Was Baretta Originally Conceived as a Reboot of Another Series?

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: Baretta was originally intended as a continuation of a previous series.

Toma was a detective series that aired on ABC from 1973 to 1974. The show was based on the real life exploits of David Toma, a famous police detective.

The show began as a TV movie in 1973 and was picked up for a full season of 22 episodes.

It starred Tony Musante as Toma (this was during the time when seemingly every detective show outside of Streets of San Francisco had to be called by the last name of the main character – Ironside, Mannix, etc. Someone tell me the first detective TV series to do that – name the show after the last name of the main character – Castle on ABC is reviving that trend!).

The show was critically acclaimed, although the violence in the series was often questioned as whether it was excessive.

In any event, after one season of unspectacular ratings, the series was cancelled.

People at first figured ratings were the reason, which seemed odd, as the ratings weren’t THAT bad, and the show certainly had a buzz about it.

That’s when the truth came out – as it turned out, Musante had only signed on for one season! The unusual request came about as soon as the TV movie Toma was filmed – Musante refused to sign a standard “if this gets picked up for a series I’ll do five seasons” contract, and insisted on just one season of 22 episodes, at which point, if he wanted to do more, he would do 10 episodes a year from that point on.

Well, producer Roy Huggins was willing to go along with this because he figured that once the show was picked up and done for a full season, no actor would walk away from the paycheck and the acclaim, but Musante surprised everyone and did just that. So ABC canceled the series.

Fast forward to the fall of 1974, and ABC’s new slate of dramas were not doing too well, so they decided, what the heck, and announced that Toma was coming back, only the role of Toma would now be played by Robert Blake.

I think you can see where this is going, but read on to be sure!

Blake was none too pleased with this – it was bad enough that he was hired to replace an acclaimed series, but now he was being announced in the trades as the “new” Toma? He balked and Huggins and ABC compromised, and used the name Baretta instead…

The new character of Tony Baretta eventually became a lot different than Toma, and the show, which started in early 1975 as a midseason replacement, soon became a hit (Blake went on to win an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series).

While I haven’t seen much of Musante in the decades since he gave up Toma (although he was just recently in the film We Own the Night in 2007), I have to give the guy credit for sticking to his guns – he didn’t want to become typecast, and that surely did not happen.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

8 Responses to “Was Baretta Originally Conceived as a Reboot of Another Series?”

  1. Interesting. I remembered enough to answer the question at the beginning as true, but not the inner details (I thought Musante just wanted too much money).

    Funny, considering the tale you earlier related about the “Huggins Contract” to see him involved in this.

  2. Brian Cronin on May 3rd, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Yeah, it seems like Huggins was involved in EVERY show for awhile there in the 60s and 70s!

  3. It’s my understanding that contract issues with George Peppard caused Banacek to get canceled. Why was it so hard to write a contract to play a TV detective.

  4. According to Wikipedia, Huggins and Stephen Cannell created The Rockford Files due to a writer’s strike during the production of Toma.

  5. “Toma” set some sort of record–a series that lasted only one year but begat three spin-offs, at least two of which lasted much longer than the original.

    There was, as noted above, “Baretta.”

    Then, there was “The Rockford Files.” As Stephen J. Cannell tells the story, he was hired to write an episode of “Toma” that would involve the regular characters only briefly, so that it could be shot simultaneously with a standard episode. (I have seen two explanations for that–one, that the series had fallen behind schedule; the other, that a strike was looming, and the producers wanted to get as many episodes as possible finished before then.) So, Cannell wrote a story in which Toma has to leave a murder case unsolved, and recommends to the victim’s daughter that she hire a private detective he knows, Jim Rockford. The story ultimately was not used, but Cannell liked it, and revised it into a series pilot, with the results we all know. (Watch the “Rockford Files” pilot movie, and you can see the traces of this origin, with Sgt. Dennis Becker taking Toma’s part.)

    Finally: The real David Toma used the publicity from the series to launch a new career as a public speaker. This led to a series of specials on the New York “superstation” WOR, which proved popular enough to make the station give him his own talk show, entitled “David Toma.”

  6. Ted Craig–As the story is usually told, George Peppard was undergoing a very fiercely fought divorce from Elizabeth Ashley at the time a third season of “Banacek” was proposed (it would be moved over to “The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie,” alternating with “Columbo,” “McCloud,” and “McMillan & Wife”). Because the series had begun while they were still married, Ashley would have been entitled under the terms of the divorce to half of Peppard’s salary. He chose to quit the series rather than allow that.

    A year or two later he was back in a new series, “Doctor’s Hospital,” but it did not last long.

  7. First TV detective series to take its title from the hero’s last name? I do not know, but just to throw something out: “Markham,” a 1958 series starring Ray Milland as a lawyer turned private detective.

  8. Oh, just one more thing, so long as we are noting the “Toma”/”Rockford Files” connection: All three of the “Toma” leads–Tony Musante, Susan Strasberg, and Simon Oakland–went on to make guest appearances on “Rockford” (with Oakland’s character, sleazy private detective Vern St. Cloud, being brought back twice).

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