Burke's Law was a fun, stylish detective show which premiered in 1963 and ran for two years. Its star was Gene Barry as Amos Burke, a homicide detective who happened to have inherited millions of dollars, and who loved the good life (particularly where the company of lovely young ladies was concerned). This was in the era before crybaby dogooders got their way, so there's plenty of drinking, smoking, and womanizing - all of the good stuff, in other words. Previously, Barry had become well-known to millions of TV viewers as Bat Masterson in the series of that name; he had also starred in the original (i.e., good) version of War of the Worlds.
Each episode of the series would be titled "Who Killed _____________?", with a different character name each time. Burke would usually be cavorting with some sweet young thing or wrapping up an all-night party when he would be called to investigate a murder and would have to leave immediately. His loyal Asian chauffeur and manservant was an Henry, who often grumbled about being called out at all hours of day or night; Les Hart was an older detective, always looking forward to his pension; and Burke's sidekick was the super-capable young detective named Tim Tilson, who seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from bonsai trees to foreign languages, but who would sometimes miss a detail in a crime scene, to his great embarrassment. The show would be noted early on for having a wide and impressive variety of guest-stars in each episode, from Elizabeth Montgomery to John Cassavetes, stars from stage and screen. (Indeed, half the fun of the show is seeing different familiar faces in plum character roles.)
The city of Los Angeles itself sort of acted as an uncredited additional cast member: watching episodes now, it's fun to try and imagine what it was like to live in that time and place. Los Angeles was booming in the early 60's, but it hadn't yet separated itself into enclaves of haves and have-nots, and much of its land area was still largely undeveloped, or at least underdeveloped. Also in that period, the entertainment industry was starting to move westward - New York had been the entertainment capitol of America for decades, but gradually that was beginning to shift as Los Angeles became more prominent. Of course, feature films had been produced in Hollywood for decades, but television programs were more and more often being produced in Burbank, and other entertainment producers such as Capitol Records were headquartered there as well. This is reflected not only in the tone of the series, but also its content, as every other victim-of-the-week turned out to be some murdered film director, dancer, novelist, etc.
Overall, the show was simply a light-hearted whodunnit set in Los Angeles in the early 1960's. Although each episode dealt with murder, the proceedings were always easygoing and fun to watch - not dreary as so many modern crime series seem to be. Of course, this was in the days before DNA analysis, when finding a murderer depended on gathering clues, interviewing witnesses, and constructing a picture of not only how, but why the killing took place. Of course, this sort of thing is still done by modern detectives - and rightly so - but with the advancement of science comes an over-reliance on its findings. Unfortunately, this seems to have put paid to the once- great genre of the detective story, started in the Western world by Edgar Allan Poe and refined by other hands. Patricia Cornwell has unseated Agatha Christie; unfortunately, it is not a step forward.
In any case, Burke's Law remains a fascinating time capsule of a certain time and place, and is also simply an enjoyable show in its own right, even - especially - in the modern day and age. Very few of us can live the sort of luxurious, adventurous life that Amos Burke enjoyed, but at least we can have some fun watching it.
September 20, 1963 - May 1, 1965
Det. Amos Burke - Gene Barry
Det. Tim Tilson - Gary Conway
Det. Les Hart - Regis Toomey
Henry - Leon Lontoc
Sgt. Ames - Eileen O'Neill
- The show was produced by Aaron Spelling, who was responsible for a lot of great pop-culture TV, including Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, The Mod Squad, and more.
- Gary Conway, who played the sharp young Detective Tilson, is known to lovers of classic monster movies in the role of the Teenage Frankenstein, and to science-fiction fans for his leading role on Land of the Giants.
- Conway would pose nude in Playgirl magazine in the 1970's.
- Much of the music (especially the show's memorable theme) was created by Herschel Burke Gilbert; it was simply a coincidence that Burke was his middle name.
- The role of Amos Burke was first assumed by Dick Powell in an episode of his Dick Powell Show in 1961.
- Burke's Law begat Amos Burke, Secret Agent, in which our beloved detective went to work for a shadowy government organization hunting Commies for the good of our country. The less said about this change, the better.
- A revival series was aired in 1994-95, with Barry back in the title role; this time he was assisted by Peter Barton as his son Peter Burke. (We can assume that at some point Burke impregnated one of those curvaceous honeys whose company he had enjoyed some thirty years previous.)