Nevertheless, the mild hullabaloo during the decade and the success of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie in 1971 ( which featured different mystery movies once a week ) prompted the studio to create another mystery rotation series, The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie.
This series was launched in the autumn of 1971 and featured three new shows, Cool Million ( James Farentino ), Madigan ( Richard Widmark ) and Banacek. The only one of the series that managed to achieve even mild success was Banacek starring George Peppard as a suave Polish-American insurance claim bounty hunter. For the next season, three new shows were added in the "wheel" : Faraday and Company, Tenafly, and The Snoop Sisters featuring Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as sister sleuths.
At the sprightly age of 72, Helen Hayes, the first lady of the American stage, was given her very own starring television series. Hayes was no stranger to the tiny tube however, from 1950 on she was a frequent guest star on theatrical shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Omnibus, and Playhouse 90. In one television episode of the The Great Dow Hour of Mysteries she even played another mystery writer turned sleuth ( in Mary Rogers Rinehart's The Bat, 1960 ).
Teaming up with Helen Hayes was that other legend of the silver screen, Mildred Natwick, who had made some eighty film and television appearances, as well as numerous stage appearances. Natwick and Hayes had previously played together in a 1971 TV movie entitled Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate and it is probably because of their great partnership in this film that producers Leonard Stern ( Get Smart ) and Tony Barrett ( Mod Squad ) saw the potential for a mystery series featuring the two indomitable ladies. Helen Hayes was also fresh off of her Oscar win for Airport and was justly rewarded this prime part.
The pilot episode, A Female Instinct, aired on December 16, 1972 and introduced us to the basic premise of the series : Ernesta and Gwendolyn Snoop, two famous mystery writers, one a widow, the other a spinster, turn detective to hunt down the killer of a faded movie star. Aiding them in their investigation ( and keeping them out of trouble ) is Barney ( Art Carney ), their combination chauffeur and bodyguard, and their nephew, police lieutenant Ostrowski, played by Bert Convy.
For an unknown reason, after this initial pilot episode, Lou Antonio replaced Art Carney as Barney. In between puzzling out the crimes they came across, they also worked on snatches of their mystery novel, with Ernesta often getting moments of creative inspiration directly at the crime scenes.
Only four episodes were made but they were hailed by critics and fans alike as engrossing who-dunnits and the fact that it featured two mature film stars as authors/amateur detectives was years ahead of its time. Later, Angela Lansbury made this formula popular in her series Murder She Wrote.
The Snoop Sisters boasted some great guest stars such as Paulette Goddard, Walter Pidgeon, Joan Blondell, Bill Dana, Alice Cooper, Jill Clayburgh, Bernie Casey, Kurt Kasznar, Victor Buono, Steve Allen, Roddy McDowall, George Maharis, Greg Morris, and Vincent Price ( in one of the best episodes of the series - Black Day for Bluebeard ).
In spite of being nominated for three primetime Emmys ( Mildred Natwick won for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series ), the show was cancelled before completing its first season. Its lackluster storylines were disappointing considering the talented script writers involved. Had the series been made by that dynamic duo Levison & Link, it would have certainly been a smashing sleuthing success and would have earned its place as one of the best mystery television programs of the 1970s.
Corpse and Robbers ( Dec.19, 1973 )
Ernesta is surprised to get phone calls from an old friend, especially since he has been dead for many years.
Fear is a Free Throw ( Jan.29, 1974 )
After a basketball player is poisoned by an antacid tablet given to him by Gwendolyn Snoop, she is accused of attempted murder.
The Devil Made Me Do It ( March 5, 1974 )
During a murder investigation, the sisters uncover a satanist cult.
Black Day for Bluebeard ( March 19, 1974 )
A washed-up horror movie icon is suspected of murdering his wealthy wife for the inheritance.
This post is our contribution to the Big Stars of the Small Screen blogathon hosted by Aurora of How Sweet It Was. Be sure to check out all the other great writings on the major stars who found a home in the television set.