CBS ordered 22 episodes of Coronet Blue in January 1965, planning to air the show during the 1966-1967 season. The network later cut the episode order to 13 and then shelved it until the summer of 1967. Frank Converse stars as an amnesiac who remembers the phrase “coronet blue” and nothing else. The show ended without any conclusion, leaving viewers wondering what it all meant.
A Lengthy Journey to Television
It’s not often one of the TV networks will go to the trouble of producing a number of episodes of a TV show and then not air them. Pilot episodes are filmed and cast aside in the hundreds every season. But 13 episodes? That’s a lot of money to write off. So, when CBS shelved 13 episodes of a drama 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 1967.
The story of Coronet Blue actually begins almost three years earlier when The New York Times listed it as an hour-long pilot in the running for a spot on the CBS 1965-1966 schedule . In its January 25th, 1965 issue, Broadcasting reported 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” .
Herb Brodkin’s Television Empire Crumbles
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. Mid-season replacement called For the People had a January 31st premiere. 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.
CBS renewed Slattery’s People, the show Coronet Blue would replace on Fridays during the 1965-1966 season, in mid-March . With Slattery’s People back on the schedule there was no room for Coronet Blue. 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 how the abrupt renewal of Slattery’s People was mostly a result of James Aubrey being fired as president of CBS. It was not, as many presumed, because of letters and appeals from fans . After taking over as president, CBS chief Frank Stanton wanted to prove to the public and the TV industry the network was changing without Aubrey. Michael Dann suggested renewing Slattery’s People, a series Aubrey hadn’t supported .
The final shoe dropped on March 26th, 1965 when CBS cancelled For the People after just 13 episodes . In the space of less than two months, Herbert Brodkin and Plautus Productions saw three TV 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.
Production on Coronet Blue Continues
Although it didn’t have a slot on the CBS schedule, Coronet Blue began filming in New York City in the spring of 1965 . Seven episodes had been completed by mid-July, with production set to wrap at the end of the month . The network cut the show’s order from 22 to 13 episodes, spending over $2 million to produce the series. On July 15th, John Schneider visited Plautus Productions in New York City to watch a finished episode and parts of several others .
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 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 asked “whatever happened to ‘Coronet Blue’?” .
He wouldn’t get his answer until April 1967 CBS finally announced Coronet Blue would be given a slot on its schedule. 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 13 episodes existed .
Who Is Michael Alden?
In the premiere episode, the unnamed character played by Frank Converse is attacked aboard a luxury liner and tossed overboard. He barely survives. Pulled out of the water, he’s brought to Alden General Hospital. Although he regains consciousness, the attack leaves him with amnesia. He can’t remember his name or anything about his identity. The one thing he can recall? The phrase “coronet blue” but not, of course, its meaning.
(Alden General Hospital was also the name of the hospital in the prime time drama The Nurse/The Doctors & The Nurses and its daytime spin-off, also called The Nurses. Plautus Productions produced both shows.)
The man decided to call himself Michael Alden, after the name of the doctor treating him and the hospital, and set out to learn the truth about who he was. He began by trying to figure out what “coronet blue” meant. Alden got a job at The Searching i, a diner/coffee shop owned by Max Spier (played by Joe Silver), and the two became friends.
Alden would also befriend a monk named Brother Anthony (played by Brian Bedford). Alden met Brother Anthony after being shot while walking through the streets of New York City. Wounded, he passes out and when he weakes up he discovers he is in a monestary, where Brother Anthony lived. In the monestary’s chapel was a stained glass window that appeared to show Alden’s face surrounded by a dozen demons.
Converse was the only regular cast member. Silver and Bedford had recurring roles and each appeared in only a handful of episodes. Every week, Michael Alden would attempt to uncover his past and learn who he was.
What Does “Coronet Blue” Mean?
Alden’s investigations often leads to dangerous situations. In one episode, he believes he’s meeting someone in Central Park who can tell him who he is. Instead, he’s attacked. He escapes by hiding in a cave where he meets a young boy who recently lost his father. In another episode, while attending a magic show Alden thinks the sapphire crown worn by the magician’s assistant is a clue. But the magician’s wife threatens him.
Several episodes featured clues that ultimately went nowhere. A newspaper brings Alden him to a couple who claim they’re his parents and a woman who says he’s her fiance. There’s even a picture of him in the couple’s house. But all is not what it seems. Likewise, after spotting himself in a picture, Alden visits a small New England town looking for answers. Instead, he learns the picture is from the funeral of a murder victim. Was he the killer?
Other episodes involved Alden traveling to Ohio to consult a memory expert, getting a job at a college and finding himself in the midst of a campus rebellion; coming to the aid of a pedestrian who took a bullet meant for him; drawn into a complex trap starting with a matchbook; participating in a simulated mission to Mars; and connecting song lyrics to his missing past.
The Mystery of Coronet Blue
CBS broadcast episodes out of order. The network pre-empted Coronet Blue the week after it premiered (June 5th). It was pre-empted again on June 26th. Thus, in its first six weeks on the air, CBS aired four episodes of Coronet Blue. Football pre-empted the series for two weeks in late August. The 11th episode aired on September 4th. CBS opted not to broadcast the final two episodes.
On July 15th, The New York Times reported that Coronet Blue would end its summer run without any sort of conclusion. The popularity of the show with viewers surprised CBS executives and critics alike . 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 his goal with Coronet Blue was to craft 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 .
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 in August 1967 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.” 
N.Y.P.D. survived for two seasons, with its last first-run episode airing in March 1969. Converse later co-starred in Movin’ On on NBC from 1974 to 1976, and made dozens of guest appearances throughout the 1970s. But he found it difficult to move past Coronet Blue, despite never finding out what the title meant. He explained in February 1981 that “the words were just a story hook” and “the history of the show was as much of a mystery as the content of the show” .
In March 2001, Converse told The Hartford Courant that people were still telling him how much they loved Coronet Blue. He even went to an audition once only to learn there wasn’t a role for him. People just wanted to talk to him about the show .
Lenny Welch performed the theme song to Coronet Blue. Here are the lyrics:
Opening Theme Song 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.
The Identity Of Michel Alden Revealed
Even if the phrase “coronet blue” meant nothing, there was an answer to the mystery of Michael Alden’s identity. Larry Cohen knew it. In 2003, Elvis Mitchell revealed in an article about Cohen for 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” .
TV Land aired several episodes of Coronet Blue in the 1990s but otherwise the show has not been seen on TV since it went off the air. Prints of all 13 episodes, including the two unaired by CBS, have been part of the collection at the Library of Congress since 1992. The UCLA Film & Television Archive has two episodes of the show; The Paley Center for Media has six.
In July 2017, Kino Larbor released Coronet Blue on DVD, allowing fans the opportunity to rediscover the show and finally watch the unaired episodes. The 4-disc set contains all 13 episodes plus an interview with creator Larry Cohen.
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 Reich, Steve. “Frank converse metes out.” Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY]. TV/Radio & Cable Week sec. 1 Feb. 1981: 25.
35 Seremet, Pat. “Father Figure Frank Converse, At 62, Moves Into the Next Stage of His Acting Career.” Hartford Courant. 13 Mar. 2001: D1.
36 Mitchell, Elvis. “Larry Cohen’s Art of Paranoia.” New York Times. 27 Apr. 2003: 2.13.
Originally Published December 29th, 2008
Last Updated May 1st, 2018