1983 was a time of change in the US. Ronald Regan was president. The power of technology was on the ascendant. Manliness was back in vogue. And people were worried about law and order and being soft on crime. Indeed, one frequent claim made was that guilty criminals were escaping the justice system on technicalities.
Hardcastle & McCormick was one of the shows that latched onto all those concerns and prospered for three seasons on ABC as a result. The show was created by TV wunderkind Stephen J Cannell, who wrote 450 episodes of TV shows, produced or exec-produced over 1,500 episodes, and created or co-created no fewer than 40 television series including The Rockford Files, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Wiseguy, 21 Jump Street, Silk Stalkings and The Commish.
Its set-up was relatively simple: Judge Milton C Hardcastle (Brian Keith) is about to retire. However, he’s kept track of 200 criminals who escaped on technicalities and he plans to go after them in retirement and get them locked up. His final case is Mark McCormick (Daniel Hugh Kelly), a car thief who steals a prototype sports car, the Coyote X, which was designed by his best friend before he was murdered. Through a legal technicality, Hardcastle is able to take McCormick into his custody and McCormick accepts rather than go to jail. With McCormick living in the judge’s guest house, together they go after those 200 crims, helped just a little – and with a compulsory number of award-winning stunt scenes – by the Coyote X.
Curiously, the show had three different title sequences and two different theme tunes. The more famous and the best theme tune was ‘Drive’, written by another TV wunderkind, Mike Post, who composed the themes for shows including Law & Order, NYPD Blue, The Rockford Files, LA Law, Quantum Leap, Magnum, P.I., Hill Street Blues, The A-Team, CHiPs, MacGyver and Murder One. That accompanied the first season’s title sequence:
Then for the second season, the show switched to a dreadful country music theme.
Viewer outcry was enormous and it wasn’t long before ‘Drive’ was reinstated for the rest of the second season as well as for the third season.
While no classic of writing, Hardcastle & McCormick‘s appeal was relatively clear: as well as the camaraderie between the two leads, this was largely an adrenaline-fuelled show, with some surprisingly well directed high-speed car scenes involving the Coyote X, in actuality a Manta Montage kit car based on the McLaren M6GT with a Porsche 914 engine.
All the same, after three years, Hardcastle & McCormick‘s appeal had diminished enough that it wasn’t renewed for a fourth season. But for adrenaline junkies, it is at least all all available on DVD.