Quincy, M.E (1976-83)


“You are about to enter the most fascinating sphere of police work, the world of forensic medicine”

Jack Klugman, one of the best actors who ever worked on American film and TV, was already a 25-year veteran, and star of the hit sitcom The Odd Couple, when he scored his biggest personal success in Quincy, which ran for 7 years. I just watched the third season …

This brief review is offered as part of Tuesday’s Overlooked Film & TV meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog,

Hollywood writer-producer-composer Glen A. Larson (1937-2014) was nicknamed ‘Glen A. Larceny’ by Harlan Ellison for his quick-off-the-mark TV projects ‘inspired’ by recent movie hits. Thus Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) begat Alias Smith and Jones (1971-73); Coogan’s Bluff  (1968) became McCloud (1970-77); Burt Reynolds’ back-to-back hits Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Hooper (1978) spawned BJ and the Bear (1979-81) and The Fall Guy (1981-86); while Battlestar Galactica (1978-79) cashed-in on Star Wars (1977). At least Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-80) was a genuine, attributed remake …

The one bona-fide exception to Larson’s reactive copycat tendency in the 1970s was medical-cum-mystery show Quincy, M.E. It was originally written for Robert Wagner and then offered to James Earl Jones but eventually became a hit starring Jack Klugman. It began as a series of feature-length specials in the Columbo mould before becoming a weekly hour show. By the time that happened, Krugman HAD had Larson kicked off the show (though very handsomely recompensed) and pretty much worked with a completely new team from there on in (including several members of his own family).

Armed only with an unwavering moral compass and one of the finest toupees in Hollywood, ‘Quince’ (no first name supplied) fought the good fight against The Establishment in defence of the underdog week in week out, touching on such topical issues as police corruption, domestic abuse and the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents. When not diagnosing subdural haematomas or performing emergency tracheotomies with a biro, our hero is at his best communing with the Common Man.

Klugman (who also helped write several episodes) makes for a very compelling, passionate and compassionate leading man – indeed the emphasis on the poor and disenfranchised is especially pleasing, as is the total lack of gloss. On the other hand, the basic structure of episodic TV at the time was very repetitive, so in virtually every episode you will have Quince get cross with his uptight boss (John S. Ragin), trade barbs with a harried cop (Garry Walberg), make some clever discoveries thanks to his faithful lab assistant (Robert Ito) and usually end an episode by eating out at his favourite restaurant (run by Val Bisoglio) for a freeze-frame finale. But it is worth remembering that talented authors like Robert Crais wrote several scripts and there is much here to enjoy once you re-adjust yourself to the tropes on 70s television. Oh, and the theme tune is a beaut:

DVD Availability: Easy to get and not expensive, so please avoid all the illegal copies uploaded to YouTube.

Director: Georg Fenady, Ray Danton, Ron Satlof, Paul Krasny, et al.
Producer: William Cairncross, Lester Wm. Burke,
Screenplay: Sam Egan, Steve Greenberg, Aubrey Solomon, Jeri Taylor, Michael Braverman, Robert Crais, Jeff Freilich, Christopher Trumbo, et al.
Cinematography: Frank R. Hale, Fred Jackman Jr., H. John Penner
Art Direction: Ira Diamond, Robert Crawley Sr., Alexander A. Mayer
Music: Stu Phillips and Glen Larson (theme), Bruce Broughton
Cast: Jack Krugman, Robert Ito, Garry Walberg, John S. Ragin, Val Bisoglio

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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32 Responses to Quincy, M.E (1976-83)

  1. Colin says:

    Ah, another reminder. I have the first three seasons of the show on disc and still haven’t watched them. I remember liking this back in the early 80s when I caught some of it intermittently on TV and I generally really like 70s mystery/crime shows. Not sure why I’ve not got stuck into this yet.

    • Watching older telly, without serialisation arcs, does require a real adjustment I find

      • Colin says:

        This is true but it’s also what I like about it, and what frequently irritates me about more recent examples. Happily, with so much material available across so many platforms nowadays, it’s easy to keep all of us and our varying tastes satisfied.

        • Well, I know TV isn’t always necessarily your thing chum! I mainly watched the show in Italian in the 1980s so for me it was really interesting to watch this season again. A lot of good stuff – and Quince is such a seemingly unlikely anti-establishment figure!

          • Colin says:

            It’s not so much that TV isn’t my thing as I find it hard to commit to anything in the way arc-based writing demands. As such, I find 70s TV, and on into the 80s too, easier to manage and I can dip in and out when the mood strikes, of course that approach isn’t for everybody.

          • I agree really and this regard often find TV from the 60s and 70s, especially British, works really well that way.

