Having played the troubled yet deadly agent David Callan on British television and the unflappable, unwavering investigator Robert McCall in the USA, Edward Woodward was probably not the best fit for the role of Maxwell Beckett, a cranky mystery novels writer turned unlikely detective in this short-lived series. Still, Woodward was riding high on the wave of the success that The Equalizer had brought him, and Over My Dead Body was produced by William Link who had been responsible for another prime-time winner, Murder, She Wrote - so all the signs were for a positive return to our screens after a period of ill-health that had been bought on by the punishing New York schedule of his previous series.
In fact, Woodward had no intention of returning to American prime-time at that point of his career. He was now 58 years old, wealthier than he'd ever been, and a world-wide star. He was content to return to work in the UK and continue his acting career but at a more leisurely pace. But he had left his finances in the hands of an accounting company and returned home to be presented with a huge tax demand. He explained to HMRC that he'd already paid tax on his earnings in America, but to no avail. He was expected to pay tax again, this time to the British government, on the same earnings.
In America, CBS were desperate for his return and had already lined up a new 12-episode series, more if it proved a success, and with the promise of filming in California, Woodward weighed up the odds and reluctantly accepted. Uprooting his family once again, he moved to Los Angeles.
Less than a year after the last episode of The Equalizer had aired on CBS, Woodward was back on US TV screens with Over My Dead Body airing in September 1990 as part of the network's fall line-up.
Woodward played a retired Scotland Yard detective who had turned mystery novel writer, a venture that had produced three best-sellers. But by the time we catch up with him his career has taken a downturn. His last two books have failed miserably and he is now suffering from a confidence crisis and a lack of ideas. Into his life comes Nikki Page (Jessica Lundy), an obituary writer for the San Francisco Union who is hoping to move up to a job as a reporter. She approaches Maxwell Beckett because she has witnessed a murder in the street through her apartment window. But no one will believe her. As Beckett is her favourite author, she believes that he can help solve the mystery. Naturally, they do solve the case together and become firm friends. Working together as amateur sleuths they go on to solve a variety of crimes. All the action gets Maxwell's creative juices flowing again and he begins writing a new novel.
Each episode was not dissimilar to Murder, She Wrote. There was a dead body, a mystery to solve, an unstoppable - if somewhat bumbling investigative duo and a tried and tested formula. But US viewers simply didn’t take to it. Perhaps it was too soon after the poker-faced, steely-eyed streetwise investigator that was Robert McCall for viewers to accept Woodward in a more tongue-in-cheek role. “They turned my Equalizer into a whiny old complaining man!” one fan lamented. Or perhaps they’d simply seen it all before.
Allegedly, CBS pulled the plug on the series whilst the 12th episode was being filmed. A call was made to stop filming immediately. Woodward was incensed. He had a furious argument with a CBS executive and insisted that for the sake of a few more hours work the cast and crew should be able to complete the final wrap. His persistence paid off and the final few episodes (including number 12) were eventually aired in June 1991. Some episodes were available to watch on YouTube for a while but now only the trailers for the series seem to remain. The series has not had a DVD release, which is a shame – or maybe not. It depends on how you want to remember Edward Woodward – one of the greatest actors of his generation.
Published on May 19th, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.