Production studios made gritty police and detective dramas a staple of American broadcast television long before the 1960s. The early part of the decade saw the introduction of popular investigators who plied their trade in some of the most exotic locations on earth.
It’s too bad these dramas hit the small screen before the advent of color television. Viewers could only imagine the vivid scenes that would later become an integral part of the series’ plot (i.e. Hawaii Five-O, Miami Vice).
Surfside 6 (1960-62): Let’s see: Miami location? Check. Investigators based on a boat? Check. Casual beachside fashion? Check. All that’s missing is a live-in alligator on board.
Warner Brothers Television’s Surfside 6 aired for two seasons on ABC. Sadly, it went up against two of the era’s most popular family shows, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Danny Thomas Show” on CBS. Troy Donahue and Van Williams co-starred in the effort, so you can’t blame Warner Brothers for trying.
77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964): Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith played two Los Angeles private detectives working out of a high-style, prestigious address on Sunset Boulevard. Warner Brothers again made their location appeal obvious from the opening titles, but the biggest impression came from comic relief character Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III, played with hair-combing, hipster campiness by actor Edd Byrnes.
Coronado 9 (1960-1): By now, using the precise location in the title had become a pattern for some detective shows. Rod Cameron starred as a former U. S. Navy intelligence officer turned private detective in San Diego. He worked out of his house. Clearly, his clients had no problem tracking him down. Neither did the bad guys. The syndicated series lasted only 39 episodes.
Hawaiian Eye (1959-1963): ABC/Warner Brothers cornered the television market on detective shows set on location. But Hawaiian Eye probably featured the most credible of story lines, considering Hawaii’s recent statehood and growing appeal to mainland tourists. Casting actor Robert Conrad as a part-Hawaiian character reduced the realism.
Hong Kong (1960-61): Actor Rod Taylor proved that journalists could be private detectives, too. Especially in the crazy heat of Hong Kong, which the short-lived series depicted as an up-for-grabs locale boasting dramatic natural beauty. The 20th Century Fox Television show used footage from spots that predated the modern high-rise boom. Still, Hong Kong proved an enduring international hit, and boosted Taylor’s Hollywood profile prior to his starring role in Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”