77 Sunset Strip is an hour-length American television private detective series created by Roy Huggins and starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Roger Smith, and Edd Byrnes.
The show was the subject of an ownership battle between Roy Huggins and Warner Brothers, which was the proximate cause of Huggins' departure from the studio. The series was based on novels and short stories written by Huggins prior to his arrival at Warner, but, as a matter of legal record, derived from a brief Caribbean theatrical release of its pilot, Girl on the Run. The show ran from 1958 to 1964.
The series revolves around two Los Angeles private detectives, both former government secret agents: Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. played Stuart ("Stu") Bailey, a character Huggins had originated in his 1946 novel The Double Take (which he later adapted into the 1948 movie I Love Trouble, starring Franchot Tone in the role). Roger Smith played Jeff Spencer, also a former government agent, and a non-practicing attorney. The duo worked out of a stylish office at 77 Sunset Boulevard (colloquially known as "Sunset Strip"), between La Cienega Boulevard and Alta Loma Road on the south side of the Strip next door to Dean Martin's real-life lounge, Dino's Lodge. Suzanne, the beautiful French switchboard operator played by Jacqueline Beer, handled the phones.
Comic relief was provided by Roscoe the racetrack tout (played by Louis Quinn), and Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson III (played by Edd Byrnes), the rock and roll-loving, wisecracking, hair-combing, hipster and aspiring P.I. who worked as the valet parking attendant at Dino's, the club next door to the detectives' office. Byrnes had originally been cast as a serial killer in the series pilot, but proved so popular that he was brought back in a new role for the series.
Despite Huggins' hopes for a hard-edged drama the tone of the series was much lighter and featured a strong element of self-deprecating humor. Many of the episodes were named "capers". The catchy theme song, written by the accomplished team of Mack David and Jerry Livingston, typified the show's breezy, jazzed atmosphere. The song became the centerpiece of an album of the show's music in Warren Barker-led orchestrations, which was released in 1959, a top ten hit in the Billboard LP charts (mono and stereo).
The Kookie character became a cultural phenomenon, with his slang expressions such as "ginchy" and "piling up Zs" (sleeping). When Kookie helped the detectives on a case by singing a song, Edd Byrnes began a singing career with the novelty single "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb", based on his frequent combing of his hair; this featured Connie Stevens on vocals in the chorus and became the first hit single for the recently established Warner Bros. Records. Kookie was also used to provide product placement for Harley-Davidson, appearing on their Topper motor scooter in the show and in Harley-Davidson advertisements.
When Byrnes' demands for more money and an expanded role were not met, he left the show, but he came back as a full-fledged partner in the detective firm in May 1960. In 1961, Robert Logan became the new parking lot attendant, J.R. Hale, who usually spoke in abbreviations. In 1960, Richard Long moved from the recently canceled detective series Bourbon Street Beat with his role of Rex Randolph, but he left the program in 1962.
One of the series' more unusual episodes was the 1960 "The Silent Caper;" written by Smith, it presented its story completely without dialogue, hence the title. Another off-beat entry was 1961's "Reserved For Mr. Bailey," which finds Zimbalist alone in a ghost town. He is the only actor on-screen for the entire hour. (This latter episode was never included in the syndication package, and many fans have expressed their frustration at being unable to see it again.)
The show's popularity was such that rising young actors clamored for guest spots. Up-and-comers who made guest appearances included Ellen Burstyn, Roger Moore, DeForest Kelley, William Shatner, Mary Tyler Moore, Shirley MacLaine look-alike Gigi Verone, Robert Conrad, Dyan Cannon, Janet De Gore, Jay North, Connie Stevens, Irish McCalla, Adam West, Tuesday Weld, Marlo Thomas, Max Baer, Jr., Carole Mathews, Elizabeth Montgomery, Karen Steele, Randy Stuart, Susan Oliver, Suzanne Storrs, Peter Breck, Donna Douglas, Troy Donahue, Chad Everett, Gena Rowlands, Cloris Leachman, Eve McVeagh, and Diane Ladd. Established film and TV actors plus older stars guested as well, including Fay Wray, Francis X. Bushman, Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., Ida Lupino, Liliane Montevecchi, Keenan Wynn, Rolfe Sedan, Jim Backus, Billie Burke, Buddy Ebsen, George Jessel, Peter Lorre, Burgess Meredith, Nick Adams, and Roy Roberts, among others. The show occasionally featured sports stars such as Sandy Koufax in guest roles.
The controversial sixth season, 1963-1964:
In 1963, as the show's popularity waned, the entire cast except for Zimbalist was let go. Jack Webb was brought in as executive producer and William Conrad as director. The character of Stuart Bailey became a solo private investigator, and the series took on a less light-hearted, more noir-ish tone. A new musical theme was written by Bob Thompson. Viewers did not appreciate such a wholesale alteration, and it was canceled halfway through its sixth season in February 1964, although reruns from earlier years were shown the following summer.
NOTE: The most frequent time slot for the series is in bold text.
Friday at 9:30-10:30 p.m. on ABC: October 10, 1958--May 29, 1959; October 12, 1962--June 14, 1963,
Friday at 9:00-10:00 p.m. on ABC: October 2, 1959--June 29, 1962,
Friday at 7:30-8:30 p.m. on ABC: September 20, 1963--February 7, 1964,
The success of 77 Sunset Strip led to the creation of several other detective shows in exotic locales, all produced by the Warner Brothers studio which created Strip -- Bourbon Street Beat in New Orleans, Hawaiian Eye in Hawaii, and Surfside 6 in Miami. The casts and scripts of these various shows sometimes crossed-over, which was logistically easy, since they were all shot in Burbank on the Warner Bros. lot.
Currently, there is only an engraving in the Sunset Boulevard sidewalk (address number 8524) between La Cienega and Alta Loma Road commemorating 77 Sunset Strip, and the area is slated for re-development as part of "The Sunset Millennium" Project. In a twist of fate, the opposition to the redevelopment of the area is known as "Save Our Strip" or "SOS" and is spearheaded by former 77 Sunset Strip semi-regular Gigi Verone. There is no number 77 on the Strip, as all Sunset Boulevard addresses in the area have four digits.
The show was referenced in an episode of Jay Ward's Fractured Flickers, showing a satirical depiction of Ward looking at a lineup of fictional shows, one of them being "77 Gaza Strip."
Episodes of the television series can be seen in reruns, through syndication packages offered by Warner Bros. Studios. At one time 43 episodes had been removed from syndication for various legal reasons, but 13 of these can now be seen in reruns.
Thirty-one years after the series left the air, Warner Bros. proposed a modern revival of 77 Sunset Strip, that was to be the first hour-long drama series to air on the new WB Television Network. It was to be produced by Clint Eastwood and starred Jim Caviezel, Timothy Olyphant, and Maria Bello. A 25-minute pilot presentation was shot for upfronts in the spring of 1995, but, despite a few attempts to get it modified and finalized for broadcast in 1995-1996, the project never made it past the testing stage. Early mention of the show was made in the network's fall affiliate presentation promotionals, the 77 Sunset Strip logo visible in the movie back lot motif.