On October 1, 1982, NBC introduced “Remington Steele,” the Pierce Brosnan-Stephanie Zimbalist detective series that underwent significant tinkering before its debut.
The original pilot introduced Zimbalist as Laura Holt, an ace detective struggling to attract clients because no one wanted to hire a woman private eye. To remedy this, Laura invents a fictitious boss named “Remington Steele;” he would always be “busy” so no one would ever see him, but if prospective clients believed a man was running things, Laura reasoned, they’d be more apt to hire her.
When Brosnan’s character – a playboy who really was named Remington Steele – shows up, Laura hires him to be the agency’s titular head.
NBC screened the pilot for TV critics during the summer of 1982 and at least one – the Washington Post’s Tom Shales – loved its depiction of an intelligent woman who is constantly rescuing her handsome but incompetent colleague.
After the screening, the premise changed: Brosnan’s character became a suave secret agent who stumbles into Steele’s identity; Laura became more vulnerable.
Shales wasn’t pleased.
“A show that had novelty, sex appeal and a healthy revisionism going for it now appears wearily standard and stale,” he wrote. “NBC sent back the sparkling Dom Perignon and ordered up a flat mug of Blatz.”
Producer Michael Gleason told Shales that Brosnan’s character was changed because network executives didn’t understand why Laura would keep him around otherwise. Gleason also denied that NBC forced him to water down the show’s original strong woman/weak man concept.
“Maybe Laura Holt still is a strong woman. But ‘Remington Steele’ is now a very weak show,” Shales wrote.
Other critics agreed: The New York Times’ John J. O’Connor dismissed the premiere episode as “lifeless and drab;” the Miami Herald’s Sandra Earley called it “shoddy.”
NBC initially aired “Remington Steele” on Friday nights; the series debut ranked 52nd out of 63 prime-time broadcasts. Toward the end of the season, the show moved to Tuesdays, where it remained for most of its five-season run, although it never became a major hit.
Shales may not have cared for “Remington Steele,” but he was impressed by its leading man, declaring Brosnan “could make a young James Bond.”
“License to Steele,” “Remington Steele’s” premiere episode, can be streamed for free at Hulu, rented for 99 cents or purchased for $1.99 at iTunes and downloaded for 99 cents from Amazon.com. The episode is also part of the “Remington Steele: Season One” DVD set.
Also on TV
On October 1, 1982, NBC also aired “The Powers of Matthew Star” and “Knight Rider;” ABC broadcast “The World’s Greatest Escape Artist” and “Battle of the Network Stars” (team captains: William Shatner, ABC; Kevin Dobson, CBS; and Daniel J. Travanti, NBC) and CBS showed “Dukes of Hazzard” and the season premieres of “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest.”
During the week of September 26, 1982, the number ones were Sidney Sheldon’s “Master of the Game” (novel), Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” (song) and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (movie). In Chicago, five people died after swallowing cyanide-laced Tylenol.
Captions: “Remington Steele” cast members Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan in a photography from TV Guide’s September 18, 1982, fall preview issue (top, photo by Robert Phillips); NBC’s advertisements for the series premiere from the September 25, 1982, edition (bottom).