Originally Published December 29th, 2008
This hour-long drama starred Frank Converse as a young man pulled out of a river with no memory of his past save two words: coronet blue. He gives himself the name Michael Alden and attempts to uncover who he is and why people are trying to kill him. He never finds out. Coronet Blue abruptly ended after only eleven of its thirteen episodes had been broadcast and viewers were left without any answers. Almost as intriguing as the mystery of Michael Alden is what went on behind the scenes: Coronet Blue was produced in 1965 but didn't air until 1967.
It's not often that a television network will go through all the trouble of producing a number of episodes of a television series and then not air them. Pilot episodes are filmed and cast aside in the hundreds every season. But weeks worth of actual episodes? Hours worth of valuable network time? That's a lot of money to simply write off. So, when CBS shelved thirteen episodes of a drama series called Coronet Blue in 1965, it was an unusual occurrence. The network, in an attempt to recoup some of the cost of producing the episodes, scheduled them for a summer run beginning in June of 1967.
The story of Coronet Blue actually begins almost three years earlier when it was listed in The New York Times -- alongside The Quest, Lost in Space, The Wild West and The Haunted -- as an hour-long pilot in the running for a spot on CBS's 1965-1966 schedule . In its January 25th, 1965 issue, Broadcasting reported that CBS had ordered 22 episodes of Coronet Blue for the upcoming season . The series would "concern the 'search for identity' of teenagers just reaching young adulthood" but would feature only one regular character, one with amnesia .
According to executive producer Herbert Brodkin, however, the amnesia was an allegory for "more abstract quests for identity to be explored in each episode" . In its February 1965 issue, Television Magazine explained that Coronet Blue would feature a "no-format format" and would "dramatize the search for identity of young Americans" . Brodkin told Television Magazine that because the show would have no other regular characters, the sole main character in Coronet Blue would be "free of boundaries. Therefore, so are the writers" .
Plautus Productions, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures Corporation of which Herbert Brodkin was president, would produce Coronet Blue. As Broadcasting pointed out, that meant Plautus would be in the incredible situation of having five television shows on the air at the same time, all on CBS, if everything worked out. Two Plautus shows -- The Doctors & The Nurses and The Defenders -- were currently on the air. A mid-season replacement For the People was set to premiere on January 31st while The Quest would premiere in the fall alongside Coronet Blue.
The first, tentative CBS schedule for Fall 1965, released in early February, didn't include The Quest, placed Coronet Blue on Fridays from 10-11PM and left out both The Defendersand The Doctors & The Nurses . It looked like Plautus would, at best, have only two shows on CBS during the 1965-1966 season: Coronet Blue and For the People. On March 8th, The New York Times reported that Frank Converse had been given the lead role in the series .
And then everything fell apart.
Slattery's People, the show Coronet Blue would be replacing on Fridays during the 1965-1966 season, was renewed by CBS in mid-March . With Slattery's People back on the schedule there was no room for Coronet Blue, which was dropped. However, Michael Dann, the CBS vice president for programming, asserted that "we have enormous enthusiasm for Coronet Blue and expect it will be in our schedule in 1966" .
Hal Humphrey, in an article for The Los Angeles Times, explained that the abrupt renewal of Slattery's People was mostly a result of James Aubrey being fired as president of CBS and not, as many presumed, because of letters and appeals from fans . After taking over as president, CBS chief Frank Stanton wanted to show the public and the television industry that the network would be different now that Aubrey was gone. Michael Dann suggested renewing Slattery's People, a series Aubrey didn't support .
The final shoe dropped on March 26th, 1965 when For the People was canceled after only thirteen episodes . In the space of less than two months, Herbert Brodkin and Plautus Productions had three of its television shows canceled, another not picked up and a fifth placed in limbo. It would start the 1965-1966 season without a single show on the air.
Although it didn't have a slot on the CBS schedule, Coronet Blue began filming in New York City in the spring of 1965 . By mid-July, seven episodes had been completed and production was set to wrap at the end of the month (only thirteen of the 22-episode order would eventually be produced) . CBS kicked in with over $2 million to produce the series and on July 15th, John Schneider visited Plautus Productions in New York City to watch a finished episode and parts of several others .
Frank Converse as Michael Alden
According to Broadcasting, Herbert Brodkin (who was executive producing the series) and Edgar Lansbury (a producer) were hoping that Schneider would include Coronet Blue in the 1966-1967 CBS schedule rather than use it as a mid-season replacement in January of 1966 . But Larry Cohen, who created Coronet Blue, was happy just being paid:
Sure, I'm disappointed [about the series being dropped by CBS] but what the hell. They're committed for 13 episodes which are being filmed now, so I'll make at least 20 grand, and who knows, maybe it will go in mid-season. Something on CBS is probably going to flop, and they'll need it. 
