He ain't heavy — he's my brother: Simon & Simon's Parker and McRaney

Question: My friend and I disagree over who starred in Simon & Simon. She says Perry King and Gerald McRaney, but I say Parker Stevenson and Gerald. Who is right? I have been looking for info on the information superhighway, but haven't found anything yet. We would greatly appreciate your help. Thanks bunches.


Answer: Oh, Florell. Have you any idea what this dispute of yours could do to poor Jameson Parker's feelings? You see, when the actor was riding high and starring with McRaney in the hit series — which was originally supposed to be called Pirate's Key before its November 1981 to December 1988 run on CBS — the prospect of such mistakes was already keeping him up at night.

"When you look at the names of actors in TV Guide from 10 years ago, there aren't many names you remember," he said in 1985, motivated by the fact that though the show was popular, even its fans didn't see through the two main characters, A.J. Simon (Parker) and his brother Rick (McRaney), to the actors who portrayed them. "Everyone knows who A.J. and Rick Simon are. They're famous," the actor complained to TV Guide. "But no one knows what character Jameson Parker or Gerald McRaney plays. A lot of people think that A.J. is Parker Stevenson. I'm a little tired of that."

It's hard to blame him. After all, just about everyone remembered Stevenson's name from his Hardy Boys days playing opposite Sean Cassidy. And it's not like Parker's own network helped the situation when they sent him a congratulatory fruit basket addressed to — yup — Parker Stevenson. Ouch.

That aside, however, Parker and McRaney knew they were fortunate to be on the air at all, never mind working on a show that at its most successful was a Top 5 performer in the Nielsens. When the series, which focused on a pair of struggling detective brothers who nevertheless maintained a strong, good-natured relationship, first hit the air, it turned in underwhelming numbers. But rather than canceling it, CBS propped it up behind the much-loved Magnum, P.I. and used that show's lead-in to build a following. Sure enough, Simon & Simon generated an impressive fan base of its own.

And the only reason for that, really, was the obvious chemistry between the two leads — even the actors, producers, directors and writers copped to it. In fact, I've seldom seen people working on a show so freely admit that, yeah, this series doesn't make much sense, but the stars' amiable nature and easygoing affection prop it up. "We're not doing Othello here," noted costar Tim Reid (WKRP in Cincinnati) while they were shooting a script he wrote. "You can't tell a cohesive story in 45 minutes and change," added executive producer John Stephens, throwing up his hands at the idea of trying to do a quality series. But it was coordinating producer Mark Burley who offered the bluntest assessment: "The story is just a vehicle to hang the characters of A.J. and Rick Simon upon."

The funny thing is, no one ever tried to fake it or hide it from TV Guide reporters visiting the set. In one scene being shot, A.J. and Rick were in the midst of a huge bar brawl when they decided to make their escape. Outside, however, they saw two security guards approaching, so they inexplicably ran back into the bar and rejoined the fight. "What's the logic of this scene?" Parker asked director Vincent McEveety. "There is no logic," he replied. Filming another episode, Parker tried to discern his character's motivation. "What is this guy doing?" he asked, pointing at the script. McEveety simply smiled. "I don't know."

And that, apparently, was good enough for the audience, who probably never knew that the two stars playing these likable characters got their separate starts playing heavies on other series. When McRaney, who moved on to an even warmer and fuzzier role as Major Dad, first auditioned for the role, he was taking a lunch break from a guest spot as a psycho cop on The Incredible Hulk. And even that wasn't the worst he'd done in front of a camera. ("The rapist I played on Baretta lost me about every lady friend I had," he recalled.) Parker, for his part, hadn't played many Boy Scouts, either. "In many of these parts, they thought it was fun to cast me as a monster because of my preppy looks," he said of his earlier TV-movie work and appearances on shows like Family and Hart to Hart. "I raped, pillaged and plundered."

Perhaps that bad karma is what influenced the actors the day they met — and immediately disliked — one another. "What a creep," Parker said was his initial reaction to meeting McRaney. "Here's another pretty boy I'm going to have to carry," was his costar's reciprocal sentiment.

Obviously, they got past that and built up enough affection to carry the series, with all its faults. And all involved knew it. "I think, without those two, the show doesn't make it," another producer conceded. "Just look at them interact together."