Quinn Martin (born Irwin Martin Cohn, May 22, 1922, in New York City; died September 5, 1987, in Rancho Santa Fe, California) was a prolific television producer of the 1960's and 1970's. He holds the record for most consecutive prime time seasons with a television series, with 21 seasons.
Act I: The Early Years
Martin took his professional name from the mispronunciation of his real last name of 'Cohn'. Some folks pronounced it 'CO-en', but others thought it was 'Co-EN'. It was bastardized into 'Quinn', which became a childhood nickname.
His early career was primarily as a sound editor, and it was in that capacity that he worked for the early television production company, Ziv Television, starting out with Science Fiction Theater and branching out to the company's other shows, including the hit Highway Patrol. Martin also dabbled in writing for television. His actual first credit was a teleplay credit on Four Star Playhouse. He wrote for a few other anthology series as well.
Quinn's first wife was Madelyn Pugh, one of the main writers for I Love Lucy, which no doubt led to his being hired by Desilu Studios. He produced a segment of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse entitled "The Scarface Mob", which detailed the battle between Federal Agent Eliot Ness and mobster Al Capone. This proved so successful that Desilu managed to sell it to ABC as a series for the Fall of 1959.
With The Untouchables, Martin began his meteoric rise in the world of television. The series was an instant hit, and on the surface, it looked like things were going well, but behind the scenes, they were not. Quinn Martin and Desi Arnaz clashed constantly. Arguing with your boss never works out well, and for Martin, it proved to be the end of his stint with Desilu, as Arnaz fired him.
Some good came out of the series for Martin, though. He met two of his most prolific collaborators, Arthur Fellows and director Walter Grauman, while working on The Untouchables. Additionally, he picked up a number of stylistic elements that characterized his future series: the use of 'wipes' to enhance the Title Sequences and open each act, the announcer in the opening credits (Hal Lampson did the announcing for The Untouchables. Martin brought in Dick Wesson to do the announcing for The New Breed, The Fugitive, 12 O'Clock High and The Invaders, and Hank Simms for The F.B.I. and all the others), and the narrator over the opening and closing scenes (The Untouchables memorably used columnist Walter Winchell in that role. The New Breed used Art Gilmore, The Fugitive used William Conrad, The FBI Marvin Miller and The Invaders William Woodson).
Act II: The 1960's
Martin wasn't unemployed for very long. ABC hired him to oversee his own company to produce shows for the network, which he named 'QM Productions'. Teaming with another ABC-financed company, Selmur Productions, the producer was able to sell his first series to the network in 1961, a police series called The New Breed, which starred Leslie Nielsen and dealt with a special division of the LAPD that used computers and other gadgets in the fight against crime. The series lasted only one season, but bigger things were on the horizon for both companies. Selmur would bounce back the following season with the hit war drama Combat. For QM Productions, it would take slightly longer, and an odd twist of fate gave them a hit TV series.
Quinn had an idea that never came to fruition for his next project...he wanted to do a series about legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow, in which Ed Begley was to star. Why that never came about is anyone's guess. What did happen, though, was the company being given a storyline that ABC found that was developed by fellow producer Roy Huggins. Huggins came up with the idea of a wrongfully accused killer roaming the Old West in search of the real killer, all the while being pursued by a dogged lawman intent on returning him to face the death sentence that was imposed on him. Huggins left TV production briefly to become a professor at Columbia University, so he abandoned the idea in a desk to be forgotten. ABC found it and gave it to QM to see what they could do with it. Changing the setting to the present day, Martin retooled the idea, and The Fugitive debuted in the Fall of 1963, with David Janssen starring. The series was a runaway success, running for four seasons, winning a Golden Globe and an Emmy, and the series' final episode, "The Judgement", set a Nielsen ratings record that stood for over a decade.
With one success under his belt, it was inevitable that others would follow. 20th Century Fox enlisted Martin to develop a series based on the classic 1949 film 12 O'Clock High, about Air Force soldiers based in England during World War II. Martin and Fox teamed up for the series, and Robert Lansing was cast in the lead role as Brigadier General Frank Savage. The series was a hit, but behind the scenes turmoil derailed it. Martin, who was never very comfortable around actors, grew to despise Lansing, and asked William Self, the head of 20th Century-Fox Television, if he could replace Lansing. Self told him he could, but Fox would have to approve the replacement. Martin mentioned Paul Burke, and Self gave the green light. Savage was killed off in the final episode of the first season, and Burke took over as the new lead character, Major Joe Gallagher. Additionally, for the second season, ABC moved the series to an earlier time slot on another day. The series never recovered from both moves and lasted for the whole second season and an half season in 1966-67 before being canceled.
