This is the thirteenth in a series of examinations of legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
This week is a special theme week – all legends related to Remington Steele!
TV LEGEND: Before NBC got involved, Remington Steele was not going to exist…for real!
STATUS: True and False
Remington Steele was the brainchild of Robert Butler.
As Glenn Gordon Caron once said (I’m paraphrasing here), Robert Butler is not just a part of television history, Bob Butler essentially IS television history!
Born in 1927, Butler began his career in television as a stage manager and then as an assistant director. Eventually, he worked his way up to director of a number of popular shows during the 1960s, including the Dick Van Dyke Show and the Twilight Zone.
Butler had a very unique style of directing, and while he worked on a variety of television programs (he also directed a number of films for Disney in the late 60s/early 70s, including the films that first made Kurt Russell a star, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Barefoot Executive), he soon became known as the go-to guy when you wanted your pilot directed, because he would give you the best shot of getting picked up.
He directed the original pilot for Star Trek. He directed the pilot for Batman. He directed the pilot for Hogan’s Heroes. He directed the pilot for Blue Knight (now forgotten, but at the time, Butler won an Emmy for his directing).
Later, he directed the pilot for Moonlighting, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Sisters and The Division (the show that launched Jon Hamm’s career).
However, he was not just a director. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, he was developing a story idea for a TV series when he was approached by MTM Enterprises to direct the pilot of Hill Street Blues.
He did and he continued to be involved with that show for the first season or so (he won a second Emmy for his direction of the pilot episode – he was nominated for an Emmy the next year for a Season 2 episode).
At the time, the story idea he had should sound quite familiar – it was about a female detective who is not getting enough clients, so she decides to invent a super masculine sounding male boss who she only “works” for, thus giving clients the security they want in hiring her.
That’s Remington Steele, basically, right?
Heck, if you recall the first season of the series, Laura Holt (played by Stephanie Zimbalist) would even introduce the show as:
Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective, Remington Steele? He doesn’t exist. I invented him. Follow. I always loved excitement, so I studied, and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so… feminine. So I invented a superior. A decidedly MASCULINE superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm… until the day HE walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele’s identity. Now I do the work, and he takes the bows. It’s a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure. Well, almost never. I don’t even know his real name!
However, in Butler’s idea of the show, there not only was not a REAL Remington Steele, there was no Remington Steele at ALL. In his concept of the show, Holt would solve cases basically by herself, and her boss would never be seen.
That was the idea he pitched to MTM Enterprises, and while they liked it in general, they suggested that he work with another writer to develop the idea.
Enter Michael Gleason, who suggests the (now obvious) idea – what if Remington Steele suddenly shows up?
Butler was hesitant at first, but he soon came over to Gleason’s point of view, and they pitched the new idea to MTM, who picked it up and sold it to NBC who debuted the show in 1982 (Butler, of course, directed the pilot episode).
Notably, at the beginning of the series, Holt was intended to be a more central character, but the actor they cast as Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan, soon took off in a big way and the show became much more of a duo show than originally envisioned (and MUCH more than really originally envisioned).
The “false” I mentioned at the beginning is the part about how it was the NETWORK who suggested the change. That’s not the case. The change was done before a pilot was even produced (this is why Gleason is the co-creator of Remington Steele).
Thanks to Douglas Snauffer’s Crime Television for the Gleason information! And thanks to James L. Longworth’s TV Creators: Conversations With America’s Top Producers of Television Drama for the Caron quote!
TV LEGEND: Pierce Brosnan had to turn down the role of James Bond because of his role on Remington Steele.
STATUS: True and False
This story is an interesting one, because the BASIC gist of the story is true, but there’s enough incorrect information thrown out there about this situation that I think it’s fair to say that most of the takes on the story are false.
Well, false enough to fairly say “false,” at least.
Okay, first things first, look at Pierce Brosnan on Remington Steele…
Come on now, it’s hard to get more “James Bond” than that!
That’s what lots of fans thought at the time, and that’s also what producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli was thinking in 1986 when two things happened.
1. Broccoli’s first choice, Timothy Dalton (who also was pretty darn Bond-like at the time)…
couldn’t do the movie because he was tied up with the film Brenda Starr…
2. Remington Steele had just been canceled after its fourth season, leaving Brosnan free to take the role.
So Broccoli offered the role to Brosnan and Brosnan accepted.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Aston Martin, however.
