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When Batman's Co-Creator Used His 'Gimmicks' on 77 Sunset Strip!

In 1955, William Orr was put into charge of a new division on Warner Bros. called Warner Bros. Television. TV was still new enough that the big studios were not putting a lot of money into it just yet. That changed when Warner Bros. and Orr debuted the one-hour western, Cheyenne, which became a big hit. Orr then began to develop other properties. He worked with Roy Huggins, one of the most talented TV writers of all-time, and Huggins created the hit western series, Maverick, in 1958 and then the first hour-long TV private eye series, 77 Sunset Strip, in 1959. Sadly, Warner Bros. tried to rip Huggins off (as I detailed in an old TV Legends Revealed here) and so Huggins stopped working on both Maverik and 77 Sunset Strip.

77 Sunset Strip was about two private detectives, Stu Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who, in keeping with the Batman connection, would decades later provide the voice for Alfred on Batman: The Animated Series) and Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith) whose office was on 77 Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. They were next door to a night club, Dino's, where a young man named Kookie (Edd Byrnes) parked cars. Byrnes actually played an assassin in the first episode of the series, but he was so popular that they found a way to work around it (as I noted in this old TV Legends Revealed).

The way that the Warner Bros. shows worked is that shows would have dual leads, allowing them to film multiple episodes at once. Zimbalist would be starring in an episode written for Bailey at the same time that Smith was starring in an episode written for Spencer (then they would occasionally cross over).

Without Huggins' guidance, 77 Sunset Strip was still a good show, but could have been better. Zimbalist later recalled in an interview with Sylvia Stoddard in 1997 that the show was mostly carried by the fact that there were typically a handful of REALLY good episodes every season and those were enough to make people think that the whole show as like that. As Zimablist notes," If a show has six wonderful shows a year and the rest mediocre to nothing, it will succeed. The luster of those six rubs off on all the others. And that was what Monty [Pittman] did. It seems to me he wrote something like six a year and they were so superlative. Roger's were too, no question about it. And those kept the quality of the show up. And George Waggner wrote some wonderful scripts. All the writers at Warner Bros. had to bring in a treatment and then they'd look at it and say, "You have to do this" and so forth and they'd go write the script. But Monty was the only one who would come in with a finished script. No prior thing of any kind. He'd bring a script in and they would do it because they knew it was marvelous."

Pittman was the man who was brought in to turn a story by Bill Finger and Charles Sinclair into a 1961 77 Sunset Strip classic, "Reserved for Mister Bailey."

The season 4 episode was co-written by Finger and his writing partner, Sinclair, with a teleplay by Pittman. This means that Finger and Sinclair came up with the basic story, but then Pittman polished it into a script. Like his great comic book work, the episode was built around a gimmick - Zimablist is the only person who appears on camera in the entire episode!

Bailey gets a call late at night that lures him to his office.

Once there, he is attacked and abandoned outside of a town...

The town turns out to be deserted...

He wanders around the town...

And interacts with some animatronic waitresses...

Eventually, a disembodied voice reveals that this is a special site of a future amusement park, but for now, it was a death trap to kill Bailey. You see, the mysterious voice saw his girlfriend murdered and he knows that one of three people could have done it and so he decides to kill all three just to be safe, even the innocent Bailey.

In the end, Bailey evades his traps but then the town catches fire and Bailey cannot save the disemobided voice.

Sinclair and Finger later wrote an episode of the 1966 Batman series, giving Finger his last Batman story and first official Batman credit despite having been the regular writer for the comics for over two decades at that point (Greg Hatcher wrote about that episode years ago, which is why I figured I should spotlight a different episode by Finger).

Bill Finger passed away in 1975, but Sinclair only died in late 2017!

Okay, folks, go make suggestions for future installments of TV Talkin'! Send your requests to brianc@cbr.com!

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