Barnaby Jones

Created by Edward Hume

Mmmmm doggies…

Folksy to a fault, soft-speaking, slow-walking, elderly Los Angeles private detective BARNABY JONES, who seemed to be on television forever, was an easy mark. Even decades after it lasted aired, people still take potshots at it on shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy.

And, in fact, it wasn’t just your imagination–even discounting endless repeats, the show did run for an awful long time. Eight seasons, and 178 or so episodes, making it the second-longest running private eye television series of all time (only Joe Mannix lasted longer).

As one TV executive put it, “You couldn’t kill that thing with a stick!”

The very first episode of Barnaby Jones featured a guest appearance by Frank Cannon, the private eye hero of another popular Quinn Martin detective show of the time, and the new show was very much cast in the same mold as other QM productions, with each episode sliced up into into five clearly labeled and numbered “acts” (conveniently marked by commercial breaks) and deliberately paced. In fact, that first episode was originally shot as a second season episode of Cannon, although it never aired.

That episode, “Requiem for a Son,” followed Barnaby as he came out of retirement to find his son Hal’s killer. He succeeded (with a little help from Cannon, of course, and decided retirement was for the birds. He resumed control of the family detective agency, and teamed up with Hal’s widow (Betty, played by former Miss America Lee Meriwether), who had been working as the agency’s secretary and office manager.

The rest was television history. The show went on to a long and successful run on CBS. As well, Barnaby was the probably first credible senior citizen P.I., setting the standard for all the superannuated eyes that followed. Even The Golden Girls liked it.

Actor Buddy Ebsen, best known as the plain-talking backwoods patriarch of The Beverly Hillbillies, was already a respectable 65 when he stepped into the gumshoes of Barnaby Jones, and 72 when CBS finally pulled the plug.

So go ahead… Hoot all you want about Jed Clampett, P.I., and make all the cracks you want about the office bottle containing Geritol.

That was certainly the reaction when the show made its debut in 1973. But for anyone who gave this much-misunderstood show a chance, they were rewarded with some great entertainment. It was never hip. It was never cool. But in retrospect, it was pretty good.

To its credit, the producers didn’t downplay Barnaby’s age, nor did they get cute about it. They simply treated him with respect and dignity, made us aware of his limitations but focussed on his strengths. He was a master chemist, a qualified criminalogist and, after a long career in the shamus game, nobody’s fool. Not for Barnaby, then, the then-standard P.I. TV fare of fisticuffs and commercial-linking car chases. Rather he relied on his keen intellect, his home crime lab and good old detective work (a real rarity on the tube at the time — and even now) to get the goods on the bad guys.

And what bad guys they were!

Barnaby’s villains turned out to be some of the nastiest sickos ever presented on network television–much to the chagrin of straight-arrow Barnaby. There was true evil here, and it was made all the nastier by the fact it often wore the bland, bovine face of middle-class, suburban banality. The bad guys were not just the usual gangsters and thugs – often, they were bank managers, neighbourhood kids, shop owners, and the like. Their motives, if you could call them that, often turned out to be nothing more than just plain boredom or the quest for “kicks.”

Yet, week after week, the mild-mannered, grandfatherly Barnaby, who sometimes looked like a strong wind would blow him away–and he didn’t get any younger as the series progressed–proved to be more than a match for all of them. Every week, in his slow, methodical way, he took on clients, analyzed the evidence, knocked on doors, took down names, and brought the bad guys to justice, even as they raced around like chickens with their heads cut off, growing increasingly frantic. All to no avail. As TV critic Ric Meyers once put it, “Barnaby Jones was the Droopy Dog of the TV private eye.”