You see, while NBC was canceled with the show, so everything seemed free and clear, what Brosnan did not know was that MTM Enterprises had, in the fine print in his contract, the right to re-sell the show within X days after the cancellation of the program.
And amidst all the publicity over Brosnan first being considered and then actually being OFFERED the job, the interest in Remington Steele was suddenly bigger than it had been in years and ratings for the re-runs of the series in the summer of 1986 were suddenly pretty high.
So MTM offered to sell the show to NBC again, and here is the tricky part, and its the part that (I guess because it is tricky) always seems to get glossed over.
NBC did NOT want to keep Brosnan from playing James Bond. On the contrary, they WANTED him to play James Bond. Him playing James Bond was what made the series popular enough for NBC to want to bring the show back again. They were totally fine about tooling the show around his filming schedule for the Bond film.
Brosnan, also, was fine with doing both.
No, the problem came not from NBC, but from Broccoli, who famously cried, “James Bond will not be Remington Steele and Remington Steele will not be James Bond,” as Broccoli did not want an actor who was involved in a television series.
Calling Broccoli’s bluff, NBC agreed to terms with MTM and the fifth season of Remington Steele began filming (seen below is Brosnan and Zimbalist as well as supporting cast member, Doris Roberts, who played their secretary for Seasons 2-5), and NBC DID have a relaxed filming schedule, as the fifth season was produced as a series of two-hour TV movies rather than a regular series.
Broccoli was true to his word, though, and he rescinded Brosnan’s offer and went looking for a replacement. Eventually, enough time passed that Dalton was free to do the role, and in 1987, Dalton took over the role of James Bond for the The Living Daylights.
Brosnan eventually would, of course, get the chance to play James Bond, in four popular films, beginning with 1995′s GoldenEye…
A lesser known “casualty” of NBC’s renewal of Remington Steele was Stephanie Zimbalist. She had landed the lead female role in the film, RoboCop, but had to give it up when the show was renewed (NBC had no interest in shooting around HER schedule).
The role eventually went to Nancy Allen.
Of course, adding insult to injury, Remington Steele only lasted the one more season, and the show was canceled before The Living Daylights was even released.
TV LEGEND: The DVD collection of the first season of Remington Steele had an embarrassing oversight.
It has long been said about Remington Steele that Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan did not get along. Brosnan has done his best to dispel these rumors, but he has never been all that convincing (however, it’s certainly not so obvious that I could state it as a fact, but if I ever had to bet on whether the pair liked each other, I would bet on “not”) and Doris Roberts claims that they did not (Zimbalist has been silent on the subject).
If Zimbalist DID have a problem with Brosnan, it likely had to do with the fact that the show was initially intended as a starring vehicle for her, while it eventually became a dual starring show, and by the end of the program, as we saw above, Brosnan was the driving force. In fact, as we also saw in the story above, I doubt Zimbalist was too pleased about missing out on a major motion picture role because of her Remington Steele co-star.
None of this, however, likely prepared her for the embarrassment of the initial release of the Remington Steele Season 1 DVD.
Fox (who purchased all of MTM Enterprises’ shows years ago) decided to play up Pierce Brosnan’s stardom with the release of Season 1 of Remington Steele (which they decided to do in two separate volumes for some reason).
That’s fair enough.
However, what’s NOT fair enough is HOW they decided to do it.
Check out the covers…
Yep, that’s right, not only does Stephanie Zimbalist not appear on the cover of the volume, her NAME does not even appear on the cover!!
After complaints, Fox addressed the issue by (this is awesome)…putting a sticker on the package “Also starring Stephanie Zimbalist”
How awesomely lame is that?
When they later combined both volumes into one, they did, at least, add her name to the cover, even if they did not put her picture on it.
Thankfully, they did put her on Season 2′s set…
And she’s appeared on the cover of the all the other sets – she even did a commentary for a Season 3 episode (after being quite absent for the first two volumes)!
Fox’s excuse at the time was that there were no good stock photos of the two of them from Season 1, and that’s why they went with Brosnan solo, but that sounds unlikely at best.
So anyhow, with this sort of treatment on a show meant to star her, I guess I can’t blame her too much if she WAS a bit ornery!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com