Harry “O” Orwell

Created by Howard Rodman

HARRY “HARRY O” ORWELL is one of television’s most memorable private detectives, made all the more engaging by David Janssen’s extremely downbeat and weary portrayal of Orwell, an irascible and contrary man with very little in life to care about, who nevertheless cares very much. For once, first person voice narration works.

I guess it helped that Harry had something to say.

A bullet lodged near his spine was the reason police officer Harry Orwell had to retire from the force, but he immediately sought new employment as a private detective to supplement his disability pension. Which, so far, doesn’t seem like anything particularly different from standard TV P.I. fare. But then the writers started to tinker with the formula.

Because he was frequently in pain, Harry wasn’t able to jump around like Batman or engage in the usual fisticuffs and hand-to-hand combat that were part and parcel of the genre on the tube at the time. And since his car, a beat-up old Austin Healey Sprite, was usually in the shop, waiting until he could scrounge up enough dough for a new transmission or some other part, Harry generally pursued his investigations by bus or taxi–or even on foot. I remember one episode where Harry, realizing he’s being followed, decides to take the bus home. The two would-be thugs on his tail were not amused.

Nor was Harry the typical happy-go-lucky adventurer or glib wiseass that so many of his TV brethren were. He was a grump–a frequently cranky middle-aged man who muttered to himself, and actually seemed to prefer being alone.

How contrary was this show? Harry didn’t even carry a gun.

He lived in a beach house in San Diego (door unlocked), and liked to spend his time re-building his boat The Answer. He had an ex-wife somewhere but no steady relationships at all, until he moved from San Diego to Santa Monica about midway through the first season, after which he had a fair number of gorgeous flight attendants as neighbors, including Farrah Fawcett and Loni Anderson (back before they were, uh, big). They’d wave to him as he plodded up and down the sand, jogging and muttering to himself, never quite sure what he was chasing.

The Answer, of course, was never completed.


  • “Harry-O was the most believable presentation of world-weariness I’ve seen due to a combination of David Janssen’s presence and the best use of first-person voice-over narration in†television history. As I recall (it’s been a few years), the scripts were generally good and the direction, especially by Jerry Thorpe and Richard Lang, was first rate. And, if you’d had a Best Sidekick/Police Contact category, Anthony Zerbe’s Lt. Trench would have been dueling Joe Santos Dennis Becker from The Rockford Files for first place.”
    — Ted Fitzgerald
  • “Harry-O is possibly TV’s only truly successful interpretation of the Chandler/Macdonald/Spillane first-person narrative.”
    — Max Allan Collins, The Best of Crime and Detective TV
  • “The first-person narrative in Harry O was some of the best in television writing ever; in fact, it was poetic…the (voice-overs) presented non-narrative information. They discussed how Harry wa feeling, how he viewed the world–and not what was going on in the story… I was amazed to see a guy on a popular TV show talking poetry.”
    — Stuart Kaminsky, creator of Toby Peters
  • “…. my wife and I were big fans of the show in the 70s when she happened to have an Austin-Healey Sprite exactly like Harrys’. Same color, and I was always repairing it, ….broken axles usually and constantly tuning up.”
    Dave & Lee-Ann Lawrence
  • “I love the PI genre. A few years ago my wife and I were in San Diego and I spent half the time looking for Harry O’s digs! Rockford’s beach next time.”
    — Paul Kemprecos (creator of Aristotle “Soc” Socarides)


  • In the second pilot, “Smile, Jenny, You’re Dead,” Zalman King, later the mastermind behind softcore late-night cable staple The Red Shoe Diaries, plays an obsessed and slightly creepy photographer stalking a beautiful woman, played by Andrea Marcovicci. Shape of things to come?
  • And in the same episode, the target of King’s obsession was something of a weak spot for teenaged me as well. God, I thought she was hot! Those eyes! That hair! That mouth! Turns out Marcovicci had a long and successful career as both a singer of American standards and as an actress, most notably on television, appearing in the soap Love is a Many Splendored Thing from 1970–1973, and had a recurring role on Hill Street Blues. She also appeared on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Kojak, The Incredible HulkMagnum, P.I., Cybill, Arli$$, Taxi, Voyagers!, Baretta, Mannix, Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, and Trapper John, M.D.


