Leading man: Hunter's Dryer and Kramer
Question: Can you tell me who played Hunter on the old TV series by that name? Thank you.
Answer: That was former All-Pro defensive end Fred Dryer, who spent three years with the New York Giants and 10 with the L.A. Rams before grabbing a very big gun and hitting the streets as tough-guy detective Rick Hunter on the NBC series. From the TV house of Stephen J. Cannell (The A-Team, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy), the show ran from September 1984 to August 1991 and initially focused on Hunter, a tough, take-no-prisoners, obey-no-superiors kind of cop and his equally cantankerous, red-tape-hating partner, Dee Dee McCall (Stepfanie Kramer). As the series progressed, however, Hunter ran through a few lady partners, which some said was a result of strife behind the camera. Or, at least, several former producers and writers told TV Guide that in 1991.
"Here I am, having to deny this again," the star said of rumors that he scared his female costars — Kramer from 1984-90, Darlanne Fluegel for a mere 12 episodes and Lauren Lane until the series' demise — with his demanding ways. "I will not allow you to say [Kramer] was mistreated. I will not allow you to say my ego played any part in anything." Well, he tried to stop it, but it was said just the same. "Fred is always against somebody," former Hunter story editor Fred McKnight explained. "It's the old football way, to assert control. He doesn't try to get close to most people. There was never any warmth with Fred. If there's a disagreement, somebody's on his way out." "Dominance is his thing, and I don't necessarily intend that as criticism," another ex-writer offered. "I just mean he doesn't have a mind-set for taking orders or instructions happily."
Luckily for Dryer, he didn't really have to take orders as the star and coexecutive producer — and he proved that when he went up against Cannell and Co. for a salary raise, was threatened with being fired and won when the network took his side. And in countering the charges against him, he sounded every bit as tough as his character. "I wanted new people [and] didn't want to be interrupted every five minutes by people who should have known the answers to the questions they were asking," he said in explaining the behind-the-scenes staff shifting. "[Now] we have complete loyalty.... We have guys not worried about their egos, but people interested in working hard for good shows."
Backing the actor in that estimation was Lane, who finished out the series with Dryer as Sgt. Chris Novak, Hunter's love interest. "Is Fred easy to work with?" she asked rhetorically. "Well, 'easy' implies that you don't ask questions and demand things of people, and Fred is very demanding. He doesn't let up. I don't think you'd use the word 'easy' to describe Fred, but I don't think that's bad. I'm comfortable with him, because I get the feeling that he is asking as much from himself as the rest of us. He's a leader, I guess you could say."
You could say that. In fact, Dryer certainly preferred that over some of the other things people said about his show, like, for example, that it was a Dirty Harry knockoff adapted for TV. (Both detectives carried giant firearms and got results despite departmental empty-heads and their burdensome rules about stinkin' suspect rights. And where Clint Eastwood's famously tough Det. Harry Callahan uttered "Make my day," Hunter's catch phrase was "Works for me," usually said with a grin after one baddie or another fell to his death or was blown up.) "Hunter isn't Dirty Harry, and I'm not patterning this after Clint Eastwood," he said in 1985. "Dirty Harry is such a straight-ahead hardass — I just couldn't do that week after week. Hunter sees more of the humor in situations."
Which is why he smiled as that guy fell to his death.