TV & Violence in 1968: The Outsider

The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 6th, 1968 led the television industry to clamp down on the amount of violence it broadcast to the viewing public. The other day I wrote about how portions of several episodes of ABC’s The Outcasts were reshot in order to cut out violent scenes. Today I’ll discuss NBC’s The Outsider, which was even more affected by the move away from violence.

The Outsider began as a World Premiere Movie, also titled The Outsider, broadcast on November 21st, 1967. Darren McGavin starred as David Ross, an ex-con turned private detective working in Los Angeles. The plot of the telefilm saw Ross investigating a case of potential embezzlement involving a young woman. When she’s found murdered, Ross is the prime suspect (he spent time in jail for murder). Prolific writer/producer Roy Huggins created the series.

NBC gave the series the 10-11PM time slot on Wednesdays and production got underway. When Robert F. Kennedy was killed multiple episodes had been completed. And they were violent. In fact, according to Broadcasting, “no show has had a rougher time of it in the anti-violence climate” than The Outsider [1]. In late June, McGavin met with television editors about how the show would change; Clay Gowran reported on the meeting for The Chicago Tribune. Said McGavin:

We’ve all agreed, the people connected with the show and the network, to eliminate as much violence as we possibly can from the series, and we’re working on that right now. Just for one thing, the footage for the running title we had prepared for the series featured a gun, a small pistol I carry in a concealed leg holster–we’re reshooting the whole business and the gun is out. [2]

McGavin explained that nobody knew exactly how his character would be able to go up against bad guys without a gun (one editor asked if he would “freeze his adversaries with icy stares”) but noted that other shows were grappling with the same issue [3]. Another editor pointed out that one of McGavin’s earlier shows, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, was itself quite violent. McGavin felt that actors shouldn’t “be held responsible for what has already been done in the past” [4].

With regard to The Outsider, McGavin stated that ten episodes had been completed and three or four involved his character using a gun, “so we’re trying now to figure out how to redo pieces of them to get away from it” [5]. In August, Broadcasting also wrote about how the use of a gun would be toned down, stating that “the objective now is to make The Outsider more ‘cerebral'” [6]. Said producer Gene Levitt, “We absolutely have been taking each show, one at a time. They’e been reviewed; we’ve made changes. Now the first eight shows are in dubbing and naturally you know if you make a change you have to redub a reel. Well, that’s what we’re doing–doing this morning–every day for the last seven weeks” [7].

Broadcasting also gave two examples of changes that had to be made. The first involved a knife fight:

Thus in an episode entitled “Love Is Under L,” the fight that the hero of the series has with a bad man has been significantly modified. The man has a knife, which he uses in the fight. In the last moment he dives at the hero, who ducks and flips him over a bar. The bad guy crashes down in the back. Then he stands up and the audience is made to think the fight is going to continue. But the man has a knife in the front of himself. When he went over the bar it stuck in him. He pulls the knife out and then he dies.

Only production insiders have seen that version. In the current charged atmosphere, the man is still shown going over the bar, but is not shown again. The camera pans to the hero for a reaction that leaves little doubt that the villain is done for. [8]

The second involved a car crash:

In another Outsider episode, this one called “A Wide Place in the Road,” a young man comes driving down the road of a wicked town (it has “A Bad Day at Black Rock” theme). A good lady in the town fires a rifle that makes him swerve the car and smash it. In the new edited version what is not seen is the close shot of the windshield shattering and the young man, face bleeding, collapsing over the steering wheel. [9]

These edits caused some episodes to run short and, because the cost of reshoots was prohibitive, Broadcasting revealed that the network would fill the remaining time (perhaps 15 seconds to a minute) with public service announcements [10]. A later Broadcasting article listed The Outsider (along with Mannix and Hawaii Five-O) as programs that would never be ordered in the post-Kennedy assassination environment [11].

The Outsider premiered on September 18th. A few critics mentioned the violence (or lack thereof) in their reviews. Dean Gysel of The Chicago Daily News wrote “it is one thing to avoid violence … another to avoid drama” [12]. Clay Gowran referred to his earlier article about the series and worried that viewers would be bored if the “comparatively peaceful plot-line” of the pilot reflected the series as a whole [13]. Gowran did call the premiere “slickly staged” and praised McGavin for his “first-rate” performance, calling the actor “among the best and most believable” [14].