Martin's biggest success came about in the following season (1965-66). FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was approached by Warner Bros. about doing a series about the Bureau, and Hoover agreed to it. He first approached his friend, Mervyn LeRoy, about producing the series, as LeRoy directed the movie The FBI Story in the late 1950's, but LeRoy wasn't interested in doing television. Someone suggested Martin's name to Hoover, and he agreed. In the Fall of 1965, The F.B.I. was launched, with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Inspector Lewis Erskine. Martin was under extreme scrutiny while making the show. He had to make sure that the actors playing agents (Zimbalist, Stephen Brooks and Philip Abbott) all looked, dressed and acted like FBI agents (meaning that the characters couldn't do things like smoke or put their feet up on desks, to name a couple of things), plus the Bureau insisted on vetting EVERY ACTOR that did the show, to make sure that there was nothing about them that would embarrass the Bureau (this led to the legendary Bette Davis being turned down for a guest role). Martin said that, if they did that, production would be pushed back considerably, so they compromised: only the main actors and main guests would have to be vetted. investigation, but also the agents' personal lives as well. Viewers complained about that, and eventually more timeAlso, the series itself would change in scope...the earliest episodes not only focused on the crime and was given to the criminals and their pursuit. The FBI was a huge hit, running until 1974 and tallying 240 episodes, making it QM's most successful series.
For the company's next series, they went outside the crime milieu and into science fiction with The Invaders. A sci-fi variant of The Fugitive, it starred Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent, who pulls off the side of the road during a long trip to get a little rest, only to see the landing of a craft from outer space. From that point on, Vincent becomes singularly obsessed with convincing the rest of the human race that 'they' are here to take over the world. For one and a half seasons, Vincent is dismissed as a kook by many, but also targeted by the aliens, who do any number of things to him, either to kill or, at the very least, discredit him. Eventually, during the second season, he's given a group of cohorts who call themselves 'the Believers', people who've also had alien encounters. Sadly, though the series was well done, it never was a ratings hit and was canceled in the Spring of 1968. And because the series wasn't a huge hit like The Fugitive, it was never given a proper finale. It took director George A. Romero, a huge fan of the series, to produce a mini-series over two decades later, in which a new character played by Scott Bakula finally thwarted the aliens.
Act III: The '70's
After two seasons without a new series, QM Productions was back in business with Dan August, a police procedural about a homicide detective in the fictional California town of Santa Luisa. The series was developed out of QM's first TV-movie, The House on Greenapple Road. Martin wanted the movie's star, Christopher George, to play August in any series that would develop, but since George had already made another commitment, Burt Reynolds was brought in for the series. It only lasted for one season and 26 episodes, but eventually got recognition a couple of years later when it was re-ran to cash in on Reynolds' box office success.
TV-movies became a staple for QM. In 1971, they did four of them. One was a straight-up thriller (The Face of Fear), but the other three were intended as pilots: Travis Logan, D.A. (with Vic Morrow as a dogged prosecutor), Incident in San Francisco (about newspaper reporters and cops, starring Christopher Connelly, Richard Kiley and Leslie Nielsen) and Cannon (a pilot about an overweight ex-cop-turned-private detective, starring William Conrad). Only the final one sold. Cannon would mark the first time a QM series appeared on a network other than ABC (CBS). For the next five seasons, Frank Cannon would prove time and again that being overweight didn't hinder him in his chosen career...as a matter of fact, it helped him, as he used his girth to subdue villains. The series lasted for 120 episodes before Conrad and Martin mutually decided to end the series.
Martin managed to sell two TV series in 1972. Returning to his relationship with Warner Bros. Television, Martin sold a pilot about two homicide detectives in San Francisco, one a hardened veteran detective, the other a young and handsome idealist. The Streets of San Francisco was filmed on location in the Bay City and was an instant hit, thanks in no small part to the chemistry between the two leads, Karl Malden (as Lt. Mike Stone) and Michael Douglas (as Inspector Steve Keller). The series lasted for five seasons (four with Douglas, the last with Richard Hatch) and 120 episodes.
The other series was Martin's first venture for NBC, based on a pilot that his company had nothing to do with. Banyon began life as a TV-movie for NBC, produced by Warner Bros. Television by Richard Alan Simmons. The story dealt with a private detective in 1930's Los Angeles framed for a murder committed with his own gun. Robert Forster starred as the main character, Miles Banyon, and the character was created by Ed Adamson, who served as the line producer for the pilot. However, Simmons hated working with the headstrong Adamson, so he refused to be involved with the series. Warners brought in QM as a co-producer. The series debuted in the Fall of 1972, but low ratings, coupled with the death of Ed Adamson, ensured that the series would be canceled, and it was, after only 13 episodes.
