Nashville Beat (1989)

What a great, three-day rally of films from Bernard L. Kowalski (thanks for allowing me to free range, Sam) as we wrap it up with a TV movie that pays tribute to a great TV series from the ’70s. To say I am stoked to review this BK entry is an understatement: the development of this tribute week to ol’ Uncle Bernie centers on this flick. And we get Kent McCord, who never got the due he deserves, some props.

Let’s roll it!

By the late ’80s, the cable networks began eschewing their UHF-styled, bread-and-butter reruns format by going for the throat of the “Big Three” over-the-air networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC — with their own, original programming. The national “superstations” TNT and USA each began producing their own TV movies (many of which we’ve reviewed at B&S), so why not the all-new basic cable and satellite network The Nashvillle Network?

You don’t remember that logo? It’s okay, most TV viewers — not county-centric — don’t remember it either.

Put some good ol’ down home twang in your life.

Going on the air in March 1983, the network operated from studios on located on the grounds of the now-defunct theme park Opryland USA in Nashville. But, as with the major movie studios creating competing ripoff films for the marketplace (e.g., Armageddon vs. Deep Impact, White House Down vs. Olympus Has Fallen) The Nashville Network was beat on the air — by two days — by Country Music Television.

After the dust settled: The Nashville Network lost the ratings war.

TNN began its life as a country music alternative to Warner-Amex’s MTV’s rock and VH-1’s contemporary music formats by airing music videos; the programming soon expanded into concerts, game and talk shows, and country-eccentric movies (such as Smokey and the Bandit). By September 2000, the channel dumped their “southern” identity by ditching the “Nashville” moniker for “National” to become The National Network. Then, to the holier-than-thou, law-suitin’ and hissy fittin’ dismay of Spike Lee (“They’re stealing my brand!”), National transformed into the male-centric Spike TV in 2003. Today, you know the channel as the upper-tier cable dumping ground for all things Paramount-produced: The Paramount Network.

So, with that backstory out of the way . . . let’s polish off our three-day tribute to the films of Bernard L. Kowalksi (that began all the way back in 1956 with Hot Car Girl) and dig in to some slip-smackin’ BBQ with Bernard’s last film — and TNN’s first made-for-television movie — Nashville Beat.

Courtesy of the Hannah archives, the writer of the film.

Now, if you’ve been following along the Kowalski beat this week, you’ll know that his last theatrical film was the drive-in horror classic, Sssssss (1973). And, since we love our Six Degrees of Separation of actors and directors in the B&S cubicle farm: that turn-man-into-snakes-mad-scientist romp starred Dirk Benedict, later of Battlestar Galactica . . . and Kent McCord ended up on that failed Star Wars TV series ripoff’s second season, aka Galactica: 1980, as the all-grown up Boxey, aka Troy (we reviewed the overseas theatrical version of the series, Conquest of the Earth; look for it).

Anyway, after Sssssss (Who decided the title only needed six lowercase “S”; why not eight?), Kowalski returned to television — where he got his start — with multiple episodes of Perry Mason and The Untouchables, as well as Banacek starring George Peppard (more “Six Degrees”: he was in the fellow Star Wars dropping, Battle Beyond the Stars), and Columbo. In between, Kowalski developed the MGM Studios/CBS-TV series pilot for the Starsky and Hutch-precursor, The Supercops (1974), which aired on March 21, 1975, and continued the adventures of (real life cops) Dave Greenberg and Bobby Hantz. That series was quickly derailed by the (more powerful, due to Charlie’s Angels) TV production powerhouse of (Aaron) Spelling-Goldberg Productions’ TV movie-to-series pilot for Starsky and Hutch, which aired on the competing ABC-TV network on April 30, 1975. And, since we love our Six Degrees of Separation of actors and directors in the B&S cubicle farm redux: David “Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson” Soul starred with Kent McCord in the CSI TV series-franchise precursor (and, in my opinion, superior), the all-too-short-lived TV Movie-to-series, UNSUB (1989).

While we didn’t get around to reviewing all them (or finding copies of most of them), other post-Sssssss and The Supercops TV movies Bernard Kowalski directed are Flight to Holocaust (1977), The Nativity (1978), TV’s response to Rocky with Marciano (1979), Nick and the Dobermans (1980), Turnover Smith (1980), Nightside (1980; with Doug McClure, from Kowalski’s Terror in the Sky), and Johnny Blue (1983).

Image courtesy of the Kent McCord Archives (with more pictures and article on the show.)

So, if you know if your ’70s TV: You’ll know Nashville Beat is the 14-years-in-the-making reunion of actors Martin Milner and Kent McCord after their successful, seven-season run on Adam-12 that aired on NBC-TV from 1968 to 1975. The final episode of that series ended in a cliffhanger, somewhat: we never knew what happened with officers Pete Malloy (Milner) and Jim Reed (McCord), as the series closed with Reed’s rookie copy readying to take the detectives exam and leave his seasoned, veteran partner and the streets. . . . Instead of NBC-TV giving us a late ’80s TV movie version of Adam-12, we got the closest thing to an Adam-12 TV movie: Nashville Beat, which was developed, produced, and co-written by McCord with the intention of becoming TNN’s first original drama series.

Milner and McCord — while pretty much the same cops, only older-but-wiser and in plain clothes — are Captain Brian O’Neal and Lieutenant Mike Delaney, both who started out like their Adam-12 counterparts: on the streets of Los Angeles. Even after his old partner left for a job as a detective in Nashville, Delaney and O’Neal remained close friends. Upon become a widower, Delaney heads to Nashville to help his old partner on a case with ties back to Los Angeles. And the case works out well, and Delaney’s heart is ready to love again with the sexy, big-haired owner (it was the ’80s, natch) of the honkytonk where O’Neal and his copy buddies hangout. So the movie ends with Delaney deciding that he just might move the kids out to Nashville to start over . . . which would set off the new series that never happened.

Meanwhile, TNN’s faux Adam-12 reunion got the folks at MCA Television (a division of Universal that supplied NBC-TV programming) to reboot Adam-12 in September 1990 to fill the UHF-TV blocks of the new, weekend syndicated programming crazy (ignited by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess). The syndicated revival, The New Adam-12 (1990) was cast-headed by John Wayne’s son, Ethan (who made his debut in his dad’s Big Jake). The series, which ran for 52 consecutive episodes, was cancelled after one year. No one (including moi) cared: Milner and McCord were never invited back to appear. But, we did see Milner and McCord share the screen again in a 1997 episode of Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke, playing, yet again Los Angeles police officers.

And that’s a wrap on our three-day tribute to the career of Bernard Kowalski. Discover his films with our reviews and enjoy!

You can watch a VHS rip of the home video version of Nashville Beat on You Tube. And look for our reviews of Hot Car Girl and Sssssss — this week — as we continue our tribute to Bernard L. Kowalski.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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