How Men Against Evil Became Felony Squad

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” [1]. Apparently, the plan was to broadcast two half-hour episodes each week, just like Peyton Place [2]. 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” [3].

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 [4]. According to Val Adams, the name was changed, at least initially, because “one of the sponsored objected to the word evil” [5].

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.

Works Cited:

1 Lowry, Cynthia. “Felony Squad: Plain, Ordinary Action.” Nevada Daily Mail. Associated Press. 24 Aug. 1966: 8.
2 “Howard Duff: A Man of No Questions.” Free Lance-Star [Fredericksburg, VA]. 31 Dec. 1966: 12-A.
3 Ibid.
4 Lowry, Cynthia. “Felony Squad: Plain, Ordinary Action.”
5Adams, Val. “Friday’s Friend On the Felony Squad.” New York Times. 17 Jul. 1966: 85.

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8 Replies to “How Men Against Evil Became Felony Squad”

  1. When the 1966-’67 ABC fall preview presentation, “7 Nights To Remember” (with “Batman” & “Robin” as hosts), was shown at the network’s annual affiliate convention in August 1966, the “preview” for this series consisted of the “flashing red lights” title sequence and Howard Duff’s off-screen voice saying a few words about “MEN AGAINST EVIL” (the “official” pilot episode hadn’t been assembled as yet, as there were changes from the original unaired version of this pilot episode). Before the season began, however, the series’ primary sponsor, a tobacco company {I’ve forgotten which one}, objected to the original title, insisting that ABC and 20th Century-Fox change it before the premiere…which they did.

  2. NOW I remember the “tobacco sponsor”- Liggett & Myers, makers of L&M cigarettes, primarily sponsored the series throughout most of its run.

  3. It is interesting to hear the theme at a different tempo.

    The concept of a serialized police story would not be successfully realized for another fifteen years.

    I remember the fall preview I think for 1969 where Howard Duff insists that “FELONY SQUAD” was “real and now.” Riiight.

  4. On “Men Against Evil — That’s me playing Officer Jim Briggs, bringing in the brown bag of money to my Dad, Ben Alexander. I was “co-starred” in the pilot. On the proposed ABC spring list for twice a week (ala “Peyton Place” series), my girlfriend and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate with friend Paul Lynde. His pilot, “Sedgewick Hawkstyles, Prince of Danger” was also on the ABC schedule. When we returned, his show was off the schedule and I was off “Men Against Evil”, which was cut to a half-hour once-a-week. While staying at the Tropicana in Vegas, I saw Sam Gianacana. I wonder…? Anyway, Dennis Cole was a friend of mine and remained great friends through the years. I spoke to him just a few months before he passed away in Florida not long ago. My screen name at the time was Wade Graham. Although I did a few more shows and small roles in film, this was my big shot at the industry. I never got another good role again and went into writing for Variety Shows and worked as an agent, manager and promoter. They call it Show Business Survival. Remember the joke about the guy in the circus following the elephants to scoop up their dung. He was asked why he didn’t quit and answered, “What? And give up show business!” Ron (Wade) Graham

  5. Interesting anecdotes, Ron! I remember reading about “SEDGWICK HAWK-STYLES: PRINCE OF DANGER”…Paul was really counting on that to be his “ticket” to weekly stardom. But he also appeared in so many unsold pilots {“HOWIE”, “THE PAUL LYNDE SHOW” (1964 version, created and written by Sidney Sheldon for Screen Gems), et. al.}, he was finally grateful that his own series [a reworking of “HOWIE”] was finally sold…and ended after just one season.

    I believe ABC passed on a twice-weekly version of “MEN AGAINST EVIL” [“THE FELONY SQUAD”] because they knew the novelty of “PEYTON PLACE” was fading. In its second season, it was on THREE nights a week…and that was too much for some viewers. ABC almost did to “PEYTON PLACE” what they did to “WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE” {and NBC with “DEAL OR NO DEAL”}, years later: schedule it too many times a week so that viewers got tired of it and started tuning out, neutralizing its “hit status”, with a guaranteed slide towards cancellation. That’s why the network cut “PEYTON PLACE” back to twice a week for the fall of ’66…and finally once a week just before they cancelled it in 1969. “THE FELONY SQUAD” worked better as a weekly half-hour, minus the “soap opera” elements, staying on ABC for almost three seasons.

