Dead Air: Probe

I say “Parker Stevenson” and “Probe” and you think of porn. This is why I never call you any more. You’ve changed.

By Chris Stewart
September 25, 2002

Sometimes shows just come out at the wrong time. They’re good shows and enjoyable, but for a variety of reasons they just don’t stick. We can all think of shows we used to watch, short-lived series that remain only as half remembered lines and flashes of plot, which we then use as nostalgic conversation when out with friends or the basis of a column on a geek friendly website.

Take for example Harsh Realm

Now forget about it. I’ve decided Harsh Realm would be a good Dead Air candidate, so I’ll save it until later. Suffice to say that there are many, sometimes intangible things that affect why a good show dies young. Harsh Realm would be perfect for this discussion, but since I’m going to Bogart it till later, I’ll pick a show I’ve already done, like Brisco County Jr. Did it die because it was produced by a young network? Executive neglect? Bad marketing? It was, for lack of a better description, ahead of its time? Yes. All of they above, but who knows in what proportions.

Today’s pick, Probe, is another example. Here’s the show in a nutshell — Parker Stevenson (as in Slappy Hardy. I have to confess I can never remember which one he was. Frank?) plays Austin James, an eccentric genius of the Sherlock Holmes sort. As in, he’s extremely smart and extremely unsociable. Austin would pretty much like to be left alone to work on whatever strikes his fancy, but winds up with a secretary who in typical 80s style (this was in 1988) has big hair and an even bigger stubborn streak.

Initially they totally dislike one another and as a result you know they’re perfect for one another. She’ll learn to use her head instead of just her heart and visa versa he’ll learn to be a bit more human and less of an anti-social, big brain. Sounds pretty straight ahead, but really, the show was a bit of a strange duck.

Rather than Simon and Simon style cases involving theft and murder and whatever else was getting churned out during the 80s (don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a huge soft spot for those formula 80s mystery shows. Go Magnum PI!) Probe found our heroes fighting computer controlled buildings killing people and the Stepford-ification of an entire suburban neighbourhood. Pretty Mulder and Scully if you ask me, only we’re talking years earlier.

I was lucky enough to have a friend who had a copy on tape, which in and of itself was an experience. They say, once you’ve tried 14 year-old video tape, you’ll never go back. Of course, “they” are idiots. After watching that old tape, I’m converting to DVD-R immediately, even if it means selling vital organs to afford it. In any case, the feeling I got watching the show was surreal. I’d be happily watching it with the same feeling I get when I watch any of the standard, paranormal-tinged shows that are on today. And then my brain would come to a crashing halt when something particular to the style of shows back then, like the total wash lighting, or soft horn stingers as the scene changed. This was an 80s show! Corny, but not totally.

You’d think that a show produced by Isaac Asimov (yeah, that Isaac Asimov) would have better legs, but for whatever reason, the show died after 7 episodes. I can’t comment on most factors that might have killed the show. My brain just doesn’t hold on to information like that for this long. From what little I’ve been able to dig up, apparently the show ran against Cosby, which back then was pretty much instant death. Add to that its bizarre nature (Kolchak had the same problem) and the show wasn’t doing great heading in to the writer’s strike that year. And you know what happens when writer’s strikes happen? Execs start canning every show that’s doing anything less than major numbers.

And thus endeth Probe, the precursor to this year’s line-up that seems to be littered with oddball, paranormal shows. Parker Stevenson survived and went on to Baywatch and divorcing Kirstie Alley. Isaac Asimov went on to the great beyond, but not because of the show’s cancellation. He had more class than that. You will never find this show, though I hear rumors that it shows up on cable from time to time. If you get a chance, check it out.

As an aside, I did get feedback from a number of you regarding my last, desperate Dead Air column. Sadly, I’ve suffered two hard drive failures and a mail server crash since then and I no longer have names to give credit to, but you know who you are and thanks.

As it turns out, I’m not insane. There was a show called The Bakery. This thing is a bar bet in the making, as it doesn’t exist on the IMDB at all. Anywhere. However, the net did send forth this one tiny nugget, posted by a tape-trader (whom I’ve yet to be able to get ahold of). Thanks Mike Troncoso, whoever you are;

“THE BAKERY-CBS/1990. 60 Mins. Fantastic unsold pilot that CBS let slip by. Set in police station in a burned out bakery. The series looks at the station over three periods in its history, 1965, 1989, and 2001. Highly Recommended! ”

See? Not crazy.

Now, if someone out there has a copy they’d like to dub for a certain TV addicted writer…