and Mannix and his father would start a reconciliation. When Mannix returned to Summer Grove for a case three years later, he and his father were on good terms. Following military service in the Korean War, Mannix attended Western Pacific University on the GI Bill, graduated in 1955 and obtained his private investigator's license in 1956. He is a black belt in Karate. Throughout the series, he appears proficient in a variety of athletic pursuits, including sailing, horseback riding, and skiing. He was an accomplished pool player, he practiced golf regularly and was also a skilled airplane pilot.
Gary Morton, the husband of Lucille Ball and head of Desilu Studios, noticed a 1937 Bentley convertible being driven by Mike Connors. A car enthusiast, Morton began talking about cars to Connors when he remembered a Desilu detective show coming up that he thought Connors would do well in.
Mannix featured dynamic split-screen opening credits set to theme music by composer Lalo Schifrin. Unusual for a private detective series, the Mannix theme is in triple time, a waltz signature.
Several famous entertainers were featured in guest roles roles throughout the series, including Neil Diamond and Buffalo Springfield as themselves and Lou Rawls as a club singer, Rich Little as an impressionist and Milton Berle as a stand-up comedian. Essay humorist Art Buchwald also had a cameo role unrelated to journalism and, in another episode, Rona Barrett played herself.
Mannix ran for eight seasons and, strangely, was still in the Top 20 when it was axed, due apparently to a falling-out between Paramount (which had bought Desilu, and its shows) and CBS over late-night syndication of the series, which the network feared would cut into new episodes’ ratings. Plans for a TV-movie redux of Mannix, seemingly obligatory for a hit show from the ’70s, took a fatal hit when Bruce Geller was killed in a plane crash in 1978, although Connors reprised the character in a sentimental 1997 Diagnosis: Murder episode that gathered three surviving guest stars for a sequel to the episode “Little Girl Lost.”