Harry McGraw (The Law and Harry McGraw)

Created by Peter S. Fischer

HARRY McGRAW first showed up as a recurring character on Murder, She Wrote, a slightly shady working class gumshoe from Boston who earned the respect of Cabot Cove’s very own mystery novelist/amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) for his detective skills and his not-quite-hidden heart of gold. As played by the late, great Jerry Orbach (later of Law & Order fame), McGraw was popular enough to eventually be offered his own series, The Law and Harry McGraw, which premiered in 1987.

Harry’s character was pretty well-established right from the start. After tracking down his partner’s murderer (“When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it”) in the February 24, 1985 episode “Tough Guys Don’t Die” (February 24, 1985; first season), he went on to appear in five more episodes. He was usually short of cash, drove a klunker, and often had to resort to using his young niece E.J. as his receptionist/research assistant. A lot of his money problems could be traced to his passions: pool, poker, ponies, the Red Sox, the Bruins, and a joint called Gilhooleys. He was a good detective, though he wasn’t above cutting corners (he once “kinda temporarily lost his license”). He was proud of his Irish working class roots, and defiantly rough around the edges.

In trying to set up the spin-off, the producers decided they needed someone for his character to bounce off against.

Enter Barbara Babcock (fresh off her steamy run on Hill Street Blues) as Ellie Maginnis, a criminal lawyer and coincidentally a rather attractive widow occasionally in need of a private investigator. Fortunately, the offices of Maginnis & Maginnis (her late husband was also an attorney) were just across the hall from Harry’s new office. They meet “cute” in the two-hour pilot when Maginnis hires Harry to look into a peculiar murder case in which she was defending the accused.

Maginnis was definitely a class act, all prim and proper Boston blueblood refinement, professionalism and grace, a definite contrast to down-at-his-heels McGraw. Yet the two displayed an agreeable, easy-going chemistry, and the humourous clashes between the two were well-drawn and believable. Imagine Moonlighting, but with grown-up characters. Unfortunately, the writers couldn’t imagine more captivating plots.

Midway through the season, Maginnis was given a job with the District Attorney’s office. Her first assignment, though, was a case in which Harry was doing the investigating for the defense. Alas, the conflict wasn’t enough to keep the show going for a complete season, and the mystery of whether Harry and Ellie would ever hook up will be one that will never be solved.

Too bad. If they’d tried to appeal to an audience beyond the Murder She Wrote crowd and added a little more blood, sweat and grit to the proceedings, the show might have done better. Harry was last seen working with Jessica once again on Murder, She Wrote. No word on what happened to Ellie…

DON’T I KNOW YOU FROM SOMEWHERE?

  • Barbara Babcock actually guest-starred in the Murder She Wrote episode “Tough Guys Don’t Die” (February 24, 1985) which introduced Harry, but she wasn’t playing Ellie. She played a suspect, Priscilla Daniels, a magazine publisher with political ambitions.

TELEVISION

  • MURDER, SHE WROTE | Buy the complete first season
    Jerry Orbach appeared as Harry appeared in the following Murder, She Wrote episodes:

    • “Tough Guys Don’t Die” (February 24, 1985; first season)
    • “One Good Bid Deserves a Murder” (February 23, 1986; second season)
    • “Death Takes a Dive” (February 22, 1987; third season)
    • “Double Exposure” (April 30, 1989; fifth season)
    • “From the Horse’s Mouth” (February 24, 1991; seventh season)
    • “The Skinny According to Nick Cullhane” (May 12, 1991; seventh season)
  • DEAD MEN DON’T MAKE PHONE CALLS
    (1987; CBS)
    Pilot
    Premiere: September 27, 1987)
    2-hour pilot for series
    Starring Jerry Orbach as HARRY McGRAW
    and Barbara Babcock as Ellie Maginnis
    Also starring William Atherton, Earl Boen, Marty Davis, Juliana Donald, Shea Farrell, Layla Bias Galloway, Peter Haskell, James Carroll Jordan, Mark Vafiades, Trevor Weaver
    Not so much a “pilot” as an introduction, since the actual show made its debut two days later.
  • THE LAW AND HARRY McGRAW
    (1987-88, CBS)
    Series
    15 60 minute-episodes
    Writers: Peter S. Fischer, Steven Long Mitchell, Craig W. Van Sickle, Ralph Meyering Jr.
    Directors: Allen Reisner, Peter Crane, Sigmund Neufeld, Jr.
    Starring Jerry Orbach as HARRY McGRAW
    and Barbara Babcock as Ellie Maginnis
    with Juli Donald as E.J. Brunson
    Shea Farrell as Steve Lacey
    and Peter Haskell as Tyler Chase
    Guest stars:Juliet Mills, Ray Walston, Alan Hale, Jr., Stu Gilliam

    • “State of the Art” (September 29, 1987)
    • “Mr. Chapman, I Presume” (October 13, 1987)
    • “Beware the Ides of May” (October 6, 1987)
    • “Mr. Chapman, I Presume” (October 13, 1987)
    • “The Fallen Arrow” (October 20, 1987)
    • “Rappaport Is Back in Town” (October 27, 1987)
    • “Angela’s Secret” (November 3, 1987)
    • “Old Heroes Never Lie” (November 10, 1987)
    • “Solve It Again, Harry” (November 17, 1987)
    • “Yankee Boodle Dandy” (December 1, 1987)
    • “Murder by a Landslide” (December 8, 1987)
    • “Gilhooley’s Is History” (January 13, 1988)
    • “She’s Not Wild About Harry” (January 20, 1988)
    • “Waiting Game” (January 27, 1988)
    • “Harry Does the Hustle” (February 3, 1988)
    • “Maginnis for the People” (February 10, 1988)
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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