Lionel Whitney & E.L. Turner (Tenspeed & Brown Shoe)

Created by Stephen J. Cannell
(1941-2010)

“Giddy-giddy-guy.”

In this fondly remembered but criminally short-lived 1980 TV show, Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, then virtually unknown Jeff Goldblum starred as the very naive, bored, terminally-square stockbroker LIONEL “BROWN SHOE” WHITNEY — a doofus with fantasies of becoming an over-boiled private eye like his fictional hero, Mark Savage, Private Eye, the hero of a series cheesy, pulpy Spillane-like thrillers.

How obsessed was Lionel? His business card for the Whitney Agency sported a tommy gun. not that he was a totally useless dweeb, mind you — he had a black-belt in Karate and was an Olympic Games pistol shooting competitor. but still…

Ben Vereen was the hip, jive-talkin’ fast walkin’ black hustler E.L. (EARLY LEROY) “TENSPEED” TURNER who was more than happy to string Lionel along in hopes of a big score.

Somewhere along the line, though, the two become friends, and actually do open a Los Angeles detective agency, in Stephen J. Cannell’s entertaining spoof of — and affectionate homage to — the P.I. genre.

There were high hopes for this one, especially after the witty, gritty pilot, directed by ace TV movie director E.W. Swackhamer. It fully capitalized on Vereen’s abilty to shape shift from one fake identity to the next, from preacher to pilot to chauffeur, motor-mouthing all the way. The pilot was nominated for an Emmy and an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America, and actually won the award for the Best Television episode from the Writers Guild of America.

The ensuing show was Cannell’s first series as a production company, but it lasted less than a full season, pitted against ratings juggernaut Dallas. And that’s too bad. Sure, it could be silly at times, and the the writing could have been tighter, but it was also sorta fun. It may not have quite matched the pilot’s potential, but its clever dialogue, slightly loopy plots and affectionate pokes at the P.I. genre ensured it a special place in the hearts of fans of the genre. And possibly Cannell’s, as well.

Which may explain why, years later, Tenspeed popped up in another Cannell PI show, J.J. Starbuck.

TRIVIA

  • The books about Lionel’s fictional detective hero, Mark Savage, are written by series’ creator Stephen J. Cannell and feature his mug on the back covers. During the show’s brief run, people started showing up at bookstores, asking for the Mark Savage books. As Tony Rabig, a bookseller back then, put it, “People just did not want to believe that the books weren’t real, and were miffed when told they weren’t. Damn shame, too — they sounded like they’d have been a gas.”

TELEVISION

  • TENSPEED AND BROWN SHOE
    (1980, ABC)
    1 120-minute pilot
    12 60-minute episodes
    Created by Stephen J. Cannell
    Writers: Stephen J. Cannell
    Directors: Stephen J. Cannell, Rod Holcomb, Harry Winer
    Music: Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
    Producers: Stephen J. Cannell, Alex Beaton, Chuck Bowman, Juanita Bartlett
    Starring Jeff Goldblum as Lionel “Brownshoe” Whitney
    and Ben Vereen as E.L. (Early LeRoy) “Tenspeed” Turner
    with Woody Eney as Larry Craig
    Also starring Jayne Meadows, Larry Manetti, Robert Alda, James Whitmore Jr.
    Guest stars: Stephen J. Cannell, Rene Auberjonois, Red West, Lewis Arquette

    • “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe”
      (120-minute pilot; January 27, 1980)
    • Season One | Buy the DVD
    • “Robin Tucker’s Roseland Roof and Ballroom Murders” (February 3, 1980)
    • “Savage Says: There’s No Free Lunch” (February 10, 1980)
    • “Savage Says: What Are Friend’s For?” (March 2, 1980)
    • “The Sixteen Byte Data Chip and the Brown-eyed Fox” (March 9, 1980)
    • “The Millionaire’s Life” (March 16, 1980)
    • “Savage Says: The Most Dangerous Bird is the Jailbird” (March 23, 1980)
    • “It’s Easier to Pass an Elephant Through the Eye of a Needle Than a Bad Check in Bel Air” (March 30, 1980)
    • “Loose Larry’s List of Losers” (May 30, 1980)
    • “This One’s Gonna Kill Ya” (June 6, 1980)
    • “Untitled”(June 13, 1980)
    • “The Treasure of Sierra Madre Street” (June 20, 1980)
    • “Diamonds Aren’t Forever” (June 27, 1980)
  • J.J. STARBUCKBen Vereen reprised his role as Tenspeed on five episodes of J.J. Starbuck, another Cannell production:
    • “The Rise and Fall of Joe Piermont” (1988)
    • “Rag Doll” (1988)
    • “Permanent Hiatus” (1988)
    • “A Song from the Sequel” (1988)
    • “Cactus Jack’s Last Call” (1988)

RELATED LINKS

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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