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Series / Barnaby Jones

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Barnaby Jones is an American detective series produced by QM Productions for CBS that ran from 1973 to 1980, starring Buddy Ebsen as the title character and Lee Meriwether as his daughter-in-law/secretary Betty. It was the second-longest running of all Quinn Martin series (behind The F.B.I.) and the last remaining QM series on the air, giving the production company a total of 21 seasons.

Barnaby Jones, when the series starts, has retired from being a private detective and turned over the business to his son Hal. When Hal is killed while on a case, his friend and fellow PI Frank Cannon offers to investigate the crime but Barnaby insists on looking into it himself. He not only finds the killer but also finds what's been missing from his life since retirement, and returns to active duty as a private eye.


In season five, Mark Shera joined the cast as J.R., the son of Barnaby's murdered cousin. Unlike Barnaby, he was more interested in being a lawyer than a detective.

With guest tropes in alphabetical order:

  • Accidental Murder:
    • In "Dark Homecoming," a country singer is tricked into thinking she's accidentally killed Kathy Lou, the insecure girlfriend of her ex in her hometown, with both Kathy Lou and the singer's slimy manager in on it. Unfortunately, Kathy Lou is soon Killed Off for Real when the trope gets played straight by the manager at the wheel of his car...
    • In the episode "Twenty Million Alibis," the villain, a jewel thief and murderer (played by Peter Haskell) says to Barnaby that it was "accidental murder. There's a difference, Barnaby," to which Barnaby immediately replies, "Not to the victim!"
  • Action Girl: Yes, amazingly Barnaby Jones had one - Alex Parks in "The Deadly Conspiracy." She throws a guy out a high window over her shoulder. Ouch.
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  • Alliterative Title: "Fatal Flight".
  • All for Nothing: Gold Digger Melissa Morgan (Pamela Franklin) in "Murder Once Removed" finds out the Nice Guy he married didn't want the family money that she killed his father and his brother to get and he would have given it to her (or his gambling-debt-ridden brother) if they'd just asked...
  • Amoral Attorney: Steve Kingston (Eric Braeden) in "Perchance to Kill"...he's stealing from the estate of a deceased client, a colleague of his knows it and has an incriminating file, and he's romancing the colleague's wife to get his hands on said file. Then he kills his colleague upon learning that he told their boss about the file and frames a pair of hippies for the murder.
    • Edward Brandon (Leslie Nielsen) in "The Killing Defense", who kills his embezzling client and takes both the money and the man's wife.
  • Animal Assassin: In the aptly titled "Beware the Dog," the Asshole Victim, who hates dogs and kids, is mauled to death by his stepson's normally docile German Shepherd. Barnaby discovers that a lookalike dog was the real attack animal.
  • Artistic Title: The opening titles were animated and based around a motif of rectangles suggesting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle being put together.
  • As Himself: Jimmie Rodgers, the '50's pop singer known for hits like "Honeycomb" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," plays himself in the final season episode "Murder In the Key of C." He's just agreed to record a song given to him by Phil Devine (Andrew Robinson) and his partner (Kip Niven), unaware that they're con artists who stole the song from the real writers.
  • Berserk Button: Taylor Chappell (Jeff Conaway) in "Wipeout" flips out after the beautiful surfer girl who tries to put the moves on him rebuffs her. She starts to tease him about his inability to get aroused, which leads him to fatally bash her head in with a lava statue.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: "Nest of Scorpions." While looking for a realtor who's vanished, the trail leads to a resort lodge run by a controlling aunt and her nieces: the sweet blonde Emily and sexy, worldly brunette Melissa. J.R. takes to Emily, but Emily's killed the man they're looking for - and other people under direction from auntie. Men who start to pry lured in by Melissa (reluctantly), and then killed by Emily.
