Tightrope (USA)

1959 | United States

Mike Connors starred as a fast-talking undercover agent whose only way to tackle organised crime was to stay completely anonymous, even from the law enforcement agencies he helped out as he infiltrated the underworld. This was the "tightrope" he walked. He was as likely to be shot by the police as the criminal underworld. He never used the same name twice and his identity changed with each episode. 

The undercover agent was going to be called Nick Stone, but this idea was dropped and he would only occasionally be referred to as Nick. The show was to have originally been titled Undercover Man but it was changed before the first episode aired. 

To give Nick an edge, in addition to a gun in a shoulder holster, he carried a second holstered gun hidden behind his back. Although the show was very popular it was also criticised for its excessive use of violence. The first seven episodes featured enough hardware to equip a small army; three sawn-off shotguns, fourteen .32 calibre snub-nosed police revolvers, two army-issue .45 calibre automatic pistols, one Thompson sub-machine gun, one .25 calibre Beretta automatic pistol, four tear-gas guns, one razor, twelve switchblades, four pairs of knuckledusters, two hypodermic needles and five gallons of theatrical blood. 

Despite consistently high ratings Tightrope was dropped after just one season because the sponsor didn't want to be associated with a programme that seemed to sanction violence. There was briefly a plan to create a different version of the show called The Expendables, but it did not survive past the pilot stage. Connors later went on to star as another popular TV cop, Joe Mannix, in the long-running CBS television series Mannix

Tightrope was so popular in Mexico during the early 1960s that a local recording company, Discos Orfeon, released a 45 rpm single of Connors singing in Spanish.

Published on February 7th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.