Monday, March 14, 2011

Hart to Hart: Season One

“Natalie sells tickets. I sell soap.”

This is the reason that Robert Wagner gave to ABC executives for not wanting to co-star on television with his film star wife, Natalie Wood--they simply work in two different media. Although they couldn’t get the well-known female lead of Rebel Without a Cause on board, execs persisted with Wagner, asking him what sort of television show he’d like to do. Wagner mentioned his love of detective movies, particularly the Thin Man series with William Powell and Myrna Loy, and Hart to Hart was born.

Hart to Hart (1979-1984) is a detective show which follows a happily-married entrepreneur and his wife, who are also amateur sleuths in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond. It’s insane how often mysteries and murder happened wherever they go; they are proto-Jessica Fletcher. In the first season, the most frequent line from Jonathan Hart (Wagner) is: "He's dead.” Co-star Stephanie Powers plays Jennifer Hart, whose most frequent line is a scream--she’s often being kidnapped by some fiend so that Jonathan can save her in the last act. She may as well be lashed to a railroad tie as a man in black stands nearby twirling his waxed mustache. The plots are that ancient and simplistic.

Still, the Harts look gorgeous solving problems in evening attire and jewelry, so they get a pass. The rest of the country lines up for rationed gas, but the Harts fly around in their private jet to play high stakes poker in an airplane hangar in some part of the Middle East that looks suspiciously like L.A.’s backyard. Later in this season, California also doubles for Italy! But Wagner and Powers are likable--they would have to be to get away with even half of what they are asked to do.

In season one, the best all around episode, bar none, is “Downhill to Death.” It’s a location shoot outside of L.A. for once --it’s in Vail, among lovely flurries of actual snow. The costuming is tasteful as always. Casting is great. And the script--oh, that beautiful, relatively complicated script!--contains plenty of twists so that you think you know who is doing what to whom and why, but you’re absolutely wrong.

Hart is populated with many brilliant guest stars, including those from the classic movies era. Roddy McDowall and Stella Stevens are cast as villains at a health spa in the pilot episode (written and directed by Tom Mankiewicz). Jeremy Brett plays a sinister character who is after Jennifer’s antique car. It’s also great to see newer talents. Jameson Parker--who would later play one half of the title characters in Simon & Simon (1981)--makes an appearance as a college student bent on mayhem.

The first season of Hart to Hart has its good points: decent production values, stylish costumes and an amiable cast to wear them. However, one just cannot get over the run-of-the-mill scripts. (Let’s not even mention the pervasive puns.) Perhaps the plots get better in the second season. Until then, let’s distract ourselves with something positive.

Did I mention that the people look good? They do.

Written by Java, a Cafe guest contributor, who blogs regularly at Java's Journey.


  1. Great post! I have never seen this show but I learned over the weekend that Lionel Stander, the lovable brute of several 30's and 40's films was the butler in Hart to Hart. Apprently, it's the role he's most remembered for.

  2. Java, I enjoyed your entertaining review of HART TO HART! I didn't watch this show much when it was on originally, but always liked the stars who had incredible chemistry. Honestly, as much as I like Natalie Wood, I don't think she would have done as well as Stefanie as Jennifer Hart. Lionel Stander provided a perfect gruff complement to the jet-setting Harts. Great choice for a review, Java.

  3. Awesome post, to one of my favorite shows! Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, made the perfect team, because of their wonderful on screen chemistry. I may have to add this to my growing DVD movie collection.

  4. My mom and me used to watch this show all the time. It's one of my favorite shows ever. Great post.

  5. Loved this show! You're right about the plots, Java. They weren't always the best, but the stars were perfect together.

  6. This was a fun post, Java. Robert and Stefanie were a handsome pair and the show was uncomplicated and entertaining.

  7. Toto mirrors my own opinion, uncomplicated and entertaining. I didn't follow it faithfully, mainly because of the reasons you outlined, but it was cute and comfortably predictable if you were in the mood to just veg. This is a witty and enjoyable review, Kim. But them, your posts are always good!

  8. Java, what about Max and Freeway...they were there too. LOL! Enjoyed your post. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I watched this show with my parents. I loved the clothes and cars.

  9. Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    You're right, Rick, that Natalie wouldn't have worked as Jennifer. There's something rare about her that constant TV exposure might have cheapened.

    I totally forgot about Lionel Stander and Freeway the dog, despite having just watched the DVDs the other month. This might be my way of dealing with not liking those two characters as much as I enjoy the two leads.

    Tom Mankiewicz states in the DVD commentary for the pilot episode that Stander said upfront that he just wanted to draw a paycheck and not do much. His lackadaisical mentality shows and is a little too off-putting for my taste.

    Becky says it right - HART TO HART is the perfect show to watch when you want to "just veg."


    I enjoyed the show and I enjoyed writing this review.

    Thanks again.