  • Bowdlerise:
    • In season one's "The Murdering Class," the murderer announces his intention to frame a black teacher for his crime by dubbing him "the nigger in the woodpile." To avoid offending mainstream audiences, the N-word gets bleeped out on the Paramount DVD release of the first season, the complete series DVD set from Visual Entertainment Inc. and airings on MeTV.
    • The above actually wasn’t the first time that a word was bleeped out on the show. When WBNX-TV in Akron, Ohio (owned by Fundamentalist preacher Ernest Angely at the time) aired the episode "The Mercenaries," they bleeped out the word “butt” in one scene where a drill Sergeant for the paramilitary group yells at J.R., "Jones! Get your butt over here!"
  • Chekhov's Skill: The way Barnaby's horse can rear up when Barnaby whistles ends up saving Barnaby and Betty's lives in "Sunday: Doomsday."
  • Clear My Name: J.R. gets framed for murder in "Nightmare In Hawaii." Betty is framed for drunk driving and vehicular homicide in "Memory of a Nightmare." J.R. gets framed for rape in "A Frame For Murder." Barnaby is framed for manslaughter when his bullet apparently hits and kills an innocent bystander in "Final Judgment."
  • Continuity Snarl: The Mystery Cult featured in "Child of Love, Child of Vengeance" is always called the Center For Spiritual Awakening in dialogue, but when you see signs for it, it's called the Center For Spiritual Enlightenment. This being a two-part episode, you'd think someone would've noticed.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In "Nightmare in Hawaii", the cop in charge of the case, Lt. Abbott happens to have history with J.R.'s uncle Barnaby Abbott blames him for setting his career on the mainland back - even suspecting Barnaby was in on the crime with J.R.!
  • Cover Version: rock star David Colton (Marjoe Gortner) begins "A Gold Record for Murder" by singing Jethro Tull's "Wind Up".
  • Crossover: The series began with an appearance by Frank Cannon from Cannon to help set up its concept. This was followed by another crossover between the two shows in Barnaby Jones' fourth season.
    • Buddy Ebsen would return to the role of Barnaby for a brief scene in The Beverly Hillbillies 1990s remake movie, hired to find the whereabouts of a kidnapped Granny.
  • Dead Animal Warning: Howard Lee in "Sunday: Doomsday" kills Barnaby's dog as a warning to what he'll to do to Barnaby.
  • Dead Man's Chest: At the beginning of "Image in a Cracked Mirror," one of the women Bradford Dillman fleeced confronts him in a hotel room. He brutally strangles her to death, then packs her body in a nearby steamer trunk.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Lt. Damon Maxwell in "Echo of a Distant Battle," who, along with the soldiers in his command, blew up a plane that a Vietnamese Colonel was aboard, and stole all of the priceless items on board. He then switches dog tags with the corpse of a soldier killed in battle and returns to the States, taking the loot for himself and screwing over his comrades. Barnaby is hired to prove that the soldier whose identity he stole was not a deserter.
  • Deadly Bath: The first murder victim in "The Marathon Murders" is killed in her bathtub. The killer strikes her with a trophy and then holds her head underwater, making it look like she slipped, fell and drowned accidentally.
  • Death by Falling Over: Far and away the most popular mode of death on Barnaby Jones, first seen in "The Murdering Class" in the first season and last seen in "The Final Victim" in the last season. Very much in the vein of Accidental Murder, in many cases, these deaths would be more manslaughter than murder, if it weren't for the fact that it occurred during the commission of a felony (i.e., during the office burglary in "The Murdering Class"), the killer(s) didn't try to cover it up as an accident or suicide (many occasions) or the killer(s) didn't try to hide the body (again, many occasions).
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: In "Death Leap" Barnaby can be heard whistling the show's theme music as he goes into his office early in Act III.
  • Dirty Cop: Sheriff Bradden in "Copy-Cat Killing," who kills his younger wife's boyfriend and makes it look like the work of a serial killer. When he kills her other boyfriend he decides to Make It Look Like an Accident.
