Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: When the series was first conceived, Remington Steele was not going to exist…for real!
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).
So the legend is…
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!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.