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Series / Burke's Law

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From left to right: Detective Tilson, Sergeant Hart, and Captain Burke.

"It's Burke's Law!"
Sultry Female Announcer, Once per Episode

A Lighter and Softer, slightly Campy Detective Drama that ran for three seasons from 1963 to 1965 (sort of; see below) on ABC, Burke's Law followed the adventures of Amos Burke (Gene Barry), a snarky and debonaire LAPD captain who also happened to be a multimillionaire. Accompanied by his sidekicks, the youthful rookie Detective Tim Tilson (Gary Conway) and the world-weary veteran Sergeant Les Hart (Regis Toomey), Burke would ride between crime scenes in a Rolls Royce limo driven by his faithful chauffeur Henry (Leon Lontoc) and investigate lurid murders among the Hollywood glitterati with his trademark wit and style.

The character had originated in "Who Killed Julie Greer?", a 1961 episode of the anthology series The Dick Powell Show, with Powell himself playing Burke, and character actor John Damler playing Hart. Leon Lontoc was the only actor to reprise his role for the series. The episode boasted an all-star guest cast including Nick Adams, Ralph Bellamy, Edgar Bergen, Lloyd Bridges, Jack Carson, Carolyn Jones, Dean Jones, Edward Platt, future US president Ronald Reagan, Mickey Rooney and Kay Thompson.

Although quite popular in its first two seasons, the show fell victim to Executive Meddling just prior to its third. Network executives at ABC, hoping to cash in on the super-spy craze touched off by by the James Bond films and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., demanded a Genre Shift. Over the heated objections of Barry and producer Aaron Spelling, the show was retitled Amos Burke, Secret Agent, the entire main cast was fired except for Barry, and Burke became a jetsetting spy on the payroll of the federal government. The sweeping changes went over like a lead balloon with audiences and the show was canceled 17 episodes into the season.

In 1994, a Revival (also produced by Spelling) was broadcast on CBS, with Barry reprising his role as Burke, now a widower and the Chief of Police who solved crimes in tandem with his grown son, Detective Peter Burke (Peter Barton). The new series was canceled after two seasons comprising 27 episodes.

This series provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Burke. The only time he ever loses at anything is when the other person cheats.
  • Actor Allusion: Invoked in the revival's "Who Killed Good time Charlie" when Burke chases a suspect on a horse.
    Peter: Dad, that was amazing! You know who that reminded me of?
    Burke: Bat Masterson?
    Peter: Was he the guy with the horse named Silver?
    • In an episode of the original series, "Who Killed Mr. Colby in Ladies' Lingerie?", Sgt. Ames goes undercover as a tourist on a Hollywood tour bus to speak to the driver, whose car was parked near the scene of the murder. The driver fancies himself as an impressionist, and as he passes by the star's houses, he does impressions of them, like James Cagney and Kirk Douglas. A little old lady on the bus tells him that she took the tour with another driver who told her that the house he claimed was Douglas's belonged to Edd Byrnes. The driver responds, "Yeah, Lady, but I don't do Edd Byrnes!" The actor playing the driver? Who else but...Edd Byrnes!
    • In an episode of the original series, "Who Killer Eleanora Davis?", Burke is poking around Professor Kingston's Western Museum (where the murder took place) looking for clues. He does a comic double-take upon seeing a tombstone that reads "He called Bat Masterson a liar".
    • The revival's first episode featured Poison frontman Bret Michaels asa hard rock musician named Roger Rose - a reference to Poison's classic song 'Every rose has it's thorn'.
  • Always Gets His Man: Burke, all the way.
  • Always Murder: Well, he is the captain of the Homicide Squad.
  • Amoral Attorney: A few times as the victim.
  • And Starring: In the original series: Also starring Gary Conway, with Regis Toomey and Leon Lontoc.
  • Asshole Victim: Usually, in order to make it believable that Everyone Is a Suspect.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Burke loves doing this (especially in the 1994 revival). In the climax when all the suspects are together, Burke will go to each one, making a comment that sounds as if they're about to be arrested for the murder...then say it's just something much better.