Cohen came up with Coronet Blue after Herbert Brodkin asked him if he had any ideas for a television show. Cohen had earlier written episodes of Brodkin's The Defenders. Unlike Brodkin, who saw the show as a "search for identity," Cohen stated simply that Coronet Blue was "about a man who is nearly murdered, and in each succeeding week's episode he is chasing his would-be murderer" . Cohen modeled Coronet Blue (and another show he created, Branded) on ABC's The Fugitive and had to push Brodkin to bring it to CBS .
Coronet Blue was not used by CBS as a mid-season replacement, as Cohen had suggested. Nor was it included in CBS's 1966-1967 schedule as Brodkin had hoped. Instead, it simply disappeared. In late February of 1966, in an article discussing television shows about characters "on the run," Val Adams of The New York Times ask "Whatever happened to 'Coronet Blue'?" .
View a Scene from Coronet Blue
("A Time to Be Born," Monday, May 29th, 1967)
He wouldn't get his answer until April of 1967 when Coronet Blue was finally placed on the air by CBS. It would premiere on Monday, May 29th at 10PM, replacing To Tell the Truth and Password . Critics were not kind to the show, with Jack Gould of The New York Times writing that "the program is a dull one in any weather" with "sticky dialogue and corny villains" .
Gary Mayfield, writing for The Los Angeles Times, was harsher:
Filled with everything but drama, the premiere episode was a study in confusion -- from acting to script. With sequence after sequence of erratic and hardly relatable scenes, cliches tumbled forth without force or meaning, backed by a musical score out of a daytime soap opera. 
Mayfield suggested that, if later episodes were as bad as the pilot, "the only answer to Michael Alden's query of 'what's out there for me?' will be empty living rooms" . Clay Gowran of The Chicago Tribune called Coronet Blue a "tired takeoff" of shows like The Fugitive (which was successful) and A Man Called Shenandoah (which wasn't) . According to Gowran, "network publicity proclaimed that seven writers had worked on Coronet Blue. If so, they must have been suffering an off day when they concocted the opener, because some of the dialogue was almost unbelievable" .
The only "bright spot" Gowran could see concerning Coronet Blue was that only thirteen episodes existed .
Frank Converse starred in Coronet Blue as a young man who, in the pilot, is attacked aboard a luxury liner and tossed overboard. He survives but loses his memory. The only thing he remembers is the phrase "coronet blue." After being taken to a hospital, the man adopts the name Michael Alden and vows to learn the truth about his identity.
View a Scene from Coronet Blue
("A Time to Be Born," Monday, May 29th, 1967)
As Herbert Brodkin had stated, Michael Alden was the only regular character in Coronet Blue. There were, however, two recurring characters who befriended Alden: Max Spier (played by Joe Silver) and Brother Anthony (Brian Bedford). Spier owned The Searching i, a small diner/coffee shop where Alden worked while Brother Anthony was a monk Alden met at a monastery. Every episode, Michael Alden would encounter new characters and new situations as he continued to search for answers to his past.
For example, in one episode Alden gets a job as a guard at a college where he hopes to meet with a memory expert and is drawn into a student rebellion. In another, someone mails Alden the name of a hotel and he is drawn into a trap. Other episodes saw Alden traveling to New England after spotting himself in a photograph, attempting to learn more about a sapphire crown (a blue coronet) used in a magic act, and connecting song lyrics to his missing past.
Guest stars over the course of the eleven aired episodes included Dick Clark, David Carradine, Juliet Mills, Susan Hampshire, Lynda Day and Candice Bergan. Coronet Blue was pre-empted on Monday, June 5th, the week after it premiered and again on Monday, June 26th. Thus, in its first six weeks on the air, only four episodes of Coronet Blue were shown. The episode originally intended for June 5th was broadcast on July 3rd. Football pre-empted the series for two weeks in late August and on Monday, September 4th, the eleventh and final episode was shown. Perhaps due to the pre-emptions, two episodes were left unaired.
On July 15th, The New York Times reported that Coronet Blue would end its summer run without any sort of conclusion CBS executives and television critics alike were surprised when the show proved popular with viewers . According to a CBS spokesman, "I certainly don't know how it would have ended. I doubt if the author does" . But creator Larry Cohen did know:
I've never been associated with a show like this one. I know how it ends, but I can't tell you. I'm negotiating with TV Guide to do an article on how it would have ended, but even that depends on whether or not someone decides to revive the series. With all this attention, it could happen. I can say this: All of the clues to Michael Alden's identity are contained in the first episode." 
Cohen also revealed that Coronet Blue was intended to be a "search program," that the role of Michael Alden had originally been planned for an older actor, not 27-year-old Frank Converse, and that Brodkin "changed the original conception because he wanted something more than suspense. He felt it should have social consciousness because that had been responsible for the success of his earlier series, The Defenders .