And just like that perpetually persistent cartoon pooch, the show itself just kept on rolling along. Of course, as with any long-running TV series, certain plot lines and even guest stars were recycled. Actor Gary Lockwood showed up as a villian at least a half-dozen times. “And he was a low-down skunk in everyone of them!” Ebsen later recalled. “Every time I saw him, I’d say, “Didn’t I put you in jail once?’ ”

So, sure, the pacing may have been a bit slow occasionally, and the action, such as it was, mostly consisted of Barnaby pulling out a gun near the show’s conclusion and telling some varmint to stick ’em up, while they waited for the cops to arrive. But the plots were pleasantly complex, and generally solid, and the solutions based on actual detective work. Barnaby’s methodical DIY forensics still ring true to form, in a way that most of today’s far flashier, whiz-bang CSI rub-a-dub rarely does.

And Barnaby’s sense of family loyalty was beyond admirable, verging into parody. Simply put, his secretary/widowed daughter-in-law Betty had to be the stupidest and most danger-prone woman who ever walked the face of the earth. She was kidnapped, threatened and attacked so often she made Mannix’s secretary Peggy look like a good insurance risk.

In the fifth season, they brought in another relative for Barnaby to fret over: his cousin J.R. (Jedidiah Romano) Jones (played by Mark Shera), an earnest young law student hired to help Barnaby out, doing more of the leg work. True to form, J.R.’s inexperience and impulsiveness often landed him in trouble, and it was up to Barnaby to pull him out.

So, yeah, J.R. was a bit of a pill, but for those of us who “got’ the show, the mere mention of it brings back a heapin’ helpin’ of fond memories. And when CBS finally decided to pull the plug in 1980, it wasn’t because the show had lost its audience. Nope, the problem was that it was attracting the wrong audience. The demographics were just skewing way too old.

Networks be damned,  Barnaby remained a likeable old coot right ’til the end; a milk-drinking gentleman whose gentle ways concealed a razor-sharp mind. So likeable, in fact, that Ebsen was called back into action, appearing in the 1984-85 season of Matt Houston as Matt’s Uncle Roy, a retired CIA op and sometime private eye.

But the biggest treat of all was his last appearance as Barnaby years after the show had faded away, in the 1993 Beverly Hillbillies feature film. At one point in the film, Granny turns up missing and Miss Jane hires Barnaby Jones, amazingly still private eying at eighty-five, to look for her. A class act, that–having the original Jed pop up.


The show’s creator, Edward Hume, is an American film and television writer, best known for creating and developing several crime and detective shows in the seventies , as well as for writing the highly acclaimed 1983 TV movie The Day After. During the week of April 21, 1974, four shows he had created (Cannon, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco and Toma) all appeared together in the Nielsen top twenty ratings.


  •  “I’m not a narc, but I can tell you that heroin is not a health food.”
    Barnaby offers a perfect “Just Say No” quote, years before Nancy Reagan (“Gold Record for Murder”)


    (1973-1980, CBS)
    178 60-minute episodes
    Created by Edward Hume
    Writers: Larry Brody, Mort Fine, Robert Hamner, Shirl Hendryx, Stephen Kandel, Robert Pirosh, B.W. Sandefur
    Directors: Corey Allwn, Marc Daniels, Robert Douglas, Michael Caffey, Walter Graumann, Lawrence Dobkin, Russ Mayberry, Winrich Kolbe
    Producers: Gene Levitt (1st season), Philip Salzman (2nd-6th seasons), Robert Sherman (7th-8th seasons)
    Music: Jerry Goldsmith
    Executive Producer: Quinn Martin
    Starring Buddy Ebsen as BARNABY JONES
    Lee Meriwether as Betty Jones
    Mark Shera as Jedediah Roman “J.R.” Jones
    and John Carter as Lieutenant Biddle
    Guest stars: William Conrad, Gary Lockwood, Anne Francis, Ida Lupino, Jonathan Frakes, Teri Garr, William Shatner, Margot Kidder, Ed Begley Jr., Ross Martin, Ron Masak, Linda Henning, Lou Frizzell, David Wayne, David Hedison, Pernell Roberts, Gregory Harrison, Charles Siebert, Loni Anderson, Gary Sandy, Charles Durning, Susan Dey, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones, Vera Miles, Sean Penn, James Woods, Larry Hagman, Margot Kidder, Leslie Neilson, Nick Nolte, Stefanie Powers