Like The Outcasts, The Outsider ran for just one season. In reporting the cancellation, Cecil Smith wrote that “the first-rate private-eye show, The Outsider, gets the ax, possibly a victim of the current concern over TV violence, though its ratings have not been high” [15]. And like The Outcasts, I wonder what happened to the footage that was culled from episodes for being too violent.

UCLA’s Film & Television Archive has copies of every episode as broadcast; The Paley Center for Media has a few as well. At least two made-for-TV movies were created by editing a pair of episodes from the series. Could unaired footage have been reinserted to make these telefilms more exciting? Or perhaps for overseas syndication? I can’t say.

Works Cited:

1 “1968-1969: the nonviolent season.” Broadcasting. 19 Aug. 1968: 23-25.
2 Gowran, Clay. “TV Today: Work to Tone Down Violence in Outsider Show.” Chicago Tribune. 25 Jun. 1968: B17.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 “1968-1969: the nonviolent season.”
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 “No rough stuff.” Broadcasting. 26 Aug. 1968: 5.
12 “Critics vs. new TV season.” Broadcasting. 23 Sep. 1968: 42-43.
13 Gowran, Clay. “TV Today: McGavin Has Problems as Nonviolent Gumshoe.” Chicago Tribune. 19 Sep. 1968: B27.
14 Ibid.
15 Smith, Cecil. “NBC Will Unveil Fall Slate Today.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Feb. 1969: H21.

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3 Replies to “TV & Violence in 1968: The Outsider”

  1. Again, by the 1968-’69 season, NBC was still relying on MCA to provide the bulk of their schedule (by now, MCA and Universal Studios were as ONE). In addition to the “World Premiere” TV movies shown for NBC’s various movie nights, MCA-Universal was supplying them that season with “DRAGNET 1969”, “ADAM-12”, “THE VIRGINIAN”, “IRONSIDE”, and “THE NAME OF THE GAME”…a total of six hours of weekly programming.

    And “THE OUTSIDER” was basically a “replacement” for Roy Huggins’ previous Public Arts (his company)/Roncom Films (Perry Como’s company)/MCA-Universal series, “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE”, which appeared in the same time period the previous season. And Darrin McGavin had strong ties to MCA as well; as noted, he previously appeared in their “Mickey Spillane’s MIKE HAMMER” in the late ’50s, and later as “KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER” for ABC in 1974-’75 (HIS company, “Francy Productions”, co-produced the weekly version with MCA-Universal).

    And MCA, as I’ve previously noted, usually released feature film versions of their TV series (often those lasting one season or less) for foreign- and some domestic- distribution, stringing together two or more episodes with new “linking footage”. It’s quite possible the “violent” footage excised from the “official” version of the episodes in question in 1968-’69 were “reinserted” for the “movies”. I don’t know, as I haven’t seen one of the “OUTSIDER” films in a LONG time.

    1. I felt that THE OUTSIDER was what Universal gave NBC in lieu of what it really wanted…a weekly COLUMBO series, after the success of the PRESCRIPTION:MURDER made for TV movie (Peter Falk was unwilling to make that kind of committment)

  2. It’s been nearly ten years since one of the greatest of character actors of all time–Darren McGavin went into Eternity back in February 25th, 2006. And yet there is no DVD exists on his “The Outsider” Series filmed from 1968 through 1969 lasting but one whole season on NBC before being canceled because of limited gun violence and low ratings sadly back then. And yet McGavin’s other series “Mike Hammer” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” series filmed back from 1974 through 1975 is most assuredly on DVD and has been for well over a decade or more. Darren McGavin was definitely a very talented actor and a lot of his fans probably have never seen “The Outsider” series because of age and it was done nearly 47 years ago now. But most probably tamed compared to some of the madness of today’s Hollywood productivity in comparison.
    and so forth. So what’s the hold up??? “The Outsider made about some thirty episodes back then per season and probably fifty minutes running time without commercials.of course. Today it’s about forty three minutes for program airing and more fill in commercials compared to television of the late 1960’s. The series was done in color and from the little I have seen and I am now 61 and the series aired when I was but fifteen. There is no doubt that a lot of Mc Gavin fans want to see the lost episodes of “The Outsider” t.v. series. To which I think has a certain amount of pre-Kolchak mannerism, nuances, appeal and a good kick-start for this old viable and wonderful P.I. show back then. Meanwhile we wait patiently for some viability to get this odd-man out series on DVD. And as Mc Gavin would say; ‘We’re not spring-chickens anymore, hurried it on up capice!!!’ Roger Michael–Bakersfield, California…..

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