In the early 1970s, being a private detective meant you were not the standard – and another character that perfectly fit that description was Cannon.
Portrayed by William Conrad, Cannon, a former police detective, became a private detective after his wife and son died in a car accident.
The series was launched by being introduced by another popular detective series, Barnaby Jones, with its first two episodes.
Conrad was well-known to viewers after playing Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke and being the voice on The Fugitive as well on Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Conrad’s Cannon was tough, smart-talking and had high-class tastes, including his prize possesssion, a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, which had a car phone, a rarity for this time period. He loved food and was a big guy, figuring out the mysteries of deaths, disappearances and all kinds of stories for clients in southern California.
Not afraid to fight, Cannon often used judo or karate moves against a foe – and when that didn’t work, he even used his large stomach, or his ’38 special revolver.
Cannon had some particularly unique quotes – “OK, sir, I’ll take your case and investigate what happened…But just remember, the truth is like rain — it doesn’t care who gets wet” or another gem “I‘ll have to think about it…You see, I’ve never been retained by a dead man before.”
The series was produced by Quinn Martin, who had also brought The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones to the small screen. Airing on CBS, the series debuted in September 1971.
Nominated for an Emmy for best actor in 1973 and 1974, William Conrad’s popularity grew with the second and third seasons, as the ratings increased, pushing the show from #29 in the Nielsen ratings in its first year to top 10 in 1973/1974.
At the same time, tie-in novels were published in the United States and the United Kingdom, the first two written by Richard Gallagher and the rest of the series by Douglas Enefer.
For this young girl, I remember asking my Dad if he was going to watch the Fat Man – which was my nickname for Cannon.
Instead of the slick perfect looking people of television today, Cannon looked like he would be my neighbour, although the one with the car everyone coveted and the occasional dangerous glint in his eye.
By spring 1976 the series had lost its lustre with viewers and was cancelled. But the presence of another odd character as a private detective confirmed the stereotype once again.