    • Season One | Buy on DVD
    • “Requiem for a Son” (January 28, 1973; guest stars Frank Cannon)
    • “To Catch a Dead Man” (February 4, 1973)
    • “Sunday: Doomsday” (February 25, 1973)
    • “The Murdering Class” (March 4, 1973)
    • “Perchance to Kill” (March 11, 1973)
    • “The Loose Connection” (March 18, 1973)
    • “Murder in the Doll’s House” (March 25, 1973)
    • “Sing a Song of Murder” (April 1, 1973)
    • “See Some Evil…Do Some Evil” (April 8, 1973)
    • “Murder-Go-Round” (April 15, 1973)
    • “To Denise, With Love and Murder” (April 22, 1973)
    • “A Little Glory, a Little Death” (April 29, 1973)
    • “Twenty Million Alibis” (May 6, 1973)
    • Season Two | Buy on DVD
    • “Blind Terror” (September 16, 1973)
    • “Death Leap” (September 23, 1973)
    • “Echo of a Murder” (September 30, 1973)
    • “Day of the Viper” (October 7, 1973)
    • “Trial Run for Death” (October 4, 1973)
    • “Catch Me If You Can” (October 21, 1973)
    • “Divorce – Murderer’s Style” (October 28, 1973)
    • “The Deadly Prize” (November 4, 1973)
    • “Stand-In for Death” (November 11, 1973)
    • “The Black Art of Dying” (November 25, 1973)
    • “The Killing Defense” (December 2, 1973)
    • “Fatal Flight” (December 9, 1973)
    • “Secret of the Dunes” (December 16, 1973)
    • “Venus as in Fly Trap” (January 6, 1974)
    • “The Deadly Jinx” (January 13, 1974)
    • “The Platinum Connection” (January 20, 1974)
    • “Programmed for Killing” (January 27, 1974)
    • “A Gold Record for Murder” (February 10, 1974)
    • “Friends Till Death” (February 17, 1974)
    • “Rendezvous with Terror” (February 24, 1974)
    • “Dark Legacy” (March 3, 1974)
    • “Woman in the Shadows” (March 10, 1974)
    • “Image in a Cracked Mirror” (March 24, 1974)
    • “Foul Play” (March 31, 1974)
    • Season Three | Buy on DVD
    • “A Gathering of Thieves” (September 10, 1974)
    • “Dead Man’s Run” (September 17, 1974)
    • “The Challenge” (September 24, 1974)
    • “Conspiracy of Terror” (October 1, 1974)
    • “Odd Man Loses” (October 8, 1974)
    • “Forfeit by Death” (October 15, 1974)
    • “Blueprint for a Caper” (October 29, 1974)
    • “Mystery Cycle” (November 12, 1974)
    • “Dark Homecoming” (November 19, 1974)
    • “Time to Kill” (November 26, 1974)
    • “Death on Deposit” (December 3, 1974)
    • “Web of Deceit” (December 10, 1974)
    • “The Last Contract” (December 31, 1974)
    • “Trap Play” (January 7, 1975)
    • “Murder Once Removed” (January 21, 1975)
    • “Counterfall” (February 4, 1975)
    • “Dangerous Summer” (February 11, 1975)
    • “Image of Evil” (February 18, 1975)
    • “Fantasy of Fear” (February 25, 1975)
    • “Doomed Alibi” (March 11, 1975)
    • “The Deadlier Species” (March 18, 1975)
    • “Poisoned Pigeon” (March 25, 1975)
    • “Jeopardy for Two” (April 1, 1975)
    • “Bond of Fear” (April 15, 1975)
    • Season Four | Buy on DVD
    • “The Deadly Conspiracy (Part Two)” (September 19, 1975; Part One aired on Cannon)
    • “Theater of Fea” (September 26, 1975)
    • “The Orchid Killer” (October 3, 1975)
    • “The Price of Terror” (October 10, 1975)
    • “Honeymoon with Death” (October 17, 1975)
    • “The Alpha-Bravo War” (October 24, 1975)
