Half Nelson

This short-lived NBC comedy/drama from 1985 starred Joe Pesci as a former cop working for a private security firm in Los Angeles.

Joe Pesci had just a handful of acting credits to his name when NBC gave him his own television series. He made his big screen debut in 1979 in a low-budget crime movie called The Death Collector. He earned an Academy Award nomination for his role in Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed 1980 film Raging Bull, then appeared in a few other movies in the early-to-mid-1980s, including Easy Money and Once Upon a Time in America.

Half Nelson was described as a “light” or “light-hearted” action-adventure series. Pesci starred as Rocky Nelson, a diminutive New York City police officer with big dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. NBC aired a pilot telefilm on Sunday, March 24th, 1985. Rocky makes a big bust and sells his life story. He then quits the force and heads off to California to screen test for the lead role in a movie based on his life and career. Unfortunately, he’s deemed too short to play himself. Undeterred, Rocky gets a job with a private security firm called Beverly Hills Patrol where he can put his police training to good use while waiting for a big break.

Beverly Hills Patrol is co-owned by Dean Martin, who in his final acting role played himself on Half Nelson. Rocky is assigned to provide security for Martin and moves into his guest house. Former football player Fred Williamson co-starred as Rocky’s boss Chester Long while Victoria Jackson played secretary Annie O’Hara. Rocky can’t help but get involved when one of his co-workers winds up dead and ultimately uncovers a blackmail scheme involving videotapes of powerful people in compromising situations.

Guest stars in the pilot telefilm included Gary Lockwood, Morgan Brittany, Rory Calhoun, and Rod Taylor. The telefilm performed modestly for the network, averaging a 14.2/22 rating from 9-11PM. That placed it third in the two-hour time slot behind a movie on ABC and the combination of Crazy Like a Fox and Trapper John, M.D. on CBS. It ranked 45th for the week [1].

Following its one-off Sunday broadcast, Half Nelson moved to Fridays beginning March 29th. It replaced low-rated V in the 8-9PM time slot. Joining the cast in the first hour-long episode were Gary Grubbs, Dick Butkus, and Bubba Smith. Grubbs played Lt. Hamill of the Beverly Hills Police Department who wasn’t happy that Rocky insisted on investigating rather than guarding. Butkus and Smith, both former football players, portrayed two other employees of Beverly Hills Patrol named Beau and Kurt. The two earlier co-starred in short-lived 1984 ABC action series called Blue Thunder and also appeared together commercials for Miller Lite. Finally, Rocky had a dog named Hunk who was played by a dog named Tony.

The first Friday episode averaged a 13.7/22 rating, ranking 44th for the week [2]. That was only a slightly better rating than the final episode of V, which earned a 12.3/30 rating on March 22nd [3]. It’s likely Half Nelson never had a chance at renewal once NBC saw the ratings for the premiere. Its failure to drastically improve the network’s trouble spot on Friday only sealed its fate. The April 5th episode actually improved to a 14.6/25 rating [4]. But the increase was short-lived and came too late. The April 12th episode sank to a 12.1/20 rating [5]. The series fell even more the following week.

NBC pre-empted Half Nelson on April 26th for an episode of Codename: Firefox. A few days later, the network announced its 1985-1986 fall schedule [6]. Half Nelson was cancelled, its replacement a new sci-fi series called Misfits of Science. The last two episodes aired on May 3rd and May 10th; both were low-rated. On May 17th, NBC aired a repeat of V in place of Half Nelson, an ironic bit of scheduling.

Episodes of Half Nelson saw Rocky investigating the theft of a priceless vase and a murder; the murder of aerobics instructor and blackmail; a plastic surgeon trying to kill an actress he made beautiful; a card shark preying on members of a fancy Malibu beach club; car thieves targeting foreign diplomats; and a man framed for murder by blackmailers whose precocious 14-year-old daughter insists on helping nab those responsible. Rocky often had to go undercover to solve his cases. Guest stars included Cesar Romero, Timothy Bottoms, Dick Van Patten, Mary-Margaret Humes, and Robert Reed.

Critic David Handler reviewed Half Nelson in late April, calling it part of a “positively dismal” spring season for television. Discussing both Half Nelson and ABC’s Me & Mom, Handler wrote, “I just don’t know how many more talented actors I can stand to see wasted in these new soft-boiled private-eye shows the networks keep throwing at us” [7]. Half Nelson, Handler argued, “manages to leave you feeling both bored and soiled” [8].

Half Nelson was produced by Glen Larson Productions and 20th Century Fox Television. The theme song was called “L.A. You Belong to Me” and contained references to Los Angeles culture, roads, and climate. It was composed by Stu Phillips and Robert Jason. Jason also performed the theme.

Works Cited:
1 “ABC, NBC tie for first in ratings.” Broadcasting. 1 Apr. 1985: 74.
2 “CBS squeaks into first.” Broadcasting. 8 Apr. 1985: 150.
3 “ABC, NBC tie for first in ratings.”
4 “‘A-Team’ and ‘A.D.’ turn in A+ numbers for NBC.” Broadcasting. 15 Apr. 1985: 154.
5 “NBC records win number five.” Broadcasting. 22 Apr. 1985: 106.
6 Duffy, Mike. “Six New Series Highlight NBC’s Fall Prime Time Schedule.” Hartford Courant. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. 2 May 1985: A22.
7 Handler, David. “Spring Season Positively Dismal.” Ocala Star-Banner TV Week [Ocala, FL]. Newspaper Enterprise Association. 27 Apr. 1985: 12.
8 Ibid.

Originally Published January 31st, 2016
Last Updated May 19th, 2018

9 Replies to “Half Nelson”

  1. One thing that will always stand out for me about this show is the TV Guide ad. it showed the top of Pesci’s head and posed the question “Who will stand up in the fight against crime?”. Turn the page and the answer was “He is standing up!!”

  2. The closing theme was a slower paced tune sung by Dean Martin. If the closing phrase is the title, then the title is “L.A. Is My Home”

  3. I have been trying ,(without any luck )for more then a couple of decades of locating a video or DVD of this short lived series and also the pilot , just for the fact it was Deans last film… I remember the series when it come out but I recall it wasn’t the most entertaining show, but I would love to get a copy of the 8 episodes and the pilot now..

      1. All the episodes are up on YouTube. The pilot has the best picture quality though.

  4. You state in your introduction that this show was on CBS, but then all the references afterward are to the show being on NBC. Apparently MIAMI VICE didn’t help this show if the shows were on the same night, and I think they were.

  5. A few places online as well as a book reference an episode called “Chariots for Hire,” but it’s not on the YouTube playlist nor does it seem to be mentioned here. Anyone know about that? On YouTube there are seven episodes (if you count the pilot as only one), but it seems like there might be one more episode out there?

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