    (1973, ABC)
    Made-for-Television movie, two-hour pilot
    Original airdate: March 11, 1973
    A Warner Bros Television Production
    Created by Howard Rodman
    Starring David Janssen as HARRY ORWELL
    Also starring Martin Sheen
    Apparently they hadn’t fully embraced the whole Harry-is-an-invalid thing yet. In this one, he commandeers a motorcycle and bounces all over town, including up and down a few staircases. Must have been wonderful for that bullet in his spine.
    (1974, ABC)
    Made-for-Television movie, two-hour pilot
    Original airdate: February 3, 1974
    A Warner Bros Television Production
    Created by Howard Rodman
    Directed by Jerry Thorpe
    Starring David Janssen as HARRY ORWELL
    Also starring Andrea Marcovicci, Jodie Foster, Zalman King
    Much better. The contract between the moody, almost erotic photo shoot (with future soft-core merchant Zalman King playing the creepy photographer) and the worn-down grit of Harry’s life makes this a much better pilot for what was to come.
    (1974-76, ABC)
    2 120-minute episodes, 43 60-minute episodes
    Created by Howard Rodman
    Writers: Robert C. Dennis, Herman Groves, Stephen Kandel, Howard Rodman, Michael Sloan, Norman Strum, Gene Thompson
    Directors: Richard Lang, Jerry London, Joe Manduke, Russ Mayberry, Jerry Thorpe
    Theme by Billy Goldenberg
    Performed by The John Gregory Orchestra
    Producers: Robert E. Thompson, Roberer, Buck Houghton, Alex Beaton
    Executive Producer: Jerry Thorpe
    A Warner Bros Television Production
    Starring David Janssen as HARRY ORWELL
    With Henry Darrow as Manny Quinlan (season one)
    Anthony Zerbe as KC Trench (season two)
    Les Lannom as Lester Hodges
    Farrah Fawcett-Majors as Sue Ingram
    Paul Tulley as Sgt. Don Roberts
    Tom Atkins as Sgt. Frank Cole
    Hal Williams as Clarence
    Also starring Keye Luke
    Guest stars: Jim Backus, Cab Calloway, Broderick Crawford, Margot Kidder, Sal Mineo, Robert Reed, Kurt Russell, Martin Sheen, Craig Stevens

    • SEASON ONEBuy on DVD
    • “Gertrude” (September 12, 1974; nominated for Edgar)
    • “The Admiral’s Lady” (September 19, 1974)
    • “Guardian at the Gate” (September 26, 1974)
    • “Mortal Sin” (October 3, 1974)
    • “Coinage of the Realm” (October 10, 19)
    • “Eye Witness” (October 17, 1974)
    • “Shadows at Noon” (October 24, 1974)
    • “Ballinger’s Choice” (October 31, 1974)
    • “Second Sight” (November 7, 1974)
    • “Material Witness” (November 14, 1974)
    • “Accounts Balanced” (November 21, 1974)
    • “Forty Reasons to Kill” (two-part episode; December 5 and 12 1974)
    • “The Last Heir” (January 9, 1975)
    • “For the Love of Money” (January 16, 1975)
    • “The Confetti People” (January 23, 1975)
    • “Sound of Trumpets” (January 30, 1974)
    • “Silent Kill” (February 6, 1975)
    • “Double Jeopardy” (February 13, 1975)
    • “Lester” (February 20, 1975)
    • “Elegy for a Cop” (February 27, 1975)
    • “Street Games” (March 13, 1975)
    • SEASON TWOBuy on DVD
    • “Anatomy of a Frame” (September 11, 1975)
    • “One for the Road” (September 18, 1975)
    • “Lester Two” (September 25, 1975)
    • “Shades” (October 2, 1975)
    • “Portrait of a Murder” (October 9, 1975)
    • “The Acolyte” (October 16, 1975)
    • “Mayday” (October 16, 1975
    • “Tender Killing Care” October 30, 1975)
    • “A.P.B. Harry Orwell” (November 6, 1975)
    • “Group Terror” (November 13, 1975)
    • “Reflections” (November 20, 1975)
    • “Exercise in Fatality” (December 4, 1975)
    • “The Madonna Legacy” (December 11, 1975)
    • “Mister Five and Dime” (January 8, 1976)
    • “Book of Changes” (January 15, 1976)
    • “Past Imperfect” (January 22, 1976)
    • “Hostage” (February 19, 1976)
    • “Forbidden City” (February 26, 1976)
    • “Victim” (March 4, 1976)
    • “Ruby” (March 11, 1976)
    • “The Mysterious Case of Lester and Dr. Fong” (March 18, 1976)
    • “Death Certificate” (April 29, 1976)


  • Harry-O (1975, by Lee Hays)
  • Harry-O #2: The High Cost of Living (1976; by Lee Hays)



  • September 1, 2023
    The Bottom Line: San Diego ex-cop turned cranky beachbum PI would rather work on fixing his boat, The Answer. Moody, dark & often heart-breaking, an all-time classic show that, like the Answer, was never really completed.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Dave Lawrence for wising me up.

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