    • “Flight to Danger” (October 31, 1975)
    • “Double Vengeance” (November 7, 1975)
    • “Fatal Witness” (November 14, 1975)
    • “Beware the Dog” (November 21, 1975)
    • “Blood Relations” (November 28, 1975)
    • “A Taste for Murder” (December 4, 1975)
    • “Final Burial” (December 11, 1975)
    • “Portrait of Evil” (December 18, 1975)
    • “Dead Heat” (January 1, 1976)
    • “The Lonely Victims” (January 8, 1976)
    • “Hostage” (January 15, 1976)
    • “Silent Vendetta” (January 29, 1976)
    • “Shadow of Guilt” (February 5, 1976)
    • “Deadly Reunion” (February 12, 1976)
    • “Dangerous Gambit” (February 26, 1976)
    • “Wipeout” (March 4, 1976)
    • “The Eyes of Terror” (March 11, 1976)
    • “The Stalking Horse” (March 18, 1976)
    • Season Five | Buy on DVD
    • “Blood Vengeance” (October7 , 1976)
    • “Deadline for Dying” (October 14, 1976)
    • “Sins of Thy Father” (October 21, 1976)
    • “The Fatal Dive” (October 28, 1976)
    • “Final Ransom” (November 11, 1976)
    • “Band of Evil” (November 18, 1976)
    • “Voice in the Night” (December 2, 1976)
    • “The Bounty Hunter” (December 16, 1976)
    • “Renegade’s Child” (December 23, 1976)
    • “Fraternity of Thieves” (December 30, 1976)
    • “Sister of Death” (January 6, 1977)
    • “The Deadly Charade” (January 13, 1977)
    • “Testament of Power” (January 20, 1977)
    • “Copy-Cat Killing” (January 27, 1977)
    • “A Simple Case of Terror” (February 3, 1977)
    • “The March athon Murders” (February 17, 1977)
    • “Duet for Dying” (February 24, 1977)
    • “Circle of Treachery” (March 3, 1977)
    • “Anatomy of Fear” (March 17, 1977)
    • “The Killer on Campus” (March 24, 1977)
    • “The Deadly Valentine” (March 31, 1977)
    • “Duet for Danger” (May 5, 1977)
    • “The Inside Man” (May 12, 1977)
    • “Run Away to Terror” (May19, 1977)
    • Season Six | Buy on DVD
    • “Death Beat” (September 15, 1977)
    • “The Mercenaries” (September 22, 1977)
    • “The Wife Beater” (September 29, 1977)
    • “Yesterday’s Terror” (October 13, 1977)
    • “The Damocles Gun” (October 20, 1977)
    • “Gang War” (October 27, 1977)
    • “Daughter of Evil” (November 3, 1977)
    • “The Captives” (November 10, 1977)
    • “The Reincarnation” (November 17, 1977)
    • “Shadow of Fear” (November 24, 1977)
    • “The Devil’s Handmaiden” (December 1, 1977)
    • “Prisoner of Deceit” (December 15, 1977)
    • “Deadly Becoming” (December 22, 1977)
    • “Child of Danger” (December 29, 1977)
    • “The Scapegoat” (January 5, 1978)
    • “A Ransom in Diamonds” (January 12, 1978)
    • “Prime Target” (January 19, 1978)
    • “Final Judgment, Part One” (January 26, 1978)
    • “Final Judgment, Part Two” (January 26, 1978)
    • “Uninvited Peril” (February 2, 1978)
    • “Terror on a Quiet Afternoon” (February 9, 1978)
    • “The Coronado Triangle” (March 2, 1978)
    • Season Seven | Buy on DVD
    • “Blind Jeopardy” (September 21, 1978)
    • “A Dangerous Affair” (September 28, 1978)
    • “Deadly Sanctuary” (October 12, 1978)
    • “Hitch-hike to Terror” (October 19, 1978)
    • “Nest of Scorpions” (October 26, 1978)
    • “Death of a Friendship” (November 9, 1978)
    • “A Frame for Murder” (November 16, 1978)