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Oh, I always liked this show very much, Sergio. It was well-written and well-acted. And I liked the fact that it wasn’t too implausible. And you’re right; the emphasis on the disenfranchised adds to the show’s appeal.

  3. Simon says:

    I remember this show with such great fondness. I was fortunate enough to see Klugman live in the West End, many many years ago, in a revival of the original ” Odd Couple” play with his TV show co-star Tony Randall. Klugman, by then was suffering with throat cancer, had had an operation and had to wear a very obvious throat Mike, but those two consummate old pros, although far too old in reality to portray the characters as originally written, just ruled that stage. I am interested though, as to why he had Larson thrown off his own show. Was there bad blood between them?

    • I saw that London production too! Larson was, with all due respect, a bit of a hack and Klugman wanted greater control to make the show more serious. Same thing happened with MAGNUM PI when Bellisario was aaked to take it over.

  4. JJ says:

    This was a classic of afternoon television in my uni days, pre on-demand, download it, watch it whenever you like…aaaah, simpler times! It was a huge amount of fun, and it’s interesting to reflect on just how much classic TV was produced in this genre — this sort of edge-of-crime-fiction — during this era in both the US and the UK. Didn’t Klugman also appear in an episode of Diagnosis: Murder? Memory wants to tell me that he was playing a Quincy-alike, but I have a feeling mempry is lying to me on that score…

  5. MJM says:

    A great late 70’s theme, and a great tv show. I enjoyed watching Quincy back in the good old days. Can’t believe it was on for 7 years!! But I’m always happy to see actors who are so well associated with a previous character get a chance to move forward with a new character.

    BTW, here’s a wonderful assessment of how big of a deal Quincy was: SCTV does a parody called, “Quincy: Cartoon Coroner.”

  6. Bobbi Johnson says:

    There are very few TV shows from the 1970′ and 80’s that have aged well Quincy is one of them.
    One of the local TV stations in my area rebroadcasts Quincy and it is a pleasure to watch it again.
    I did not know that Robert Wagner and James Earl Jones were offered the part, I personally can not see Robert Wagner as Quincy it would have been terrible miscasting, as far as James Earl Jones as Quincy………….maybe.
    Jack Klugman is Quincy just like Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones.

    • Larson has just doing SWITCH with Wagner (which was basically his rip-off from THE STING) but the two shows overlapped, so Wagner couldn’t have done it then anyway. I agree, Krugman is the beating heart of the show.

  7. Paula Carr says:

    I enjoyed this show. I was a big Robert Ito fan…he didn’t work enough. And Jack Klugman was a great actor. He did lots of classic TV, including several Twilight Zone episodes (A Passage for Trumpet was great), and, of course, Twelve Angry Men. Great resumé.

  8. Patti Abbott says:

    We watched a fair share of these back in the day.

  9. My partner loved Quincy, so I’ve watched many of them in my time! I played the theme tune and it took me right back – and that opening scene where the students faint. It actually appears in what I assume was the first episode ever, doesn’t it? He needs to get away quickly, to do some investigating, so pushes them all to back out of the autopsy.
    When we watched TV back then we weren’t fully aware of the different series, where we were in the series, the rigid lines that US TV worked on: we just watched what came when it came. So different from the way we all watch now.

    • Yes, that scene is from the pilot episode! I agree, one too soon forgets what watching telly was like – for someone like me, who wanted a sense of completeness, it was an exquisite exercise in frustration.!

  10. rthepotter says:

    There was a British tv series starring Marius Goring, called ‘The Expert’, which I always understood to be the first popular tv drama about forensic medicine – the first series was broadcast in 1968. Alas it seems to have sunk without trace, but I can remember the entire family rushing to be in front of the screen when it was about to start and remaining hooked for the duration, so I think it was probably pretty good. It was very popular at the time, so in view of your ‘larceny’ theme I can’t help wondering – just a little ….

  11. Bev Hankins says:

    Sergio, I LOVED this when it was on in the late 70s/early 80s, but, as you mention, it was very formulaic. Something I never really picked up on when it only came on once a week, but when we got season one from Netflix some time ago it really it home. It’s difficult for me to watch some of the shows I loved when I was young in the marathon-style that comes from getting whole seasons in a set.

  12. tracybham says:

    I am in the minority here. The only time I saw this was in snatches when visiting my parents (and this would have been in reruns). I don’t know why; Glen and I watched a good bit of television in our first years together, on a tiny black and white tv.

    • I definitely watched it first run int he UK when visiting friends in the 1970s; then I mainly caught up with it dubbed on syndication on Italian TV the following decade. One fo the joys of it, to me, is that it feels like a show made by people who never forgot the anti-Establishment fervour of the 1960s, which is still a pleasant surprise for a mainstream network how like this one.

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