One of the most popular and memorable Detective Dramas of the late '50's, 77 Sunset Strip was a Warner Bros. Television production for ABC, set in Los Angeles, created by Roy Huggins (who refused screen credit) and produced by William T. Orr.
The series began life as a movie, "Girl On the Run", which aired as the first episode of the series. In the movie, private detective Stuart Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) was out to save a girl from a vicious killer, played by Edd Byrnes. When it became a proper series, Byrnes was still involved, but as a new character, hipster parking attendant Gerald Lloyd Kookson, III, better-known to one and all as 'Kookie', and with his otherworldly lingo, certainly lived up to that moniker. Stu's partner was Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith), a former operative with Military Intelligence. Working the front desk was fetching French secretary Suzanne (Jacqueline Beer). Also around the office a lot was gambler Roscoe (Louis Quinn), who helped out a lot as a legman. Their police contact was Lt. Ray Gilmore (Byron Keith), a former military colleague of Jeff's.
Changes came about with the 1960 season. Warner Brothers was fond of shuffling around the actors in their series. Since most of their series' stars were under contract to them, if a show was canceled, they would either cast an actor from a canceled show in a new vehicle or add them to an existing show. In the case of 77 Sunset Strip, they acquired Richard Long and his character Rex Randolph from the Strip clone Bourbon Street Beat, which was set in New Orleans. Long lasted a season, after which Kookie got promoted (per Edd Byrnes's redone contract) from parking lot attendant/occasional legman to full-fledged detective and losing the jive talk in the process. This meant that a new attendant at Dino's (the fancy restaurant next door) was needed, and so J.R. Hale (Robert Logan) was brought in. Like Kookie, he had an odd way of talking, speaking in anagrams (for example, he mentioned to Stu that his style of service paid off in BTU's. Stu thought it was 'British thermal units', but to J.R., it stood for 'better tips, usually').
The team of Bailey and Spencer handled all sorts of cases, including murder, missing persons, major thefts and bodyguard duties, and they also traveled around the world on international intrigue cases. Most times, it was usually one of the detectives handling the case, but occasionally two or more of the regulars would team up for a mission.
The series was a reliable action show for four seasons, but Executive Meddling reared its ugly head midway through the fifth season (1962-63). Warner Brothers hired Jack Webb to run their television division. While he didn't make changes immediately, they were on the horizon. Webb and his production team, which included future Cannon star William Conrad, actually came aboard with the final episode of the season, and the bottom fell out for the final season. Webb gutted the series, firing the entire cast save for Zimbalist. Along with that, the familiar finger-snapping theme song was gone, replaced by a more noirish-sounding instrumental. Stu Bailey was now a single operative working out of the ornate Bradley Building, a long way from the fabled Strip, with a cute blonde temp secretary, and he no longer had a Friend on the Force, as every cop he dealt with was downright nasty towards him. The revamped series started out with an interesting, star-packed five-part episode aptly titled "5", which sent Stu on a mission that started out in New York City and took him all around the world. The subsequent episodes didn't have the charm of the earlier episodes, and viewers abandoned the series in droves. 77 Sunset Strip was canceled in January of 1964. Jack Webb was subsequently fired from his post and replaced briefly by William Conrad, who in turn would be replaced as head of Warner Brothers Television by William T. Orr, the guy Webb replaced.
Kookie says, "Wowsville, Man, dig these crazy tropes!"
- As Himself: Will Hutchins, star of the Warner Bros. Western Series Sugarfoot, plays himself in two episodes, one as the escort to a young starlet, the other as an emcee for a beauty contest.
- Frequent guest star John Dehner plays himself in "Leap, My Lovely". He offers to help Jeff nail a hypnotist who's extorting money from a young actress by doing some acting, as a psychiatrist.
- 'America's Newest Singing Sensation', Peter, Paul and Mary appear in the episode "Shadow On Your Shoulder". They had just been signed to Warner (Bros.) Records at that time.
- Boxing Episode: "The Fix", where Jeff is initially hired to prevent a boxer from marrying an heiress, then has to clear said boxer of killing an opponent.
- Clear My Name:
- Stu is framed for murder in both "Clay Pigeon" and "Stranger Than Fiction".
- Jeff is framed for stealing an inheritance he was bringing to an Italian citizen in "The Lovely American" and has to find the bandits who robbed him.
- Kookie is framed for rape in "Terror In a Small Town". He picks up a hitchhiker who forces him at knifepoint to switch clothes with him, unaware that the man has just raped a housewife. He tries calling J.R. for help, but J.R. thinks it's a practical joke and hangs up. Eventually, J.R. and Jeff figure out that it's not a joke and have to race to save Kookie from a lynch mob.
- Clear Their Name: In "Framework For a Badge", a gangster first accuses Lt. Gilmore of planting evidence to frame him and then has the detective framed for murder. The gang goes to work to clear Gil of the charges.
- In "The Corsican Caper", the gang works to clear Suzanne of the murder of a charming con artist who fleeced her and a number of other women, claiming he was a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Kookie in his valet days, with his odd lexicon. Later, J.R. and his anagrams.
- Creator Cameo: In the final-season episode "The Target", Stu encounters a trio of mob leaders, played by Tony Barrett (the episode's writer), William Conrad (the series's producer) and Lawrence Dobkin (the episode's director). Also, in the same episode, he visits his client's former cellmate in prison...he's played by James Lydon, the series's Associate Producer.
- Crossover: With all the similar crime shows set in exotic locales that Warners produced, it was natural that some of the other series' stars would turn up on the Strip, or our heroes would travel over there. On a few occasions, the stars of Hawaiian Eye would appear if Bailey and Spencer's cases took them to Hawai'i. We'd see either Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley) or Tom Lopaka (Robert Conrad) team up with our guys.
- Cult: In the episode "Mr. Paradise", the guys come to the aid of an old man who's being terrorized by the titular cult leader, his neighbor who wants his land.
- Detective Drama
- Faked Kidnapping: The millionaire's wife that Stu was hired to find in "Stranger Than Fiction" faked her own kidnapping. When it all backfires and she's found dead, Stu is the prime suspect.
- Friend on the Force: Lt. Gilmore.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Many episodes are entitled "The (X) Caper".
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: Two in the next-to-last season: "Nine to Five", a dramedy about the lives of New York professionals, and "Flight 307", about the lives of people who work at the airport, on and off the job.
- Put on a Bus:
- Rex Randolph after one season (1960-61), though Richard Long appeared two more times over the remaining seasons in different roles.
- Jeff, Kookie, Roscoe, Suzanne, J.R. and Lt. Gilmore at the end of the 1962-63 season.
- Sexy Secretary:
- Suzanne, played by Miss France of 1954, Jacqueline Beer.
- In the final season, Hannah, played by Joan Staley.
- Jeff always talks about watching the Western series Bronco when he's depressed. No prizes for guessing what major TV studio produced that series.
- "The Checkmate Caper" gets its name from the shout-out to the series Checkmate. When Cuthbert Carmichael hires Stu to pull off a fake robbery, he mentions that one of the private eye's functions is to prevent crime, 'like they do on that show Checkmate'.
- "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: "One False Step" could have easily been called "Strangers On a Plane", as the two men involved in the murder scheme meet on a plane.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
- J.R. for Kookie.
- In the episode "Condor's Lair", Troy Donahue played aspiring actor Star Bright, who worked parking cars at Dino's, just like Kookie, and also like Kookie, he's brought in to work on their latest case.