  • Disability Alibi: In "Sunday: Doomsday," Barnaby, who's receiving threats on his life, checks up on a few people he suspects. One of them is a guy named Roger Gossett, who bears no animosity towards the elderly detective, but was actually grateful he went to prison, as it gave him an opportunity to turn his life around. Barnaby is also surprised to see that Gossett is now a paraplegic, fully dependent on a wheelchair.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Barnaby's drink of choice is a cold glass of milk to show him as a man who hasn't been rendered cynical by his line of work and prefers to keep his wits about him.
  • Evil Old Folks: Raymond and Virginia Lennox in "Dark Legacy". She's among the heirs to a fortune, and they're bumping off some of the other people who are also in line to inherit.
  • Embarrassing First Name: J.R.'s full name is Jedidiah Romano Jones.note  He hates being called by his first name; naturally that's the name Barnaby typically uses.
  • Everybody Lives: "The Captives," "Shadow of Fear."
  • Everybody Owns a Ford: Virtually every car seen for eight years was a Ford. Barnaby Jones drove a LTD. Barnaby's daughter-in-law Betty was given a Pinto. When J.R. arrived on the scene, he was given a Mustang.
  • The Exotic Detective: Okay, "he's really old" isn't the most exotic angle ever, but it's still an angle.
  • Extra-Long Episode: "Final Judgment", "Echo of a Distant Battle" and "Nightmare in Hawaii".
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Stevens in "The Loose Connection" dips his finger into a stash of heroin to test it and sticks it in his mouth.
  • Friend on the Force: Lt. John Biddle (played by John Carter), who made his debut midway through the second season (in the episode "Programmed For Killing") and remained for the rest of the series. Prior to Biddle's arrival, Barnaby had a succession of one-shot police contacts, none of them lasting beyond an episode. John Carter had previously appeared on the series as the murder victim in "The Murdering Class" in the first season.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Cleo DaVinci, the title character in "The Medium."
  • Grave Robbing: In "The Murdering Class," as part of their plan to frame an innocent man for murder, Charles Lomax and Paul Thayer dig up George Enright's grave and pluck some hairs from his head. They place the hairs in the switch of a dented flashlight and place the flashlight and some stolen money in the innocent man's locker.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: In "Murder in the Key of C," Teddy Singleton wants to go to the police after his partner in crime Phil Devane accidentally kills songwriter Billy Smith, whom they were trying to con out of a potential hit song. Phil doesn't want to, because he doesn't want to give up the lucrative con. Teddy eventually decides to call the cops, but what he doesn't know is that Phil followed him to the empty lot where he tried to call the police on a pay phone. Phil picks up a nearby brick and fatally strikes Teddy with it, making it look like a mugging.
    • In "Programmed For Killing," Brian Elder, who used his computer skills to help Chuck Summers rob, and eventually kill, his boss, confronts his partner in crime, telling him he's finished, as he realizes that Chuck only uses people, including Emily Kelso, the daughter of the man he killed. Chuck doesn't take too well to this and strikes Brian, causing his Death by Falling Over, which he makes look like a car accident.
    • Jim Wills in "Death Beat". He's a stuntman working with newscaster Dewitt Robinson as part of a manufactured news scheme. When one of their 'stories' (Jim posed on a bridge, threatening to make a suicidal jump) results in the accidental death of a priest who tried to intervene, he gets cold feet and tells Robinson that he wants out. This results in Jim's accidental death (Robinson scuffles with him on the roof of a high rise and causes him to fall to his death), which Robinson makes look like a suicide.
  • Healthcare Motivation: Arson investigator Jim Parks, in the episode "Man On Fire", teams with an arsonist in a fire-for-hire scheme that turns deadly. He needs the money to take care of his wheelchair-bound wife.
  • Heroic BSoD: Barnaby has one in "Final Judgment" when Hayley, the only witness who clear a wrongly convicted man is murdered, and Jones blames himself to the extent that he has some... brandy.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Oddly subverted in season 1's "See Some Evil, Do Some Evil" as the silenced pistol makes a muffled yet audible noise the way a real suppressor would sound.