    • "I think you're about to get just what you deserve...the money the victim owed you just cleared the legal channels."
    • "You should be ashamed of yourself...your attitude is horrible."
    • "You won't need to worry about money where you're going...that cushy new job of yours."
    • "Expect a visit from the police...about those unpaid tickets of yours."
    • "Now Mr. Ripley, I'm afraid you've directed your last vampire film ... I read this morning that you just signed to direct a big-budget Western. Happy trails, partner.
    • Occasionally Burke would do a double version by making a comment to let someone think they were off the hook, then turn back later to reveal they're the killer after all.
    • Nicely played with in "Who Killed the Hollywood Headshrinker" as Burke does this to the suspects...then arrests all of them as Everbody Did It.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The usual milieu of the investigation. The victim was almost always a celebrity of some variety, and thus so would the suspects be.
  • Big Fancy House: Burke's is pretty swanky, befitting his wealth. Most of the victims, suspects and killers also have fairly sprawling estates.
  • Billed Above the Title: In the original series: Gene Barry in...Burke's Law.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: In "Who Killed Everybody?"
  • Burn Baby Burn: In "Who Killed the Movie Mogul," the Burkes question Leo Barnett's main starlet and reluctant mistress as she puts everything Leo ever gave her into a car (which he also gave her). She then uses some of the studio's equipment to blow the car up.
  • The Butler Did It: Hart is convinced this is the case in "Who Killed Cassandra Cass?" Turns out, he's right.
  • Camp: Both series had their moments, but the 90's revival in particular turned the camp up and then ripped out the knob.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Invoked in several episodes by a suspect who points out that they would stand to lose a lot more money with the victim dead than if they were alive.
    • "Who Killed The Motor Car Maverick?" has Burke figuring out the killer of a car CEO was the only one who didn't own stock in his company so he wouldn't have lost as much if the guy was killed in his new electric car.
  • Catchphrase/Title Drop: After delivering a witty aphorism, Burke dubs it "Burke's Law."
  • Circus Episode: "Who Killed the 13th Clown?", where the murder occurs when all the clowns are riding in a clown car at the circus. To top it off, Burke and the killer get into a car chase where both men are driving clown cars on L.A. streets!
  • Clear My Name: In "Who Killed the Rest?", Burke is accused of two murders while vacationing in Mexico.
    • In "Who Killed the Horne of Plenty?", Tim Tilson is not only accused of possible impropriety (a model who's a suspect claims that he got her a modeling job in exchange for information in a previous case), he's also accused of murder when said model is herself killed.
  • Cool Car: Burke's 1962 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II. It had a prominently featured car phone and, during the show's Spy Fiction phase, bulletproofing.
  • Creator Cameo: Aaron Spelling, who produced both the original and revived Burke's Law, appears uncredited in "Who Killed Julian Buck?" from the original series, as a character named Harry Penn.
    • David Niven appeared as Harvey Cleeve, the World's Greatest Juggler, in "Who Killed Billy Jo?", making him the only one of the actors who founded Four Star Television to appear on Burke's Law.
  • Credits Gag: The Episode Title Card for "Who Killed The Surf Broad?" reads "Who Killed The Surf Board?" with "Board" crossed out and "Broad" written beneath it in a different font.
  • A Day in the Limelight: In "Who Killed Mr. Colby in Ladies' Lingerie?", Burke is in Chicago to speak at a police convention, so Les and Tim have to solve the murder without his input.
    • In "Who Killed Good Time Charlie?", Amos, who usually reveals the killer, defers to Peter for the reveal, as the dead man was his old college buddy.
  • Deadly Delivery: Subverted in "Who Killed Molly?"
  • Detective Patsy: Tilson in "Who Killed the Horne of Plenty?"
  • Disability Alibi: An animal version occurs in "Who Killed the Highest Bidder." The victim is fatally clawed with a jaguar's paw. The detectives are initially unsure if the claws belongs to a live jaguar or was taken from a taxidermy exhibit. They accuse an animal trainer who is sleeping with the victim's widow of using his jaguar as an Animal Assassin, but it turns out that the animal was declawed two years ago.
