Currently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and several online outlets, : A Complete Viewer’s Guide to the Classic Eighties Action Series is an extensive look into the series that aired on ABC from 1983-86 — featuring complete summaries of all 67 episodes, favorite quotes, the creation of the Coyote X, an unproduced script from future CSI scribe Carol Mendelshon from the final season, the foundations of H&M, and much more.
Garrett Godwin: The show focused on the relationship between its two male leads and their relationship. Most of their crime-fighting adventures involve stumbling into trouble as well as helping out family and friends. I may be confused, but wasn’t the premise of the show supposed to be them going after 200 defendants that walked out of Hardcastle’s courtroom while he was judge?
Cheri deFonteny: Going after the ‘ones that got away’ makes for an interesting premise, but impractical in the ongoing development of a weekly series. Growth of the characters, through creation of backstory and development of the relationship, could be accomplished more easily without the need to conform to a rigid format of dealing with existing known criminals who had once appeared before Hardcastle. The infamous files quickly became just a backdrop and a place to dig up some much needed background information on the bad guys. But as you say, the relationship was the real point of the show; where the cases came from was almost incidental.
GG: Was the series a show advocating vigilante justice? Why or why not?
Cheri: The series was a show advocating civic responsibility, personal accountability, and a faith in the system that governs and supports us all. And, if it turns out that the system itself is part of the problem, then the show made clear again and again that no one is above the law. ‘Vigilante justice’ is a term that gets bandied about pretty quickly anytime there’s a private citizen involved in pursuing plain old justice, but it certainly did not apply in this instance. Milton Hardcastle–the character most frequently accused of vigilantism– was never presented as a flawless character, incapable of human errors in judgment, but he was always presented as a man of honor who valued truth, life, and the importance of continuing to serve the law he had sworn to uphold decades earlier. None of that is in keeping with the idea of vigilante justice.
GG: Why is it that Hardcastle & McCormick hasn’t had the same impact on pop culture like The Rockford Files and The A-Team? The show has action/adventure, mystery/suspense, and humor mixed with character-driven stories — the ingredients of a hit show from Stephen J. Cannell.
Cheri: See your later question about scheduling; it’s difficult for any show to find a sizable following if the viewers can’t find it. On the other hand, it’s also true that history is filled with proof that there really is no reliable way to predict what type of show will strike that elusive spark in the American psyche. To be sure, if I had the key to identifying the secret to broadcast success, I’d be sitting in a big office today, planning out my network’s fall lineup.
GG: In my opinion, The A-Team are considered as modern-day Robin Hoods-gunfighters: going from town to town, taking on the bad guys and defending those that can’t fight for themselves — though wanted by the law. Do you consider H&M in the likes of The Lone Ranger & Tonto, Batman & Robin, and The Green Hornet & Kato: a Western duo “riding the plains, dispensing justice” anywhere?
Cheri: It’s an enduring archetype– the honorable hero with an equally honorable sidekick, working to right wrongs. Cannell didn’t invent the framework of this type of character dynamic, but he was certainly a master of it. And it worked for Hardcastle and McCormick for the same reason it worked for Batman and Robin and all the others: because people want to believe that the good guys win, especially if they’re a little bit like me and you, and the closest they get to super powers is a fast car and an unbelievable lucky streak when it comes to dodging bullets. But I also think this pair worked a little better than the others because of one or two key differences: first, this duo evolved into a true partnership over the course of time. Call it a friendship, or father-son relationship, or whatever, but what started out as an imbalance of power slowly became equality. And second, because riding the plains was just something they did on the way to that equality. The true adventure here was watching these two characters move from animosity to respect and beyond.
GG: During its three-year run, the show moved to Sundays, Wednesdays, and Monday nights, which may have made it harder for them to find an audience — considering H&M was up against shows such as Knight Rider and Murder, She Wrote. In your opinion, do you think ABC gave the show a chance, or not?
Cheri: No, not even close. Of course, there’s no guarantee that a consistent time slot and a little faith from the network would’ve resulted in a bigger audience, but it sure couldn’t have hurt. But from the viewer’s perspective, television has long been an industry with little patience, demanding results quickly, regardless of the circumstances. In these days of greater competition for a shrinking viewing audience, that trend continues or worsens. This season alone, ABC has canceled Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, and Life on Mars, none of which were truly given an opportunity to build an audience, though all of them managed to do it anyway. The problem for them is exactly as it was for Hardcastle and McCormick; the loyal audience simply wasn’t big enough, and the network found it easier to move on to something new than risk staying with a product that hadn’t immediately proven its worth.
GG: There was a late-night CBS show that aired in the early 90s called Dark Justice, in which the main character is a judge by day and vigilante by night, as he assembles of a team to go after criminals who have gotten off on legal loopholes. Do you believe that the show was influenced by H&M?
Cheri: I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen Dark Justice, and certainly couldn’t comment on what may or may not have influenced its creators. However, I will say that if the main character was truly a vigilante, with the implied disregard for the sanctity of the law, then any influence from Hardcastle and McCormick was purely superficial, or the creators were watching a different show than I was.
GG: What do you hope that fans of the series as well as readers can get out of this book?
Cheri: Oh, no huge expectations of changing lives or anything, but I hope that fans of the show will simply find a moment or two of relief from the real world as they remember how much fun they had watching the series, and maybe they’ll pick up some tidbits of new information about the show. I know we certainly learned a few things, and we’re pretty die-hard fans! And as for readers of the book who might not yet be true fans of the show, my hope is that we have conveyed the quality of the series to the extent that they will be persuaded to find a set of DVDs and see what they’ve been missing.