Created by Sidney Sheldon, Hart to Hart revolves around the lives of Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, a wealthy and glamorous jet-set couple with an insatiable appetite for solving mysteries. Jonathan, a self-made millionaire, and his beautiful wife Jennifer discover their shared passion for unravelling perplexing cases when they stumble upon a murder during their honeymoon. This launches their epic journey as amateur detectives, solving crimes and assuming alter egos to protect their true identities.
Screenwriter and novelist Sheldon had originally written a script for the CBS network in the early 1970s. Double Twist concerned a married couple who were spies. Although the network never took up this option, the script remained in cold storage until producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg approached screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to come up with a new, contemporary treatment for it.
Mankiewicz had been working in movies since the early 1960s and had written or co-written the scripts for four James Bond films: Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me, so he would have been perfectly capable of rewriting Sheldon's proposed spy drama. However, he chose instead to make his protagonists the CEO of a global conglomerate and a freelance journalist, who were assisted by Max (Lionel Stander), their gravelly-voiced retainer who was also the minder to the Hart's dog, Freeway. I mean, you really couldn't get more kitsch. Oh, yes you could – take Stander’s intro to each episode:
“This is my boss, Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire. Quite a guy. This is Mrs. H. She’s gorgeous. She’s one lady who knows how to look after herself. By the way, my name is Max, I take care of them both, which ain’t easy. ‘Cos when they met, it was murder!”
Beyond its intriguing (sic) storyline, Hart to Hart was known for its opulent production design and breathtaking locations. The Harts lived a life of luxury, with beautifully appointed mansions (their main abode being 3100 Willow Pond Drive, Bel Air, California), expansive yachts, and impeccable taste in fashion … 80s style of course.
Spelling and Goldberg initially wanted Cary Grant in the role of Jonathan, but at 75 years old the casting might have been stretching credibility somewhat. In any case, Grant's last movie was Walk, Don't Run, released some 13 years before Hart to Hart, and he was living comfortably in retirement. Their next (and successful) choice, Robert Wagner had already proved he could play tongue-in-cheek roles with his appearance in The Pink Panther (1963) and proved his ratings-pulling power with It Takes a Thief (1968 -70). He was, in many ways, cut from the same mould as Grant.
For the role of Jennifer, ABC suggested Wagner's then-real-life wife Natalie Wood, but Wagner himself vetoed the idea. Several other actresses were briefly considered including Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels), Suzanne Pleshette (The Bob Newhart Show) and Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman) but eventually chose Stefanie Powers (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.) who had previously worked with Wagner on Thief.
There was never a dull moment with the Harts jetting around the world solving crimes and the audience loved them. Despite the possible pitfalls of its premise, Hart to Hart was a charming, fun, mystery series that focused on entertainment and pure escapism. A total of 110 episodes, (following the pilot) were made during the series' original run. As with many Aaron Spelling shows during the 80’s, Hart to Hart had its share of famous, unexpected, and soon-to-be-famous guest stars. They included June Allyson, Eve Arden, Jeremy Brett, Capucine, Samantha Eggar, Jonathan Frakes, Eva Gabor, Dorothy Lamour, Roddy McDowall, Ray Milland, Juliet Mills, Anthony Newley, Stella Stevens, Jill St. John, Dean Stockwell, George Wendt and Natalie Wood (who finally made one appearance), and Tennis superstar Martina Navratilova.
Furthermore, the series proved its longevity when, in 1993, almost a decade after it ended, Wagner and Powers reunited for a series of Hart to Hart TV movies. Eight 90-minute telemovies were made between 1993 and 1996. Something of a classic in its own right, Hart to Hart is a US television series that has left an indelible mark on the hearts of its viewers.
Published on November 15th, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.