  • Domestic Abuse: One of the victims in "Who Killed Everybody?"
  • Electrified Bathtub: Used in "Who Killed the Starlet?" A woman is the bath while listening to some music, when a killer sneaks in and drops her boombox into the bathtub, killing her. It turns out that the killer and lady are merely actors on a movie set, and they're filming a murder scene. Then it turns out the boombox had been plugged into a live outlet by an unknown party, and the actress in the bathtub really is dead.
    • As it turns out, the actress wasn't killed by electrocution, but by an organic poison leeched into the bathwater, whose symptoms mimic those of electrocution.
  • Evil Brit: "Who Killed the Eleventh Best Dressed Woman in the World?" and "Who Killed Davidian Jonas?", and also "Who Killed the Highest Bidder?" from the revival.
  • Everybody Did It: "Who Killed the Hollywood Headshrinker" has this as the solution.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Every episode, and sometimes playfully exaggerated. In "Who Killed Andy Zygmunt?", the trope reaches its natural extreme when the suspects who aren't booked for the murder end up getting booked for attempted murder instead. In "Who Killed the Eleventh Best Dressed Woman in the World?", meanwhile, the killer invited all of the victim's other enemies to be present and even paid their way just to be sure there'd be a lot of suspects cluttering up the investigation.
  • The Exotic Detective: Burke has an incredible amount of dough but he still is out on the streets investigating crimes in his limo. The fact he is rich even has helped him regularly by letting him into VIP places a regular cop wouldn't enter without having to get rough.
  • Expy: Effie Mae Porter in "Who Killed Lenore Wingfield?" is one for The Beverly Hillbillies' Elly May Clampett. A Painted-On Pants-wearing Friend to All Living Things okay,Almost All Living Things. she's the killer.
    • In "Who Killed Supersleuth?, there are expies for Sherlock Holmes (Inspector House of Scotland Yard), Hercule Poirot (Bascule Doirot) and Mr. Moto (Mr. Toto).
  • Fair Cop: Both Burke and Tim Tilson. Peter Burke in the revival, with a frequent Girl of the Week to prove it.
  • Faking the Dead: "Who Killed Purity Mather?" is more like "Who Did Purity Mather Kill And Make People Believe It Was Her Who Bought It?" Also, in the revival episode 'Who Killed the Movie Mogul?', it turns out that the movie mogul himself was the killer, the victim was his twin brother who had been trying to force him out of the movie company, and the mogul was impersonating the twin over the course of the episode.
  • False Confession: In "Who Killed Cassandra Cass?" each suspect confesses to being the murderer, but Burke thinks some (or all) of them are lying because each confession has the victim saying something different just before she is killed. Turns out they were all telling the truth because the butler had recorded the victim and then played different recordings for each person before they shot a dummy of the victim.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Burke does this in "Who Killed Marty Kelso?" Mind-bogglingly, he does this knowing that the drug he's tasting was probably used to poison the victim.
    • to be fair the 'drug' was Baking Soda (antacid) and the 'poison' was a mass does of sleeping Pills, so a finger taste would hardly be troublesome
  • Gentleman Detective/Gentleman Snarker: Burke on both counts.
  • The Ghost: We never find out anything about Mrs. Burke, who Burke married, produced Peter with, and died between the original and revival. All we really know is that Burke and Peter adored her, and she died before Peter graduated high school.
    • One episode ends with Amos and Peter visiting her grave, and we see that her name was Sarah.
  • Girl of the Week: Burke had a new girlfriend in every episode, who would usually only appear at the beginning and then at the very end before disappearing off into the ether. In "Who Killed The Card?" it's Tim, for once, who gets the girl. And in "Who Killed Holly Howard?", the Girl of the Week is the killer.
    • In the 1994 revival, it's Peter who constantly has a Girl of the Week (at least one who turns out to be a killer, too). Though Burke still has a few dates over the course of the revival himself.
