Tightrope was an American crime drama that ran on CBS, from September 1959 to September 1960. It starred Mike Connors as undercover agent Nick Stone, whose specialty was infiltrating criminal gangs. In each 30-minute episode he'd worm his way into their confidence as they planned a big job, then deftly escape in the confusion at the end when the regular cops swooped in to bust things up.
In a nice film noir touch, Stone would narrate each episode. Because the police frequently had no idea he was working for the law, Nick often found himself in danger from both the good and the bad guys (in fact in one episode, a cop who didn't know Connors was working undercover did actually shoot him).
Nick also liked to carry two guns, because experience had taught him that both cops and crooks stopped frisking him after finding the first piece.
Despite the show's popularity, it was canceled after one season. In an interview, Connors recalled that the show's sponsor refused CBS's request to move it to a later time slot on a different day. CBS held firm in its plans, and the sponsor walked, eventually underwriting another show on another network. The network also wanted to change the show's format, giving Stone a sidekick and increasing the length of each episode to an hour. Connors opposed both changes, saying they would take away Tightrope's element of suspense. Yet another factor: complaints concerning the show's supposedly excessive violence (an issue that would crop up again for Connors in Mannix).
The show was heavily edited for syndication, but lost much of its edginess in the process.
In its brief time on the air, Tightrope also featured many fine ending sequences depicting a lonely Connors walking the city streets at night narrating his thoughts. This was no small thing, and part of what gave the show its highly distinctive appeal.
The producers were pulp melodrama masters Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, writers of the brilliant Edmond O'Brien thriller “DOA”. They also won an Oscar for “Pillow Talk”, and were responsible for both the fine Glenn Ford western “The Fastest Gun Alive” and the less worthy but still entertaining Stephen Boyd turn, “The Oscar”.
Tightrope's creator was screenwriter Ben Maddow ("The Asphalt Jungle"). The show drew inspiration from the experiences of a real cop, who appeared on "To Tell the Truth" the week before Tightrope premiered.
Guest stars included Kent Taylor, Richard Jaeckel, Gerald Mohr, Robert Lowery, Whitney Blake, Connie Hines, Paula Raymond, Jean Byron, Barbara Bain, Paul Burke, Karen Steele, Ed Nelson, Leslie Parrish, Mike Road, Ruta Lee and June Vincent.
Two hour-long pilots were made in the early '60s in an attempt to revive the show. The first was "The New Tightrope" and the second was “The Expendables”. Both starred Connors. Neither captured the appeal and dynamism of the original.
One more attempt came, in 1972, with a movie pilot called “Man on a String”. It featured Christopher George (“Rat Patrol”, “The Immortal”) as a dirty cop who's tossed in jail. Of course it's just a ruse to get George undercover. Noted director Joseph Sargent (“Tribes”, the “Longstreet” movie pilot, “The Marcus Nelson Murders”) helmed an impressive cast that included Keith Carradine, Joel Grey and Jack Warden. Ben Maddow again took up the writing duties. But it was to no avail; nothing came of it.
In the end, “Tightrope” was one of those very sad cases where the creators hit the mark perfectly on the first try, but never again.