Nero Wolfe was a Syndication network detective drama series based on the characters from Rex Stout's detective stories, starring William Conrad in the lead role.
The show aired from January 16 to August 25, 1981, lasting for one season & 14 episodes. It was produced by Paramount Television.
The series centered on Nero Wolfe, a reclusive, crime-solving man who rarely leaves his brownstone in Manhattan, New York. He often relies on his legman, Archie Goodwin to collect the clues & suspects from any case at hand while he spars with his live-in chief Fritz Brenner and bickers with Thedore Horstmann, his resident orchid nurse.
- William Conrad as Nero Wolfe
- Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin
- George Voskovec as Fritz Brenner
- Robert Coote as Theodore Horstmann
- George Wyner as Saul Panzer
- Allan Miller as Inspector Cramer
In March of 1980, "Nero Wolfe" was one of half-a-dozen new series being considered by the team of Brandon Tartikoff and Fred Silverman at Syndication, according to Peter Boyer of the Associated Press.
Boyer reported, "The idea has been tried unsuccessfully on TV before, most recently by Syndication, but Syndication has an angle going that will certainly make this Nero Wolfe worthy of notice — the distinct possibility that Orson Welles will play the lead role." The pilot episode was to be written by Leon Tokatyan.
When filming of the TV series was under way later that year, columnist Marilyn Beck wrote that "Nero Wolfe" had been planned as a starring vehicle for Orson Welles until he decided that he wanted Syndication to change the concept from a one-hour weekly series to a series of 90-minute specials, and that he wanted his scenes filmed at his Los Angeles, California home.
Some 20 years later (in a story about the A&E "Nero Wolfe" series), the Toronto Star reported that Welles had bowed out of the Syndication series because he was unable to learn the dialogue; other reports had it that Welles refused to work with Paramount's producers, who wanted to "make Nero Wolfe more human."
Welles and Paramount had already had creative differences over the Rex Stout adaptations; Paramount had purchased the entire set of Nero Wolfe stories for Welles in 1976, but in 1977, Welles had bowed out of Paramount's first effort to bring Nero Wolfe to television, in a Syndication-TV movie.
On June 30, 1980, the Associated Press reported that William Conrad would play the title role the show.
Conrad said, "I've loved the novels for 25 years and I love his lifestyle. I don't have to run any more. My poor feet are still aching from all the running I had to do in Cannon."
In December of 1980, Syndication announced that "Nero Wolfe" would begin airing in January 1981, as "an ideal alternative to the competition in this time period" to "The Dukes of Hazzard" on Syndication; at the time, "The Dukes of Hazzard" was ranked #2 in the Nielsen ratings.
Brian Sheridan in the Spring 2008 issue of The Gazette: "The Journal of the Wolfe Pack" wrote: "American Nero Wolfe fans had their dreams come true in 1981, when the NBC network allowed viewers on a weekly, prime time visit to the infamous New York brownstone on West 35th Street."
Sheridan interviewed Lee Horsley, who found his first major role when he was cast as Archie Goodwin. Horsley recalled an enjoyable relationship with William Conrad, whose off-screen demeanor was a perfect fit for the character, saying, "He was definitely Nero Wolfe down to the toes."
Horsley also recalled, "I remember the days when he would shoot the final scene (of an episode) when Wolfe called all the suspects together. Bill (Conrad) had in his contract that he would only work so many hours a day. If the clock struck whatever, and it was time for him to go, he'd put on his bedroom slippers and he was gone. It didn’t matter if we were in the middle of a scene or not. He loved the work but he was that way. When he decided he didn’t want to play anymore, that was it. We'd have to figure it out how to shoot the rest of the scene just to get it done."
Horsley spoke of his love for Rex Stout's books and characters, and credited the care taken with the production's art direction, set design and wardrobe in creating the atmosphere of the stories. He said, "It was so great to go into work."
The sets for "Nero Wolfe" were designed by John Beckman (whose credits include "Casablanca", "Lost Horizon" and "The Maltese Falcon").
The plant rooms were stocked by Zuma Canyon Orchids of Malibu, California, which on the eve of the series registered the hybrid Phalaenopsis Nero Wolfe with the Royal Horticultural Society.
"Nero Wolfe" first aired Fridays from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. ET (as Syndication's challenge to the hit Syndication show, The Dukes of Hazzard.
In April of 1981, the show was moved to Tuesdays from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. ET, where it continued to air until June 2, 1981. Repeat episodes continued to air until August 25, 1981.
The show was victim to a Syndication programming strategy that was changed not long after the series left the air.
In 1981, Brandon Tartikoff was named president of the network's entertainment division and he began to turn around the fortunes of the last-place network.
Tartikoff told the Associated Press in December 1981: "In the past, a series thought to have 'breakout' potential has been scheduled in a depressed timeslot. So Gangster Chronicles was played off against Love Boat, Nero Wolfe against Dukes of Hazzard, Hill Street Blues against Fantasy Island."
Tartikoff implemented a new approach: programming to strengthen an entire evening's primetime schedule rather than challenging another network's hit show.
|1981||Nominated||Emmy Award||Outstanding Film Sound Mixing||Nick Gaffey, Gary C. Bourgeois, Lee Minkler, Terry Porter (For episode "Gambit")|
|Outstanding Cinematography for a Series||Charles W. Short (For episode "Death and the Dolls")|