    • In "Who Killed My Girl?" from the original series, the Girl of the Week is also the murder victim...Burke's former girlfriend, whom he went to dinner with. She was killed right after he dropped her off at home.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Burke drives a 1962 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II during his police investigations. While not actually an example during the original 1963 series, it certainly fits when it appears in the 1994 revival.
  • Honest John's Dealership: In "Who Killed Jason Shaw?," "Give 'Em Away" Murphy is a Motor Mouth who owns several prosperous used car dealerships and once spent six months in jail for lying about the engine of a car he sold.
    Tim: You think that Murphy is our most promising suspect?
    Burke: Not necessarily, but he's the biggest liar.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Burke is the Great Detective of the show, but his subordinate Tim is a keen-eyed investigator. When Burke asks him to procure a piece of evidence, Tim has generally anticipated that request and already gotten started on it.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Subverted in "Who Killed the Eleventh Best Dressed Woman in the World?" Everyone seems to know how the victim died.
  • Identical Grandson: Burke's Irish Uncle Pat ("Who Killed The Grand Piano?") is played by Gene Barry with a blonde wig and moustache.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: For the first two seasons and the revival, each episode was entitled "Who Killed [Weekly Victim's Name/Occupation]?" When the show underwent its Genre Shift in Season 3, this was dropped, too.
  • Internal Affairs: Captain Metcalfe in "Who Killed the Horne of Plenty?"
  • Intimate Telecommunications: In "Who Killed the Movie Mogul?," one suspect is an aspiring actress who gets Stage Fright but has no problem putting on a dominatrix persona for clients over the phone.
  • Jail Bake: Attempted in "Who Killed Cassandra Cass?"
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: A girl who does this at a stag party where all the guests were murdered becomes a particularly irritating (and clingy) witness in "Who Killed Everybody?". In the revival series episode, "Who Killed the World's Greatest Chef?", a girl jumps out of a cake and fires two guns, one shoots out a flag that says "BANG!", the other a real pistol that takes out the victim of the week.
  • Karmic Death: Happens to a few victims.
    • One of the best would have to be an ambulance-chasing lawyer run down by a stolen ambulance. Every suspect openly notes how "the killer had a sense of humor."
    • A tennis player named Spider is killed by a tarantula. Burke has to admire "a spider killed Spider."
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: When Anne Francis guested on the revival as Honey West (whose series was spun off from an episode of the original), the character had to be called Honey Best since Spelling Entertainment didn't have the rights (unlike Capt. Burke, Honey came from a series of novels by Skip and Gloria Fickling).
  • Lighter and Softer
  • Marry Them All: When Burke ends up with two girls of the week in "Who Killed Cassandra Cass?", he simply goes out on a date with both of them.
  • Millionaire Playboy: Burke had a day job, of course, but otherwise he fit this to a tee.
  • Motive Misidentification: Happens a few times as the real reason for the murder isn't as obvious as it seems.
    • "Who Killed Good Time Charlie" has Burke assuming the killer was paying back the victim for a bad business deal. It turns out that the man had discovered how, years before, the victim (an infamous prankster) had put a snake in the guy's car. But the person driving it was the man's girlfriend who got into a fatal accident. He'd finally realized the snake startled her to cause the accident and was out for revenge on losing the woman he loved over a stupid prank.
    • "Who Killed the Motorcar Maverick" ends with the suspect having two great motives: Not only was the car CEO victim responsible for the accident that ruined his racing career but he was sleeping with the guy's wife. The man snaps the real reason was that the CEO refused to accept how his new car model was highly dangerous and would have caused numerous deaths if produced so the murderer killed him to save the lives of hundreds of drivers.
  • Mushroom Samba: One of the suspects is having one as Burke and Tilson question her in "Who Killed Cassandra Cass?"
  • Mystery of the Week
  • Nasty Party: In "Who Killed Cassandra Cass?", the victim made it a habit to invite all of her Blackmail victims to an annual dinner party.
