At the moment, CBS is top of the US ratings, able to deploy any old rubbish (Mike and Molly, Two and a Half Men) and people will watch it happily, while NBC is currently drilling a hole in the ratings basement so it can go and live in a new sub-basement it’s planning on building, even though many of its shows (well, Community and 30 Rock) easily trump whatever CBS has to offer.
But go back 25 years or so, and it was NBC that was the ratings juggernaut, crushing CBS with its peacock feathers and shows such as The Golden Girls, despite CBS turning out more than a few decent shows itself. CBS did, of course, have private detective show Magnum PI, which amazingly ran from 1980 through to 1988. But in 1987, with Magnum‘s fortunes waning, CBS went on a great mental trek and asked itself what kind of show it could replace Magnum with and came up with the astounding idea of… a private detective show.
However, in contrast to other private detective shows of the 80s (Magnum, Simon & Simon, Riptide, Tucker’s Witch), this one would be a little more realistic and star a woman – Margaret Colin, then famous as a comedy actress from shows such as Foley Square, but better known now for Gossip Girl, Now and Again and Chicago Hope. What a feminist move, echoing the likes of Honey West? Nope. This was a show for men and to let men know they were allowed to watch it, the producers called it… Leg Work. And focused a lot on Margaret Colin’s legs.
Eschewing gun fights and car chases in favour of humour and wit, the show was actually quite good. Colin played Claire McCarron, a former New York district attorney who becomes a private detective because of her skills at tracking down people and information. Keeping it real, the show regularly had McCarron in meetings, dealing with admin and interviews, suffering from a poor personal life, never having any money, dealing with creditors and having to track down her own clients so she could get paid.
Assisting McCarron were her father, a retired cop, and her PR cop brother Fred, played by Patrick James Clarke of Saracen fame, as well as her best friend/roommate, former fashion model Willie (played by Frances McDormand of Fargo fame). And she drove a rather nice Porsche 911, as well.
“The scripts are great,” Colin says. “The best of all possible worlds would be for us to be able to do a small picture each week. With a lot of emotion, a lot of character and conflicts that are real and not manufactured. Our stories are more Europe. They’re not as tidy as most American shows. The focus is on emotion and the characters. And the writers have hooked into my sense of humor.”
Nevertheless, up against NBC’s Golden Girls, Leg Work only managed to squeeze out six of its 10 episodes before it was cancelled, although the whole run aired in the UK on ITV. While not a classic of TV, it was still a cut above some of its more ludicrous rivals and should have made Margaret Colin a whole lot more famous than she ended up. Anyway, here’s a trailer for it and the title sequence, which has a very Mike Post-ish theme tune.