by M. R. Brown
A man waits patiently beneath a streetlight. The city’s darkened alleyways etch out like veins behind him. He imagines the streets pumping cigarette smoke as oxygen. As his mark leaves the Chevy, the man tosses his lit cigarette into the pooling water along the gutter. He makes softly for the bushes, adjusts a microphone and captures one of America’s darkest held secrets.
The hard-boiled genre of television today is reduced to serialized episodes that are solved in haste, with a defined beginning and ending. Much of the tropes and idioms associated with the anti-hero who operates in a moral grey area are lost, swiftly traded in for more easily accessible plotlines and audience numbers. This could all be changing in the near future, as FX develops one of the most promising pilots in years.
Fred Otash Detective Bureau Ad, 1960s
Fred Otash’s story writes itself. The former cop turned private detective exposed some of America’s most intriguing scandals. From John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe’s sexual escapades being recorded, to Rock Hudson’s gay confession and confrontation with his wife, Otash’s body of work is all too fit for cathode ray tube.
It comes as no surprise that Otash is cited as the inspiration in two of the most successful crime fiction stories, director Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and author James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. Ellroy is tagged to helm the development of the network’s new pilot.
Eleven boxes of recently uncovered documents and notes expose, among previously mentioned scandals, a confrontation between Robert F. Kennedy, JFK’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford, and Monroe on the day Monroe died. Otash’s daughter Colleen gave these boxes to The Hollywood Reporter in hopes that the distorted interpretations of her father’s life would be righted.
Otash’s notes also detail his time spent as contracted security for actress Judy Garland in which he discovered caches of drugs in her homestead.
Matthew Weiner’s pilot for Mad Men is possibly the best attempt at noir fit for television in recent years. Though the series immediately ditched the stereotypical cinematography, there is evidence that a network can invest, and invest heavily, in a classic crime-detective styled pilot.
FX’s latest critically acclaimed series The Americans could find deserving compliment in Otash’s story. The network may be poised to define itself as a major player in cable television supremacy.
What detective series do think is currently the best on television? Let us know.