  • New Meat: Tim Tilson, for which he was often the subject of Burke's good-natured ribbing.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the original series, we see murder victims based on Ernest Hemingway ("Who Killed Julian Buck?"), Hugh Hefner ("Who Killed Alex Debbs?"; interestingly, the real Hefner made a cameo as a Bunny Club manager in a second-season episode "Who Killed the Grand Piano?") and Elvis Presley ("Who Killed Billy Jo?").
    • The revival series saw episodes with murder victims based on Wolfgang Puck ("Who Killed the World's Greatest Chef?"), Roger Corman ("Who Killed the Movie Mogul?") and John McEnroe ("Who Killed the Tennis Ace?").
  • No Name Given: "The Man," Burke's mysterious boss when he became a secret agent.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Burke, of course.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: Used in "Who Killed the Starlet?". A woman is the bath while listening to some music, when a killer sneaks in and drops her boombox into the bathtub, killing her. It turns out that the killer and lady are merely actors on a movie set, and they're filming a murder scene. Then it turns out the boombox had been plugged into a live outlet by an unknown party, and the actress in the bathtub really is dead.
    • then subverted, as it turns out that the actual murder weapon was the bathwater; it had been laced with a poison the victim absorbed trough her skin.
  • Obfuscating Postmortem Wounds: Used in "Who Killed the Starlet?". A woman is in the bath while listening to some music, when a killer sneaks in and drops her boombox into the bathtub, killing her. It turns out that the killer and lady are merely actors on a movie set, and they're filming a murder scene. Then it turns out the boombox had been plugged into a live outlet by an unknown party, and the actress in the bathtub really is dead. The special effects man is the first suspect, and protests that the voltage was kept too low to hurt anyone, as a matter of safety, which is standard procedure for filming this sort of thing in real life. It turns out that the water was poisoned with nicotine. The special effects man did so believing that the non-lethal voltage would clear him of suspicion.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Burke's two main assistants are a weathered old detective with good instincts and a sharply dressed younger one who excels at gathering evidence.
  • Orgy of Evidence: In "Who Killed Marty Kelso?", the murderer plants a cufflink at the scene to implicate an innocent man. After the police fail to find it, she plants its mate. When Burke finds both of them, he figures that one cufflink is a clue and two is an obvious frameup.
  • Overt Operative: Even after he became a secret agent for the government, Burke kept the fancy tailored suits and the silver Rolls Royce. He also never bothered with false names or disguises.
  • Perky Goth: Downplayed with Leona Barnett in "Who Killed the Movie Mogul." She's a dark-clad woman who owns a horror movie memorabilia shop and is obsessed with the dark side of life. However, she shows a more friendly and cheerful side during the few moments where she isn't interacting with her emotionally distant father or being accused of his murder by the police (both of which provide some justification for an unhappy attitude).
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: "Who Killed the Jackpot?" was one of these for Honey West.
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "Who Killed the Strangler?", in which the titular character, a professional wrestler, is killed by a poison dart that could only have come from one of five people sitting in special ringside seats.
  • Rasputinian Death: A standard twist to lead in to the second commercial break, but never more faithfully done than in "Who Killed Andy Zygmunt?", in which the victim was revealed to have been shot, stabbed, and poisoned before finally being impaled.
  • Recursive Canon: In The Stinger for "Who Killed Purity Mather?" the Girl of the Week watches an episode of Burke's Law on our hero's limo TV.
  • Recycled Premise: The original's "Who Killed The Toy Soldier?" led to the revival's "Who Killed The Toy Maker?"
    • The original series episode "Who Killed Merlin the Great?" was remade for the revival as "Who Killed Alexander the Great?" In between those two episodes, original episode writers Richard Levinson and William Link remade it as the pilot for their short-lived Blacke's Magic series.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Tim Tilson and Les Hart, respectively.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Burke always dressed to the nines.
  • Shoe Phone: During the Amos Burke, Secret Agent era, Burke had quite a few of these, like a pen that unfolded the stairs in his private jet.
