Mannix's Mike Connors was a TV acting pioneer

Today, movie stars pop up on TV all the time. That wasn't the case in 1967.

Here's how big of a star Mike Connors was: When he traveled to Barcelona to accept the Best Actor award at the International Film Festival, Paramount Studios took out an insurance policy with a principal sum of $1 million. If that seems outrageous, that's because it is. Sure, studios had previously insured stars and their noteworthy features. Studios insured Ann Miller's legs and Shirley Temple's hair, but that was an entire generation before Connors was broadcast on TV. Besides, those policies were mostly publicity stunts. Paramount Studios, by contrast, really wanted to protect what they had with Connors, who starred in CBS' Mannix.

What, exactly, made Mike Connors so valuable to Paramount? The reasons were threefold: First and foremost, Mannix was a bona fide hit, regularly earning an average of 30 to 40 million viewers. Secondly, Mike Connors was reliable and a dependable family man who did not cause the studio headaches with headline-grabbing shenanigans. The third and biggest reason, when it came to Paramount's bottom line, was Connors' bankability. 

Mike Connors was bankable in a way that TV stars previously were not. That's because, prior to solving crimes as Joe Mannix, Connors was a genuine movie star. He had roles in comedies, Westerns, and thrillers, building a following with each new movie. He was in a remake of John Ford's Stagecoach. He parodied James Bond in Kiss the Girl and Make Them Die. He even shows up in Cecil B. Demille's famous The Ten Commandments

It may be commonplace now, but in the '60s and '70s, movie stars rarely moved to TV unless their careers were tanking. The big screen was thought of as where all the status was. Movie stars wouldn't stoop to the levels of broadcast television. It just didn't happen. Why did Mike Connors take the role of detective on Mannix with a career chugging ahead at full steam? The actor provided some insight to the Los Angeles Times in 1970.

"Well I guess I made the move for a couple of reasons," he said. "No. 1, I wasn't getting the types of roles I wanted in the types of pictures I wanted. No. 2, the offer they made me [for Mannix] was lucrative. And No. 3, I'm an actor, and I like to act — I don't like sitting around idly for long periods."

Long before "prestige television" had movie stars jumping ship from the big screen, Connors on Mannix was a big deal and a huge gamble. Who knows whether Nicole Kidman would've done Big Little Lies without the groundwork Mike Connors established?

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15 Comments

Adanor 13 days ago
"If that seems outrageous, that's because it is."

Should be "If that seemed outrageous, that's because it was." It is referencing something in the PAST.
Avie 13 days ago
"Here's how big of a star Mike Connors was..."

You mean here's how big a star Mike Connors was."

WHAT is it with some people that they insert the uttery suprfluous word "of" into sentences like these? Nowhere else in the English-speaking world does one find this. It's HORRIBLE grammar, and you need to stop, especially if you fancy yourself as some kind of writer and collect a pay check for doing it.
Billreick Avie 10 days ago
Of is sometimes added to phrases beginning with the adverb how or too followed by a descriptive adjective:

How long of a drive will it be?
It's too hot of a day for tennis.
This construction is probably modeled on that in which "how" or "too" is followed by "much," an unquestionably standard use in all varieties of speech and writing:

How much of a problem will that cause the government?
There was too much of an uproar for the speaker to be heard.
The use of "of" with descriptive adjectives (here, "big") after "how" or "too" is accepted and often occurs in informal writing and written representations of speech.
SteveMcnary 14 days ago
He also went by his nickname Touch Connors in a view B movies. He got the nickname from having a great shooters touch while playing basketball at UCLA for legendary coach John Wooden.
einnor 14 days ago
There were many "movie stars" that starred in a television series BEFORE Mike Conners did it. Off the top of my head are: Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray, Brian Keith, Donna Reed, Buddy Ebsen, and Eddie Albert, just to name a few. These were bigger stars than Mike Connors (and I love Mannix - except for the first season). I don't think any of their careers were tanking, especially the first four I listed.