    • “Stages of Fear” (November 23, 1978)
    • “Victim of Love” (November 30, 1978)
    • “Memory of a Nightmare” (December 14, 1978)
    • “The Picture Pirates” (December 21, 1978)
    • “Academy of Evil” (December 28, 1978)
    • “The Medium” (January 4, 1979)
    • “Echo of a Distant Battle, Part One” (January 11, 1979)
    • “Echo of a Distant Battle, Part Two” (January 11, 1979)
    • “The Enslaved” (January 18, 1979)
    • “Dance with Death” (January 25, 1979)
    • “The Protectors” (February 1, 1979)
    • “Fatal Overture” (February 8, 1979)
    • “Master of Deception” (February 22, 1979)
    • “A Short Happy Life” (March 1, 1979)
    • “Child of Love, Child of Vengeance, Part One” (March 15, 1979)
    • “Child of Love, Child of Vengeance, Part Two” (March 22, 1979)
    • “Target for a Wedding” (April 12, 1979)
    • “Temptation” (April 19, 1979)
    • Season Eight | Buy on DVD
    • “Man on Fire” (September 20, 1979)
    • “Nightmare in Hawaii, Part One” (September 27, 1979)
    • “Nightmare in Hawaii, Part Two” (September 27, 1979)
    • “A Desperate Pursuit” (October 11, 1979)
    • “Design for Madness” (October 18, 1979)
    • “Girl on the Road” (October 25, 1979)
    • “Indoctrination in Evil” (November 1, 1979)
    • “Homecoming for a Dead Man” (November 8, 1979)
    • “False Witness” (November 29, 1979)
    • “School of Terror” (December 20, 1979)
    • “Cry for Vengeance” (December 27, 1979)
    • “Run to Death” (January 3, 1980)
    • “The Price of Anger” (January 10, 1980)
    • “The Killing Point” (January 17, 1980)
    • “Focus on Fear” (January 31, 1980)
    • “Murder in the Key of C” (February 7, 1980)
    • “Killer without a Name” (February 14, 1980)
    • “Death Is the Punchline” (February 21, 1980)
    • “The Final Victim” (March 6, 1980)
    • “The Silent Accuser” (March 13, 1980)
    • “Deadline for Murder” (March 27, 1980)
    • “The Killin’ Cousin” (April 3, 1980)


  • Barnaby Jones: The Complete Collection (Limited Edition)Buy on DVD
    All 179 episodes of the longest-running private eye show of all time. No, really…
  • Sizzling Cold Case (2006; by Buddy Ebsen & Darlene Quinn)  Buy this book Kindle it!
    (aka “The Legend of Lori London”)
    By almost all accounts dreadful. This curiosity, with Barnaby working an 18-year old murder case, was purportedly penned by Ebsen himself, and completed posthumously by Darlene Quinn.


  • Barnaby sings Jethro Tull!  In “Gold Record for Murder” (February 10, 1974), hot-shot glam rocker (played by Marjoe Gortner) kills his secret songwriter after the ungrateful lout starts demanding credit. The song in question (performed live by Gortner on the Sunset Strip in the opening sequence, with much scenery chewing) is actually  “Wind Up” from the 1972 Jethro Tull album Bad But Not Evil. Barnaby eventually cracks the case after finding the sheet music, and singing a few lines, accompanying himself on his old guitar. Personally, I’m not sure anyone would kill over the credits for a Jethro Tull song, but who knows?


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Alberta Bond for the Hillbillies lead, and to Lee Golberg for filling in a few details.

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