  • Just One Little Mistake: In the series' premiere episode, "Requiem For a Son," Barnaby and Terry McCormack go to make a money drop for McCormack's blackmailer, who may also be the killer of his son, Hal, who was working security for McCormack's political campaign. They arrive and nab the man, Reed Carpenter, as he goes for the money. Carpenter admits to the blackmail, but not to the murder, and Barnaby believes his story after getting a glimpse of the suitcase with McCormack's's Hal's briefcase, that Barnaby bought him for his birthday the week before he was killed. The only way McCormack could have gotten his hands on it was if he was there.
    • In the second episode, "To Catch a Dead Man," Barnaby gets the drop on Philip Carlyle (William Shatner) and manages to hold Carlyle's gun on him while someone nearby calls the police. He tells Carlyle that he had a fine plan—switching identity with someone else and killing him so he could run off with his mistress—but in picking Mike Hartley, he picked the wrong person to kill. He wrongfully assumed that Mike was a dock bum that nobody would miss, but there was one person who cared, Mike's fiancee, and she hired Barnaby to find him.
  • Large Ham: Marjoe Gortner as rock star and killer of the week in "A Gold Record for Murder."
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: A number of occasions. Here are a couple of examples:
    • In "Odd Man Loses," after Don Brady accidentally kills money courier Hogan (by striking him in the head with a gun), Brady and his two accomplices make it look like Hogan was changing the tire on his car when the jack slipped, crushing him.
    • In "The Deadlier Species," accountant Robert Travis strikes and kills a lawyer who was about to blow the whistle on his embezzlement scheme. He makes it look as if the boat the lawyer was working on slipped and fell off the stands and landed on him. Barnaby immediately doesn't buy it, for two, if the boat did indeed fall on him, he would have other injuries, such as to his chest. There was only the fatal head trauma. Second, the boat was made of a light enough wood, that if it did fall on him, he would only have minor injuries.
    • In "Deadline For Dying," a surveyor who uncovers a land swindler is thrown off a cliff by a huge man. Obviously, it looked like he fell off the cliff.
  • Midseason Replacement
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: In "Sing A Song Of Murder," a singer falls off a diving board into an empty swimming pool and lands on his head, and his manager and her colleague decide to cover it up by burying his body and making it look like he was kidnapped for a $500,000 ransom. Zig-zagged somewhat as the guy was still alive, and it was the asphyxiation that killed him.
  • Old Master: This trope is played with in that he rarely ever engaged in fist fights or action scenes due to Buddy Ebsen's age making filming such scenes difficult. He's also an incredibly intelligent man who handles his work competently, is more than capable of performing his own forensic lab tests and he carries a gun, which he will use if necessary; and should all else fail he's on good terms with much of the police department and has more than enough backup should it become necessary.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • British actress Anne Collings as the sister of the Victim of the Week in "A Trial Run For Death," her American accent wavers so much it nearly becomes another trope.
    • Charles Macaulay's native Kentucky accent pokes through distractingly when his character of Smug Snake moneybags J. Latimer Kirkland gets angry at Barnaby's insinuation that he's involved with the crime of the week in "The Killing Point." He isn't directly.
    • Pamela Franklin's American accent wobbles a bit in "Focus on Fear."
  • One-Word Title: "Hostage" and "Temptation."
  • Opening Narration: Well, it is a QM Production. Example:
    Hank Simms: "Barnaby Jones. Starring Buddy Ebsen. Also Starring Lee Meriwether. With Guest Stars Janice Rule, Darleen Carr, Victoria Shaw. Special Guest Star William Shatner. Tonight's Episode: 'To Catch A Dead Man.'"
  • Phony Psychic: Jason Matthews in "The Black Art of Dying," who's out to fleece a rich widow by convincing her that he could contact her dead husband. He arranges for her skeptical lawyer to be killed in a fatal 'accident' shortly after they meet. Fritz Weaver, who played Matthews, played a similar con man on The F.B.I. two seasons earlier.
