A couple of years ago I reviewed the 90 minute 1972 pilot episode for the series ‘Search’ called ‘PROBE’ where Hugh Lockwood, an investigator for World Securities, is telemetrically linked up to his headquarters by a neural earjack and tooth beeper and carried a tiny sophisticated TV scanner on a medallion, tie-pin or ring to relay information and be told things as he sought out a missing jewel collection. We’ve seen such technology, well, miniature cameras anyway, in shows in recent years but this was from 1972 and in those days was still regarded as Science Fiction far beyond what we could do today.
This pilot used to appear on TV from time to time in the UK, the last time back in the 1980s. A ‘Search’ chat group I belong finally convinced Warner Bros to include it in the special archive release, helped a little by people there who remembered seeing it themselves when young. ‘PROBE’ had charm, humour, good casting and an intelligent plot combined with probably the best theme music ever by Dominic Frontiere. You can find a copy of the music on UTube if you need convincing. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones who remembered the show because it became a massive seller for Warner’s and convinced them to release the 23 episode series ‘Search’ that followed. If those of you in the UK remember it being called ‘Search Control’, the name change here was because there was a documentary series out around the same time so it couldn’t be called that. Said name is still used on IMDb, although I suspect that has more to do with the problem with just putting the word “Search” into search engines.
As a series, ‘Search’ used the format of ‘The Name Of The Game’ (another series Leslie Stevens formatted) of having three rotating leads because actor Hugh O’Brian, having back problems, didn’t want to do a weekly recording turnover. In many respects, this was a healthy move for the show. I mean why would any organisation have a single investigator succeed at everything. This way, you got the feel of a working organisation doing their job. So, next to PROBE One, Hugh Lockwood, there was also Omega PROBE Nick Bianco (actor Tony Franciosa) who dealt with more police like-cases and stand-by PROBE C.R. Grover (actor Doug McClure), not exactly an apprentice but still finding his feet with his boss. Throughout all of this, the team back at PROBE Control is led by V.C.R. Cameron (actor Burgess Meredith).
For those with keen eyes, Griffin is played by Albert Popwell, who amongst who claims to fame was in ‘Dirty Harry’ as the first person who nearly made Harry Callahan’s day and was consequently in each of the film series in different parts. Angel Tompkins as Gloria Harding also reprised her role chiefly with the Lockwood stories. The title of the show might be a giveaway as to the content. PROBEs (the initials standing for Programmed Retrieval Operations with the ‘BE’ being top secret as stated in the pilot ‘PROBE’) are there to find things or missing people using hi-tech to get things done. Its panache made it stand out because it brought an edge of comedy to the proceedings to balance the bite it occasionally had. Uniquely, I haven’t seen any of the plots used like it since. The closest relative to ‘Ends Of The Earth’ is ITV ‘The Avengers’ story ‘Bizarre’ and even that is superficial elements. The MO of telemetric communication to headquarters was one of a kind which meant it couldn’t be written like any other show. Anyone could ring their bosses but to have constant communication and relay live action by satellite, that as new and why it held an attraction to those of us who watched back in the 70s.
It’s only in recent years we discovered that Hugh O’Brian and Tony Franciosa thought that the telemetrics gave them too much of an edge and hadn’t realised the significance of the show for doing just that. ‘Search’ really had its own style. I mean with ‘Moonrock’ with Lockwood in pursuit of a stolen giant diamond and no other aeroplane available, charters a 747 on his credit card with Cameron authorising the funds from his end. Even the prospect of the PROBEs getting the woman at the end was turned on its head with Cameron getting the odd date instead. Everything was up for grabs and not always predictable. The cast list was a who’s who of good actors at the time including Jeff Corey, Stefanie Powers, Bill Bixby and Barbara Feldon. Picking out favourite stories is difficult, especially as I don’t want to give away too much about the endings. For Lockwood, it has to be ‘Moonrock’, ‘The Gold Machine’,’The Bullet’, ‘Suffer My Child’, ‘The Adonis File’ and ‘Flight To Nowhere’ (this one for the stunt double jumping over the edge of a building and smashing through a window). For Bianco, ‘Operation Iceman’ and ‘Let Us Prey’. For Grover, ‘Short Circuit’ and ‘The Packagers’. ‘Moment Of Madness’ put Burgess Meredith onto the centre stage with a marvellous performance. I hate picking favourites but those were exceptional. Why has the series been hidden in the vaults so long?
Creator Leslie Stevens (who alsos formulated ‘The Outer Limits’), having gotten ‘Search’ started and contributed a few scripts was also in the process of creating a different series for another studio which royally pissed off the Warner Bros executives at the time. So much so, he was effectively booted off his own show and certain changes were made to PROBE Control, with fewer people there and done in a white and brightly lit set compared to the darkness of the earlier episodes. At least that way you can tell the difference with the changes. It also had a repercussions for actress Angel Tompkins who had been promised full pay for when she had more involvement in stories than the equivalent day’s wages for working in Control and was fired and blacklisted by Warner’s for ten years after having to fight for her wages in ‘The Gold Machine’.
The wrath also ensured that the series only had one airing around the world and got hidden away. No longer! That’s all history now and we’ll never know if they could have kept up this unique aspect of the show to a second series. If your DVD player is multi-regional, then ‘Search’ should certainly be on your list to watch. It’s already doing big business in the USA and if you’ve ever wondered what this editor always got inspired by and kept his interest in over 32 years, yu might want to take a look. If you already bought ‘PROBE’ then ‘Search’ will be the one series you’ll be wondering how you missed it when young.
(region 1 DVD: pub: Warner Archive. 6 DVDs 1150 minutes 23 * 50 minute episodes. Price: about $44.00 (US) if you know where to look)
stars: Hugh O’Brian, Doug McClure, Tony Franciosa and Burgess Meredith
check out website: www.warnerarchive.com