Remington Steele

Remington Steele

1982 - United States

In October 1982 the NBC Network launched a new detective series with the following introduction by one of the show's lead characters, Laura Holt:

"Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective, Remington Steele? He doesn't exist. I invented him. Follow: I always loved excitement, so I studied, and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so...feminine. So, I invented a superior, a decidedly masculine superior. Suddenly, there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm...until the day he walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele's identity. Now I do the work and he takes the bows. It's a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mixed business with pleasure. Well, almost never. I don't even know his real name!"

Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason, the show starred Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist as, respectively, a mysterious man who exudes a captivating energy even though he initially does not have any actual experience as a detective, and a smart and savvy female private investigator who serves as the driving force behind the detective work, often leading investigations and displaying her intelligence, resourcefulness and independence.

A fan of old Hollywood movies, Steele often pursues cases by playing out a scene from a classic film like The Thin Man, Notorious or Key Largo. One of the key strengths of Remington Steele was its unique blend of comedy, drama and romance. The witty banter between Laura and Remington added layers to their characters' relationship and the overall storylines which were engaging and filled with twists and turns. The chemistry between Brosnan and Zimbalist is undeniable, making their characters' relationship both fun and complex. Each episode feels like a mini whodunit adventure, full of twists, turns, and red herrings. From glamorous settings to seedy back alleys, you never know where Laura and Remington will end up next.

Remington Steele
Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan

It was a role that further enhanced the growing reputation of Brosnan, the Irish born actor who had previously made fleeting appearances in films like The Long Good Friday and The Mirror Crack’d, as well as early television performances in The Professionals, Murphy’s Stroke, and Play for Today. He became a television star in the United States with his leading role in the popular miniseries Manions of America, a 6-hour mini-series about a proud Irish farmer who migrates to America, tired of English repression and the Great Famine in the mid-19th century. In 1982, he continued his success with the BBC’s nine-part miniseries Nancy Astor, which portrayed the life of Lady Astor—the first woman to sit in the British Parliament.

His role in Remington Steele bought him to the attention of James Bond film producer Albert R. Broccoli who earmarked Brosnan for the role of Bond following the departure of Roger Moore. In 1986, NBC cancelled Remington Steele and Brosnan was offered the role of 007. As the wheels of publicity were set in motion for the next Bond film, the ratings for Remington Steele improved and NBC exercised their option to renew the series for another season and Brosnan found out that he was contractually obliged to appear in the television series. As a result, Timothy Dalton was given the Bond role. Due to legal disputes between the Bond producers and the studio over distribution rights, Brosnan was unable to take up the role of James Bond until 1995's GoldenEye. His portrayal of Steele showcased many of the qualities associated with James Bond: charisma, sophistication, and a certain suave demeanour.

Stephanie Zimbalist, who was born in New York City, is the daughter of actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who starred in the television series 77 Sunset Strip and The FBI. Stephanie made her screen debut in a 1977 TV movie titled Yesterday's Child and made appearances in several TV shows and mini-series which included The Love Boat and Centennial. Remington Steele was her breakthrough role and she later appeared in leading roles in several television movies such as The Man in the Brown Suit, the Emmy Award winning Caroline?, The Great Elephant Escape, and guest roles in television series such as Touched By An Angel and Diagnosis Murder.

Remington Steele
Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan and Doris Roberts

Alongside the main leads there was a cast of supporting regulars. Murphy Michaels (played by James Read) was a detective who initially worked with Laura before Remington's arrival. He later became part of the team at the detective agency and formed a close friendship with Remington and Laura. Mildred Krebs (played by Doris Roberts) was the agency's no-nonsense secretary who became a close ally to Laura and Remington. She often provided comic relief with her sharp wit and resourcefulness. Bernice Foxe (played by Janet DeMay) was another secretary at the agency, known for her attractive and flirtatious personality, adding a touch of humour and glamour to the office environment. Daniel Chalmers (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) was Remington Steele's former mentor and a recurring character throughout the series. He often appeared unexpectedly, bringing complications and intrigue to Remington and Laura's cases.

Remington Steele
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Pierce Brosnan

The supporting characters contributed to the richness and depth of the series, offering additional layers to the main storyline and relationships between the central characters, their presence adding variety and complexity to the world of Remington Steele.

Despite the show’s allure being fuelled by the sexual tension between the main characters, behind the scenes, the production was plagued by persistent rumours that its two leads did not get along. Brosnan and Zimbalist openly acknowledged some personal conflicts during press interviews, attributing part of it to the stress of long working hours. Doris Roberts confirmed that Zimbalist and Brosnan rarely exchanged words, and this tension ultimately influenced the series’ conclusion: “It was awful. They didn’t talk to each other.” Despite any past friction during production, Brosnan and Zimbalist now express fondness for each other and in recent interviews say that they occasionally keep in touch. Brosnan even praised Zimbalist’s acting, stating that he would gladly work with her again on the right project. Zimbalist reciprocated the sentiment in a 2011 interview, describing Pierce Brosnan as a “very sweet man,” acknowledging their past issues, which were “perhaps fuelled by hormones.”

The series was initially pitched to Grant Tinker of MTM in 1969 but the premise of a solo private investigator was deemed "ahead of its time". It was revived eleven years later following the success of several sitcoms featuring working women, including the groundbreaking Mary Tyler Moore Show. However, MTM President of Programming Stu Erwin thought that the premise was still underdeveloped and suggested that Robert Butler work with veteran writer Michael Gleason to expand the premise. It was Gleason who suggested that Holt's fictional boss showed up.

Remington Steele is like a time capsule of 80s charm and intrigue, wrapped up in a detective series with a twist. Breaking away from the norms of 1970s detective shows, this series took a fresh approach by narrating its tales through the eyes of an independent and professional woman. The character of Laura Holt stood out as a prime example of an unmarried, contemporary career woman on television—a relatable figure during a time when such portrayals were scarce. Moreover, the show pioneered the iconic “will they or won’t they” relationship arc, a trope now prevalent across various genres of television drama and for serving as a forerunner of the similar, edgier series Moonlighting.

Published on May 5th, 2024. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.

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