Note: A more in-depth Spotlight focusing on “Men Against Evil” was published in August 2014 and can be found here.
ABC’s half-hour police drama Felony Squad ran for three seasons and 73 episodes between September 1966 and January 1969. The series starred Howard Duff as Detective Sam Stone, a veteran of the force, and Dennis Cole as his young partner Detective Jim Briggs. Ben Alexander played Jim’s father, Dan, a desk sergeant. Episodes involved the usual mix of blackmail, bribery, murder, muggings and mobsters. However, the series was originally conceived as a cops and robbers version of Peyton Place. A pilot episode was produced in which all three main characters were married and their home lives were featured alongside their work as police officers. The pilot was called “Men Against Evil.”
According to Cynthia Lowry of the Associated Press, “the project was started at a time when the success of Peyton Place was persuading packagers that its serial form was the hottest thing on the channels” . Apparently, the plan was to broadcast two half-hour episodes each week, just like Peyton Place . Said Duff, “I suppose that the other version, which was kind of like Peyton Place with all those wives, looked good on paper. I really don’t know what happened to change their minds” .
The name of the series also went through a variety of changes, from “Men Against Evil” to “The Force” to “The Heavy Squad” and finally Felony Squad . According to Val Adams, the name was changed, at least initially, because “one of the sponsored objected to the word evil” .
UCLA’s Film & Television Archive has a copy of the unaired pilot but I only have available the final six minutes in which Dennis Cole speaks directly to viewers and previews “just a few scenes from future episodes.” In the pilot, Jeanne Crain played Betty Stone, wife of Duff’s character, and the two had at least one daughter. I’m not sure who played the wives of Dan and Jim Briggs. All the female characters were written out of the series when it was reworked as a straight police drama.
2 “Howard Duff: A Man of No Questions.” Free Lance-Star [Fredericksburg, VA]. 31 Dec. 1966: 12-A.
4 Lowry, Cynthia. “Felony Squad: Plain, Ordinary Action.”
5Adams, Val. “Friday’s Friend On the Felony Squad.” New York Times. 17 Jul. 1966: 85.