  • Shout-Out: In "Who Killed Lenore Wingfield?", Burke and Tim pay a visit to businessman Jim Clover to speak to him about his involvement with the dead woman. They arrive at Clover Industries and ride up in a special elevator to Clover's penthouse office, an elevator equipped with a fancy couch and a P.A. system that delivers a spiel about Clover Industries. Upon exiting, Burke quips, "On the way down, Charles Boyer gives us a reading from Don Juan In Hell!" Boyer, who was indeed starring in that very play at that time, was one of the actors who founded Four Star Television, the original series' production company.
    • In "Who Killed Mr. Game Show?", the game show shout-outs are fast and furious. Upon learning that the dead man was at odds with his wife, Burke vows to pay her a visit and 'find out more about this...Family Feud!'. He and Peter also drop in on the show's slick host, to 'see if he knows how to...Tell the Truth!". And when all the suspects are brought together for the reveal of the killer(s), he prefaces it by saying, "Welcome to our version of Final Jeopardy!".
  • Show Within a Show: The quiz show "Hangman" in "Who Killed Mr. Game Show?"
  • The Snark Knight: Les Hart often filled this role.
  • Spanner in the Works: In "Who Killed the Highest Bidder?", the killer might well have gotten away with it thanks to his "airtight" alibi of having been on video in Paris when the murder was committed. But Burke hears a police siren echoing in the background which is not what a French police car sounds like and thus figures out the guy was actually in Los Angeles and faked the video call.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Gene Barry's previous star vehicle, Bat Masterson, which was also about a wealthy, urbane, and snarky lawman, except set in the Wild West rather than present day Los Angeles.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: In "Who Killed the Toymaker," the victim's affection for his wife (the model for a toy line) plummeted when she got an MBA and went to work at his company.
  • Surprise Incest: A murder was committed to prevent this. The killer of a wealthy country club member is the mother of a young woman the man was dating. When the daughter demands to know why her mother "killed the man I loved," the mother replies "that man was your father!" She'd had a one night stand with him 25 years earlier when he was a poor plumber, only learning she was pregnant later. When the man arrived at the club as a member, the woman saw her daughter getting close to him and killed him rather than simply tell the truth about the girl's origins.
  • Take Me Out At The Ballgame: In "Who Killed the Man on the White Horse?", a cowboy star falls off his horse at a rodeo, dead of a broken neck — sustained before he went out into the arena. Similarly, "Who Killed Wimbledon Hastings?" had a tennis pro killed by an exploding ball during a charity match.
  • Tap on the Head/Waking Up Elsewhere: Burke falls victim to both in "Who Killed the Eleventh Best Dressed Woman in the World?"
  • Technology Porn: The car phone in Burke's Rolls was featured prominently.
  • Tuxedo and Martini: The Amos Burke, Secret Agent episodes.
  • Twin Switch: "Who Killed the Movie Mogul" has a wicked producer killed. At his funeral, everyone is shocked when his identical twin brother shows up and passes a lie detector test on not killing "Leo." But Burke notes that the man's glasses are just clear, not actually working. It turns out this is the "victim" who tricked his twin into swapping places to kill him before he could force Leo out of the studio and then posed as the twin to continue running his studio.
  • Unmanly Secret: The revival episode "Who Killed The Toymaker" features General Prescott, a toy company's military consultant. Prescott collects stuffed animals, saying it started in The Korean War when he carried a teddy bear to remind him of his childhood amidst all that death. He's a bit self-conscious about his hobby and tells his coworkers that the toys are gifts for his nonexistent granddaughter.
  • The Unreveal: The source of Burke's wealth. In one episode, an IRS agent presses him to explain how he can afford his lavish lifestyle. He snarks that he's an avid coupon clipper.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Amos Burke, Secret Agent's "Peace, It's A Gasser."
  • You Just Ruined the Shot: In the premiere episode of the revived series, "Who Killed the Starlet?", Burke goes to visit rock singer Roger Rose (Bret Michaels) on the set of his band's video (the song for the video is Poison's "Unskinny Bop"). The video features a group of guys in suits dancing around, and Burke, who's wearing a suit, gets dragged into the video and is getting into the dancing when Rose notices him and has a freak-out.