Jake Axminster (City of Angels)

Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins

“This is the city of Los Angeles, one of the least corrupt cities in the United States, and its police force is one of the most honest and efficient in the world. But it wasn’t always so…”
— from the opening credits

“They call LA the City of Angels; well, let me tell you something…all the angels left this burg about twenty years ago. It’s crooked and corrupt and it suits me fine.”

That’s the way retro 1930’s Tinseltown peeper JAKE AXMINSTER sees it, in City of Angels, a 1976 mid-season replacement television series from CBS that was part private eye homage and part post-Watergate morality tale, by Rockford Files co-creators Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins.

Jake works out of his office in the Bradbury Building, a sort of P.I. touchstone, featured often in private eye flicks and TV shows, including Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and that other retro P.I. show from the seventies, Banyon.

But Jake was no angel. He possessed a set of rather remarkably flexible ethics, one that stretched to allow for lying, cheating, stealing, suppressing evidence and fighting dirty, tempered by a fierce sense of loyalty to his clients and friends–not that he’s bursting at the seams with either. He’s your traditional loner private eye. His only pals seemed to be his not-quite-ditsy part-time secretary, Marsha (played by elaine Joyce), who also runs an answering service for hookers, and his attorney, Michael Brimm, whose chief occupation is apparently springing Jake from jail.

One reason Jake seemed to land in jail with such alarming frequency was LAPD Lieutenant Quint. Compared to Quint, maybe Jake is an angel. Quint is a fat, sweaty, greasy slimeball of a cop, as corrupt an officer of the law as you’ll ever see, a vindicative bully always sniffing around for an easy handout or a score. He’d do anything to wrap up a case, up to and including torture and kidnapping–if the price is right, of course.

The show was dismissed as a Chinatown clone (was Jake’s name a nod to that film’s Jake Gittes?) , and audiences couldn’t seem to adjust to seeing Wayne Rogers, recently departed from M*A*S*H*, in a dramatic role. Nor did it help that Rogers himself made no secret of the fact he was none too fond of the show, while co-creator Huggins, in turn, felt Rogers was miscast. To be sure, the writing was erratic, veering from finely-detailed, ambitious period piece morality plays (the three-part series opener, “The November Plan,” is some kind of TV classic) and relatively progressive storylines (“Match Point,” for example, treats a homosexual character with broad but sympathetic strokes) to flippant, run-of-the-mill  plots that look like Rockford Files rejects done up in thirties drag.

But City of Angels does have its merits, and its defenders, including Max Allan Collins, who championed it in his The Best of Crime and Detective TV. The show took chances, and when it was good, it was great.

Who knows? Maybe, iIf it had had more of a chance, Huggins and Cannell might have had another Rockford on their hands.

FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY

  • “A Definite Contender! A lot of shows could fill this category — The Outsider, Longstreet, Banyon, Archer, LegWork, possibly even Big Shamus, Little Shamus, and several others that don’t come to mind right now. City of Angels was a bit of a compromise choice but it had a great period setting, a neat emphasis on corruption, great byplay among the leads, and Roy Huggins’ plotting. It would have been interesting to see where Huggins would have gone with it.”
    — Ted Fitzgerald (May 1998, P.I. Poll on Overlooked TV series)
  • “The greatest of all P.I. series.”
    Max Allan Collins

THE EVIDENCE

  • Cops: “Don’t shoot! We’re cops!”
    Jake: “Give me a better reason!”

TELEVISION

  • CITY OF ANGELS
    (1976, NBC)
    13 60-minute episodes
    Created by: Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins
    Writers: Stephen J. Cannell, John Thomas James, Gloryette Clark, Philip DeGuere Jr., Stephen & Elinor Karpf, Mervin Gerard, Douglas Heyes
    Executive Story Consultant: Philip DeGuere Jr.
    Directors: Barry Shear, Douglas Heyes, Jerry London, Don Medford, Robert Douglas, Sigmund Neufield, Jr., Allen Reisner
    Producer: Roy Huggins
    Executive Producer: Jo Swerling, Jr.
    Music: Nelson Riddle
    Starring Wayne Rogers as JAKE AXMINSTER
    With Elaine Joyce as Marsha
    Clifton James as Lieutenant Quint
    and Philip Sterling as Michael Brimm
    Guest starring Diane Ladd, Meredith Baxter Birney, Laurence Luckinbill, Lloyd Nolan, Dorothy Malone, Donna Mills, Marcia Strassman, Broderick Crawford, Cassie Yates

    • “The November Plan, Part 1” (February 3, 1976)
    • “The November Plan, Part II” (February 10, 1976)
    • “The November Plan, Part III” (February 17, 1976)
    • “The Parting Shot” (February 24, 1976)
    • “A Lonely Way To Die” (March 2, 1976)
    • “The House On On Orange Grove Avenue” (March 16, 1976)
    • “Palm Springs Answer” (March 23, 1976)
    • “The Losers” (April 6, 1976)
    • “A Sudden Silence” (April13, 1976)
    • “The Castle Of Dreams” (April 20, 1976)
    • “Say Goodbye To Yesterday” (May 4, 1976)
    • “The Blood Shot Eye” (May 11, 1976)
    • “Match Point” (May 18, 1976)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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