Gene Barry and Gary Conway, Burke's Law

Question: I remember the show Burke's Law from the '90s or so, but wasn't there an earlier version of it on TV some years before? Thanks.


Answer: That there was, Drew. The original Burke's Law, which starred Gene Barry as L.A. chief of detectives Amos Burke when it launched — he became secret agent Amos Burke in the show's last season, when it was titled Amos Burke — Secret Agent — ran on ABC for two and a half years beginning in September 1963.

If Barry'd stuck to the way he'd been thinking about TV a couple of years earlier, however, he'd never have stepped into the role, which was first played by Dick Powell a couple of seasons before on Dick Powell Theatre. Barry didn't really like TV, and after leaving his previous show, Bat Masterson, he swore he'd never subject himself to the series grind again. "After three years, I'd had my fill," he said in a 1963 TV Guide interview. "Because it must produce so much so quickly, a weekly television show becomes a factory. I hate working in a factory."

Accordingly, Barry had taken a song-and-dance nightclub act throughout the U.S. and South America, avoiding the small screen for a couple of years plus. But he was reading TV scripts sent by his agent the entire time just the same. "I badly wanted to do comedy," he said. "Drama is easy. Heavy emotion is easy. You do a scene — a woman is going to have a baby, and they yell, 'Quick, hot water,' and you're involved. But it's difficult to make an audience chuckle."

But chuckle they did for three years, as Barry (born Eugene Klass) brought a suave Cary Grant quality to the role of the sophisticated but tough Burke. Of course, doing series TV hadn't gotten any easier during his time away.

"You want to know what my average working day is like now?" Barry asked an interviewer. "I'm up at 6:30, gulp a cup of coffee and maybe some juice in the kitchen. I don't see my wife, my sons. I'm at the studio at 7:45. We shoot at 8:30. Except for an hour at lunch, I'm at it steadily until 7. Until I put my foot down, we worked until 8, 9, 10, even 11 every night. I get home drained. There's just time for dinner with Betty [his wife, who's since passed away]. Then upstairs, a look at tomorrow's script, and 10 minutes later, I'm asleep. Glamorous."

Of course, that lack of glamour didn't stop Barry from coming back to TV again for the CBS revival of the show, which once again cast him as Burke, who was head of the L.A.P.D.'s homicide unit. Peter Barton played Burke's son, Peter, and was joined by Danny Kamekona, Bever-Leigh Banfield and Dom DeLuise. That time around, however, Burke's Law didn't last nearly so long: It launched in January 1994 and was gone eight months later.