  • Pistol-Whipping: On at least three occasions, this proved fatal. Thieving lawyer Steve Kingston (Eric Braeden) strikes and kills fellow lawyer Tony Bloom (Mark Roberts) in "Perchance to Kill," when he reveals that their boss knows about Kingston's stealing. In "Odd Man Loses," courier Hogan (Richard Derr) makes a fatal mistake trying to fight the guys robbing him, as one of the robbers (played by Christopher Stone) fatally whacks him upside the head with a gun. In "Cry For Vengeance," the young son of a cop trying to bring down a Barrio extortion ring is struck in the head with a gun and killed.
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: "The Killin' Cousin" was designed to be the pilot for a series about father-and-son private eyes called Tarkington. Not only did it not sell, it turned out to be the Series Finale (as well as the last first-run episode of any QM series to air). "A Ransom in Diamonds" and "The Protectors" were two other poorly-disguised pilots.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Season 1's "Murder-Go-Round" has a D.B. Cooper-type as central to the episode's plot.
  • Sequel Episode: "Duet for Danger" sees the return of would-be singing stars the Starshine Sisters, who've escaped from the prison where they were serving their time for what they did in "Duet for Dying."
  • Shared Universe: The pilot establishes one with Cannon. The two shows later had a two-part crossover called "The Deadly Conspiracy" (which began on Cannon and finished on Barnaby Jones).
  • Shout-Out:
    • A few callbacks to Buddy Ebsen's even more successful series, The Beverly Hillbillies:
      • Lieutenant Biddle's name is a callback to birdwatcher Professor Biddle, a recurring character on the Beverly Hillbillies.
      • In "The Secret of the Dunes," Barnaby uses a bloodhound known as "Count" to find a body. Compare to Jed Clampett and his bloodhound Duke.
      • J.R.'s first name is Jedidiah, Jed Clampett's full name.
      • J.R.'s also the son of Barnaby's first cousin. J.R's the same relation to Barnaby as Jethro is to Jed Clampett. Fortunately, he's a lot smarter than Jethro.
    • The episode "Fatal Witness" features Larry Hagman in a guest starring role. Randomly, we also see a girl in a harem outfit teaching belly dancing at a spa!
  • Split Personality: "The Deadly Jinx."
  • Temporary Blindness: In the aptly-named "Blind Jeopardy," Barnaby is hired to protect a murder witness when he's temporarily blinded by an assassin's bullet. The killers chase Barnaby and the girl through the woods, while Barnaby gamely tries to protect her.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife:
    • OK, ugly's pushing it, but the (considerable) gulf in attractiveness between Dick Van Patten's character and Jo Ann Harris' is even noticed in-universe in "The Odd Man Loses." A nervous accountant (Van Patten) and two of his fellow and younger and better-looking carpoolers to carry out a robbery. Sadly for the accountant, his hot wife is cheating on him with one of the other carpoolers involved, who's also married. Sadly for him, she's got a bad case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder complicated with Evil Is Sexy, you can guess this doesn't work out for anyone involved.
    • The homely and Cannon-esque in build small-town Sheriff Bradden in "Copy-cat Killing" is married to a much younger and much more attractive woman called Kitty who used to be a prostitute when she arrived in town. She keeps in practice by cheating on him with multiple men. Her husband finds out and is the murderer of the week.
  • Vacation Episode: "Nightmare in Hawaii" in the final season (given this aired on CBS, home of Steve McGarrett and Magnum, P.I., this isn't surprising). Ebsen and the crew hung around Hawaii a little longer, brought in different actors and filmed a TV-movie for CBS, "The Paradise Connection," which was meant to be a pilot for a new series starring the actor. It didn't sell.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy:Danny in "Sins of Thy Father."
  • Yandere: Lorraine in "The Marathon Murders."
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Invoked by Wells Thompson in regards to Steve Webber in "Deadline For Murder".