In my opinion, your statement that "movie stars rarely moved to TV unless their careers were tanking" is false, even for the 1950s & '60s. Hey, I still enjoyed your article!
Pacificsun einnor 13 days ago
😎
Only for the sake of friendly conversation.
Probably their criteria (𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒈) used for emphasis was an unfortunate overstatement. Rather than simply saying it wasn't a common practice. The Actors listed did so for specific reasons however. Including convenience, opportunity, money, and household exposure. While talented and a unique personality, I wouldn't say Mike Connors yet, had that kind of household name recognition. But, he was successful and a memorable actor. We know his reasons for moving to TV. In MacMurry's case, he was offered a bouquet of compensation, flexibility, network advantages, and immediate success simply from prior popular-exposure. Women however, often saw their 𝒑𝒓𝒆𝒇𝒆𝒓𝒓𝒆𝒅 opportunities, shrinking. Donna Reed as an example, into Dallas, was major exposure and a meaty part, along with notable co-stars. Night-time Soap Opera drama was novel in it's day. Brien Keith, Buddy Epson and Eddie Albert practically had sitcoms built around them. And all the while, they were keeping an eye on a younger generation of actor-competitors. And who wouldn't want to seal their financial fortune under the umbrella of network "Star" treatment! I have no idea what Henry Fonda was in (TV Series wise), but he didn't pursue continuation. What's the point? Is that those listed are a minimum number of famous movie stars who did make the transition, at that particular time. And not thought to be the majority.

Keep in mind, whether or not they 𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅, writers of short pieces like what we're so frequently reading here. Means, they're going to spice up their commentary to make a point quickly, to entice the reader, and offer a little entertainment too. It also doesn't hurt to get us thinking about the topic. So we will indeed react via the comments, to extend the conversation. That's kind of their actual point, anyway. 𝑮𝒆𝒕𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒖𝒔 𝒊𝒏𝒗𝒐𝒍𝒗𝒆𝒅.
einnor Pacificsun 13 days ago
Henry Fonda starred in the two-season western series "The Deputy" from 1959-1961. If anyone deserves the "pioneer" label of going from movie star to TV series, it would be Fonda, in my humble opinion. He was the series star in another TV show as well: 1971's "The Smith Family." But by then I'd wager his opportunities were waning in his preferred medium.

I agree, the majority of theatrical stars did not pursue television. But knowing that I could come up with several more examples, I don't think it was uncommon either (regardless of the reasons behind their decision to go to the small screen). Interesting topic!

Do you know what I think Mannix (Chuck Connors) WAS a pioneer in? The "Private Investigator" craze! Sure, there were a couple of earlier (short-lived) PI shows, such as "Mike Hammer" (1958). But Joe Mannix was the first in a barrage of private eyes from the 1970s & 1980s. And I think the best. Chuck Connors was great!

For those of you that want even more Mannix, check out the following episodes from other shows:

"Here's Lucy" 4th season episode "Lucy and Mannix are Held Hostage" from 1971;
"Diagnosis: Murder" 4th season episode "Hard-Boiled Murder" from 1997 !!




Delmo einnor 11 days ago
MIKE Connors, not Chuck Connors.
einnor Delmo 10 days ago
Oops!
GaryGoltz 14 days ago
also in 'Tightrope' and 'Roadblock' https://youtu.be/oxdaJ8B8iPI an unsold pilot to rival 'Highway Patrol'
LoveMETV22 15 days ago
"Cannon" and "Mannix" would make a nice addition to the time-slot between Adam-12 and M*A*S*H, that seems to see regular change. It doesn't need to be removed from the overnight schedule as there are surely dedicated viewers. Just simply added- It can be done with other programs like
"The Beverly Hillbillies" so why not Cannon or Mannix?
Moody LoveMETV22 15 days ago
Maybe a Sunday night lineup with Cannon & Mannix. I think that would draw a lot of viewers.
MrsPhilHarris Moody 15 days ago
Yes that would be great @ 7 and 8 or 8 and 9.
Mannixishot LoveMETV22 9 days ago
Yeah, I love my overnight block of Alfred/Mannix and Alfred/The Fugitive.
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