1973 saw another unsold QM pilot, entitled Intertect, about a computerized detective agency. It also brought in Martin's second-most successful series. Initially, the pilot episode was to have been done as an episode of Cannon, but a time slot opened up, and CBS ordered Barnaby Jones to go into production in January of 1973. The pilot episode, in which elderly detective Barnaby Jones (Buddy Ebsen) comes out of retirement to investigate the murder of his son, featured William Conrad guest-starring as Frank Cannon. For the next seven and a half seasons, Barnaby Jones proved to be another successful 'quirky' character, a private eye whom many a bad guy underestimated, simply because he was an old man. Barnaby Jones lasted for 178 episodes.
Unfortunately, Barnaby Jones would be the last successful series for QM. He did another pilot that sold, The Manhunter, set in the 1930's, about a Marine who became a bounty hunter. Ken Howard starred as Dave Barrett, who initially took up bounty hunting to make enough money to save his parents' farm, but continued as he felt it was his calling. Despite having Cannon as a lead-in, The Manhunter couldn't hold the audience for Cannon and was done after one season.
Also in 1974, QM made the TV-movie Panic On the 5:22, a movie inspired by the 1967 theatrical film The Incident. The first of three QM/Warner Bros. FBI TV-movies aired in late 1974, though none of the regulars from the FBI series appeared in any of them.
Martin's next series was for ABC. Attempting to cash in on the success of Hawaii Five-O, Martin developedCaribe, a Caribbean-based crime drama that debuted in the Spring of 1975. Originally, Quinn wanted Robert Wagner to star in the series, but Stacy Keach wound up starring as Inspector Ben Logan. The series faltered in the ratings and was over in 13 episodes. It didn't help that the series' Troubled Production meant the series had to be filmed on location in Florida instead of throughout the Caribbean as planned.Also, in 1975, Martin tried to sell another series to NBC (Crossfire starring James Farentino as an undercover cop), but couldn't get past the pilot stage. Two other TV movies were made under the QM banner: The Abduction of Saint Anne and A Home Of Our Own.
1976 saw further unsold pilots (Law of the Land, a crime drama-Western hybrid starring Jim Davis and Don Johnson) and two more unsuccessful series. Bert D'Angelo: Superstar was spun off from The Streets of San Francisco and starred Paul Sorvino as a New York cop who gets transferred to San Francisco. It lasted for 13 episodes, and most people who worked on the series refuse to talk about it, only to mention how much they hated the high-maintenance Sorvino. It's notable that when the series was offered to British television ITV acquired many QM series (including The Streets of San Francisco) passed on it (The BBC made it one of the only QM series imported first-run by them, along with Cannon and Most Wanted).Most Wanted debuted in the Fall of 1976 on ABC. It was a series about an elite division of the LAPD who went after high-profile criminals. Robert Stack played Captain Linc Evers, the leader of the squad. Allegedly, the series was doing fairly well in the ratings when, during a heated meeting with ABC executives, Quinn Martin pounded on the table, which sent an ashtray flying, hitting one of the execs squarely in the chest. It was not only the end of the series, but also the end of Martin's relationship with the network as well.
In January of 1977, Martin decided he wanted to do an anthology series in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected debuted on NBC. Unlike the Hitchcock series, Martin didn't appear on camera to introduce the series, but rather William Conrad provided ominous opening and closing narration for each episode. Two episodes were notable, one being the two-hour episode "The Force of Evil", which aired for years in slots devoted to old movies, and the other was "The Nomads", an attempt to revive The Invaders. This series lasted for eight episodes.
For the remainder of 1977, Martin fell back on TV movie pilots...The City was yet another variant of The Streets of San Francisco, with Robert Forster and Don Johnson as the cops, while The Hunted Lady took the concept of The Fugitive, with Donna Mills as a cop framed for murder. Another 1977 TV movie from QM was Code Name: Diamond Head, a spy thriller set in Hawai'i starring Roy Thinnes, France Nuyen and former Hawaii Five-O regular Zulu. This film would later be mercilessly skewered on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Martin tried another series for NBC in 1978. He was taken with Robert Reed after seeing the actor deliver great performances on The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones and brought him in for a new series, Operation: Runaway, where he would play Dr. David McKay, who specialized in searching for runaway kids. He should have consulted Sherwood Schwartz before hiring Reed, as he soon discovered just how difficult the actor could be. The series barely survived to make it to another season, but major changes came with the new season, the least of which was Quinn's non-involvement, as he'd sold the company. The title of the show also changed, to The Runaways, and it had a new lead actor in Alan Feinstein (who, oddly, bore some resemblance to Reed, but fortunately was much easier to deal with) as Dr. Steve Arrizio. Despite all the changes, the show tanked.
