For years, women in TV action shows were, shall we say, ‘ornamental’. Not often given much by way of character and what they had often revolving around the hero of the show, they were there to be pretty and give the largely male audience something to look at – or to just be secretaries. The heroes? Some were rugged, admittedly, but others could be old and tired, obsese or even one-armed.
Come the 60s, women began to get something to do, thanks to the likes of Cathy Gale and Emma Peel in The Avengers and Honey West in the eponymously named Honey West. What didn’t happen for a long while was for men to become the eye candy for female viewers, the add-on to the heroine.
That took the 80s and with CBS’s Cover Up, women who had been holding out for a hero finally got what they wanted.
Created by Glen A Larson, as almost all shows were back then, the basic plot of Cover Up was simple: Jennifer O’Neill plays the widowed fashion photographer Dani Reynolds. She discovers her husband was an undercover CIA agent and that he was murdered. So she recruits Mac Harper (Jon-Erik Hexum from Making of a Male Model), a former Marine, to help find her husband’s killer.
When they’re successful, her husband’s former boss Henry Towler (Richard Anderson, who was, of course, Oscar in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) offers her her husband’s old job. Together with eye-candy Harper, who now poses as a model, she travels the world as a fashion photographer, doing secret missions for the CIA, either helping Americans or catching criminals.
The formula for each episode was relatively simple, too. The dynamic duo would go on a mission together, investigate, Dani and Harper would flirt a lot, there’d be a pre-Baywatch fashion montage with the pretty-but-not-too-sexy O’Neill taking lots of pictures of Hexum looking pretty, and then there’d be a lot of action sequences involving Hexum looking rugged and pretty.
Importantly, it was clearly Dani and her growing emotional interest in Harper that was the show’s main interest, rather than Harper himself. She was the lead and in effect the boss of the pair and the plots tended to revolve around her.
Not Shakespeare, but still pretty decent for 1980s action TV – certainly a cut above Riptide and Simon and Simon, say.
That, at least, was the plot for the first seven episodes. However, things took a turn for the tragic after that. Hexum, for a joke, took a prop .44 magnum, put in a blank cartridge and pulled the trigger. Blanks aren’t really blanks, since they contain things like wadding, and the shot killed him.
Hexum’s death is written into the show, with Harper being assigned to a mission elsewhere in one episode, during which a replacement, Jack Striker (Antony Hamilton, who went on to the remake of Mission: Impossible afterwards), turns up. Striker’s introduction pre-empts Casino Royale by a good couple of decades.
At the end of the episode, however, it’s revealed that Mac has been killed on his secret mission, prompting Dani to burst into tears, because of course, she’s fallen in love with him. Unlucky girl, huh?
Striker remained for the rest of the show, which naturally got a new title sequence, still set to that classic theme from Mumbles-born Bonnie Tyler (Catherine Zeta had it played at her wedding, you know).
The rest of the season continued in the same vein, but the relationship between Striker and Dani was different, with Dani attracted to Striker but frightened to invest herself in someone, again, particularly when she’s still getting over Harper.
The show was cancelled after that – whether because of the loss of Hexum, the arrival of Hamilton or because no one liked it, I couldn’t say – and it’s not available on DVD, so that officially makes it a Lost Gem. Ish.