Joe Silver as Max Spiel
Had CBS wanted to continue Coronet Blue -- which it didn't -- it couldn't. Frank Converse had a new lead role in ABC's N.Y.P.D. series that premiered on Tuesday, September 5th -- the day after Coronet Blue went off the air. When asked by Linda Crawford of The Chicago Tribune if "it was true the phrase Coronet Blue meant nothing," Converse had this to say:
Absolutely. Nothing at all. It was just a taking-off point, a story gimmick, one I think would offend any adult watching the show. The Fugitive was much more sophisticated in that respect, in its premise, in filling in background. We had no premise--just amnesia, period. The show was so general it's almost impossible to talk about." 
But even if the phrase "coronet blue" meant nothing, there was an answer to the mystery of Michael Alden's identity. Larry Cohen knew it and in 2003, Elvis Mitchell revealed in an article about Cohen in The New York Times that Coronet Blue "was to culminate with the Converse character's discovery that he was a Russian sleeper agent on a destructive secret mission" .
For younger viewers during the summer of 1967, Coronet Blue was an engrossing, fun series that left an indelible impression. Now in their 50s, the one thing those viewers remember most vividly about the series is its theme song, performed by Lenny Welch.
Listen to the Opening Theme Song to Coronet Blue
(Apologies for the poor quality.)
Here are the lyrics:
Deep down inside my brain
I keep hearing that wild refrain
No other clue
I know that this must be
The thing that can set me free For I was born just yesterday
Lonely as a misty river
Always a' moving like a river
If I linger, I will die And so I go my lonely way
Every journey filled with danger
Even to myself a stranger
Wondering who am I Coronet Blue
Several episodes of Coronet Blue were shown by TV Land in the 1990s but otherwise the series has never been seen since it went off the air. Thankfully, all thirteen episodes, including the two unaired by CBS, have been part of the collection at the Library of Congress since 1992. UCLA's Film & Television Archive also has two episodes of the show. And six are available for viewing by the general public at the Paley Center for Media at its New York City and Los Angeles locations.Works Cited:
1 Adams, Val. "76 Pilot Films Contend for TV Places." New York Times. 23 Dec. 1964: 53.
2 "Plautus May Have Five Shows on CBS-TV." Broadcasting. 25 Jan. 1965: 74.
5 "The Month." Television Magazine. Feb. 1965: 7-9.
7 Adams, Val. "C.B.S. Fall Slate Omits 14 Shows." New York Times. 4 Feb. 1965: 63.
8 Gardner, Paul. "A.C.L.U. Lifts Bars to Pay-Television." New York Times. 8 Mar. 1965: 59.
9 "Networks Report Sales for Next Season." Broadcasting. 22 Mar. 1965: 62.
11 Humphrey, Hal. "Slattery Thrown Lead Life Ring." Los Angeles Times. 29 Mar. 1965: C22.
13 Adams, Val. "C.B.S. Will Drop 'For the People'." New York Times. 26 Mar. 1965: 71.
14 An April 8th, 1965 article in The New York Times by Val Adams stated that filming would begin "soon" in New York City ("A.B.C. Prepares Innovations For Its Venture Into Baseball," Page 79).
15 "A Slot on the Network May Be Hard to Get." Broadcasting. 19 Jul. 1965: 29.
18 Humphrey, Hal. "Larry's a Young Man in a Hurry." Los Angeles Times. 12 Apr. 1965: D22.
21 Adams, Val. "TV Heroes on the Run." New York Times. 27 Feb. 1966: X23.
22 "Coronet Blue Set for Summer Slot." Los Angeles Times. 17 Apr. 1967: D33.
23 Gould, Jack. "TV: Crisis in Middle East Is Given Full Coverage." New York Times. 30 May 1967: 43.
24 Mayfield, Gary. "Coronet Blue Series Better Left Forgotten." Los Angeles Times. 30 May 1967: F12.
26 Gowran, Clay. "New Mystery Series Has a Dubious Start." Chicago Tribune. 30 May 1967: B2.
29 George Gent wrote in The New York Times that "Few expected it to be anything more than [a summer replacement]. The critical reception was generally unenthusiastic. Despite this, the series has had good ratings, and its hero, played by Frank Converse, has become a darling of the teen-agers." ("TV Show to Take Secret to Grave," Page 23).
33 Crawford, Linda. "N.Y.P.D. Is No Dragnet: Converse." Chicago Tribune. 20 Aug. 1967: F14.
34 Mitchell, Elvis. "Larry Cohen's Art of Paranoia." New York Times. 27 Apr. 2003: 2.13.
Last Updated December 29th, 2008