  6. When I interviewed Walter Grauman, the executive producer of FELONY SQUAD, in 2008, this was his version of the format change:

    “Bill Self was a very dear friend of mine. I was under contract to Fox, and Bill called me one day and said, ‘Listen, go down to the Zanuck screening room. I want you to look at some stuff.’ I did, and there was this soap opera called — was it called Felony Squad then? I don’t think so. And it was sort of a bore. A soap opera. Tedious. And I went upstairs to Bill’s office, and he says, ‘Well, what’d you think?’ I said, ‘Bill, I don’t think that it works.’ And he said, ‘Well, I think you’re right. What would you do with it?’ And so I just made it up on the spot. I said, ‘I’d change the whole tenor of the thing. I’d make it a half-hour, hard-hitting, fast-moving cop show.’ With Dennis Cole playing the young, inexperience detective, who works with Howard Duff, who was a cynical, old-time cop, detective who’s going to teach the ropes to Dennis Cole. Dennis Cole’s father is Ben Alexander, who is a harness bull and has been most of his life. He believes in going by the book, whereas Howard Duff’s turned the book upside down in order to accomplish what he wants.

    And that was the concept. We went to New York, saw Tom Moore, who was then the head of ABC. Bill says, ‘Tell ’em, Walter.’ So I start to tell him what I just told you, and I got about three sentences out, and he said, ‘What you mean is, you want to make a get-off-your-ass-and-get-’em, right?’ And I said, ‘Right.’ He says, ‘Go ahead.’ And that’s how we started, [how we] got the go-ahead from ABC.”

    Grauman had some other stories about the show, but they’ll have to wait until I publish the interview….

  7. I ran across this site again by accident, looking for information on a “Police Story” episode I did. Surprised to see the interesting comments by Barry L. Grauman and Stephen Bowie. Just a little more from my perspective. I had tested for 20th TV pilot “Three Coins in the Fountain”, directed in test by Hal Kanter. I went to the screening and was walking behind casting person Renee Valente (I don’t know if she was doing the casting or just at the screening) and overheard her say she liked my test. Supposedly, I was going to do the part, but they decided to shoot in Rome. Rather than pay my expenses, they said they’d use me if it was sold as the role was small in the pilot script. In the meantime I tested for “Men Against Evil” with actor Dennis Patrick. I got the part and we shot at Fox, directed by Jack Donahue. I was inexperienced and expected “direction”. Obviously, I didn’t understand acting for television. One day I was striking up a conversation with an actress in makeup. I didn’t know who she was. I noticed a young man in a suit watching us closely. The actress was Linda Harrison who became the man’s second wife. It was Richard Zanuck. I had no idea who he was at the time. I was really green. I shared a dressing room with John Agar. I couldn’t believe he was playing a very small role because I’d seen him star in pictures! I later worked on two Paul Lynde series, “The Paul Lynde Show” and “Temperatures Rising” in the early 70’s. I was Paul’s stand-in, the dialogue coach and did “uncredited” writing. But, that’s another story. “Hawk-Styles” was a huge disappointment to Paul at the time. I read the script and he would have been brilliant. I didn’t see the pilot. I wonder if it’s available. It was also interesting and quite a shock at the time that Richard Davalos, who had starred in “East of Eden” with Jame Dean and many other films and Broadway plays, was playing a rather small role. How soon they forget! Another thing that sticks in my mind is I was on the lot the day Mia Farrow cut her hair. It reverberated around the lot and was a big deal! When I saw the name Barry Grauman, I immediately thought of Walter Grauman. After the series became “Felony Squad” with Dennis Cole in “my” role, I read for Grauman for a “guest role”. I didn’t get it and never worked on the show. I went on to work five months in the film “Ice Station Zebra”, then lived in Rome a year and came back to write television specials. Forty years later and here we are! Good to hear other comments. It really jogs my memory. Ron Graham

  8. Memory is fallible. I made a mistake above. Actually, the pilot director was GORDON DOUGLAS. Got him mixed with Jack Donahue who directed shows when I worked on “The Paul Lynde Show.”

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