Martin teamed up with Robert Forster one more time, for a TV-movie entitled Standing Tall, in which Forster played a rancher who was being bullied by a land baron played by Chuck Connors.
Act IV: The Aftermath
In 1978, Quinn Martin decided to sell his company to Taft Broadcasting. The company continued as QM Productions for the next few years. Philip Saltzman moved into the Executive Producer position for Barnaby Jones, and William Robert Yates took over The Runaways. Additionally, the company produced two unsold pilots that sounded interesting, both for CBS: Colorado C.I., which was a precursor to the hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Escapade, a light-hearted spy romp co-produced by Brian Clemens, who was one of the producers of The Avengers (indeed this was a Transatlantic Equivalent of The Avengers). Barnaby Jones did three episodes over the end of the series that served as pilots as well.
The new regime, led by Saltzman, landed one final series under the QM banner, a spy series starring Robert Conrad, entitled A Man Called Sloane, which aired on NBC in 1979. Once again, they were dealing with a difficult leading man, and once again, the show failed, running for only 12 episodes. The series' pilot, which was filmed earlier in 1979, was entitled Death Ray 2000. It starred Robert Logan as Sloane and aired in 1981, well after the series had been canceled. Executive Meddling from Fred Silverman didn't help - this led to Ji-Tu Cumbuka's villainous character from the pilot became Sloane's partner in the series - which became an Old Shame for Conrad and Martin.
With Saltzman running the show, QM tried to give Buddy Ebsen another vehicle to replace the faltering Barnaby Jones. They were in Hawaii to film a two-hour episode, so the producers and Ebsen stuck around long enough to film a TV-movie entitled The Paradise Connection, in which the actor played a retired lawyer who traveled to hula country in search of his missing son. CBS aired the movie, but didn't pick up the series.
Epilog: The Aftermath, Part II
After the cancellation of Barnaby Jones in 1980, the staff of that series was hired by Warner Bros. Television to develop a TV series version of Freebie And The Bean, which aired briefly on CBS in the Fall of 1980.
QM Productions continued as a generic production company for new owners, Taft Broadcasting, producing a series of inane comedy pilots (Help Wanted: Male, Landon, Landon and Landon and Quick and Quiet) and also a handful of TV-movies (The Aliens Are Coming!, yet another attempt to reboot The Invaders; The Return of Frank Cannon; a lame teen comedy entitled Senior Trip; and the final production from the company, a Western entitled September Gun, which aired in late 1983).
As for Quinn Martin himself, he signed a contract upon selling the company stating that he would not form a rival production company for another five years. He busied himself by going into academia, becoming a professor of movie and television production at the University of California at La Jolla. When the proviso in the contract expired, Martin formed a new company, QM Communications, which signed a deal to produce TV shows and movies with Warner Bros., but nothing came out of the deal.
Quinn Martin died of a heart attack on September 5, 1987, at his home in California. He was 65 years old. He is remembered as one of the most successful producers of his time, and his distinctive approach to title sequences has been parodied by Police Squad!, the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode "Jacksonville", the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "A Trout in the Milk" (interestingly enough, also the title of a Streets of San Francisco episode) , and this very article. A video tribute to Martin, which includes opening titles from his series along with promos and interviews, can be found here.
TV Tropes pages for Quinn Martin shows:
- Highway Patrol (Sound Supervisor for 55 episodes, 1955-57)
- The Cisco Kid (Sound Supervisor for 4 episodes, 1956)
- The Untouchables (Executive Producer for 28 episodes, 1959-60)
- The Fugitive (Executive Producer for 120 episodes, 1963-67)
- The F.B.I. (Executive Producer for 240 episodes, 1965-74)
- The Invaders (Executive Producer for 43 episodes, 1967-68)
- Dan August (Executive Producer for 26 episodes, 1970-71)
- The Mephisto Waltz (Executive Producer, 1971)
- Cannon (Executive Producer for 120 episodes, plus a pilot film, 1971-76)
- The Streets of San Francisco (Executive Producer for 120 episodes, 1972-77)
- Barnaby Jones (Executive Producer for 131 episodes, 1973-78)
- Code Name: Diamond Head (1977, Executive Producer)