Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Unshakeables

A television show succeeds if it holds your attention for the time it’s on. 

But some episodes stay with you long after the credits roll. The emotions they generate do not dissipate for several minutes – sometimes several hours. And when you think about them months or even years later, you find the imprint they left on your mind remains as formidable as ever.

I call these shows “Unshakeables.” And I can’t think of a better example than “The Invasion of Kevin Ireland,” a 1971 episode of The Bold Ones: The Lawyers.

Never heard of it? That’s not surprising. It’s so obscure now I couldn’t find a single photo from it to run with this piece. 

But that’s one of the wonderful things about television; there’s been so much of it over so many years that it’s still possible to come across an extraordinary piece of art that has lain dormant for decades, just waiting to be rediscovered.

When “The Invasion of Kevin Ireland” first aired, however, its quality did not go unnoticed. The script by Jack B. Sowards was printed in the Congressional Record after being praised on the floor of the United States Senate by Senator William Proxmire. Its director, Alexander Singer, won the Emmy that year for Outstanding Direction of a Drama Series.

And here’s the best news – the series is out on DVD. So it’s not as obscure as it used to be.

The episode begins with a courtroom trial, crosscut with scenes of the man in the witness stand destroying computers and other electronic equipment in a deserted office after dark. He continues his rampage until a security guard stops him.

He is Kevin Ireland, now on trial for destruction of private property, as well as breaking and entering. While his guilt is not in question, Kevin’s attorney, Walter Nichols, persuades the judge that the reasons for his client’s behavior are relevant to the case.

Thus, Kevin recounts his story, which we see in selective flashbacks. It begins as a portrait of a happy, successful executive, husband and father. When his employer is acquired by a larger firm that brings in its own personnel, Kevin finds himself out of work, along with many of his associates. He immediately begins sending out resumes, confident that the ten years he spent there and a glowing recommendation from his previous employer will generate job offers.

But no offers arrive. Over the next two years he loses his house, his wife, and much of his self-respect. Desperate, he confronts a former coworker who reveals that a dossier critical of his character had circulated among potential employers, all of whom now rely on such investigative reports before hiring new executives.

Kevin hires an attorney to gain access to the dossier, prepared by “Corporate Research Associates,” which contains allegations that are inaccurate and misleading. A claim that he threw wild parties, for instance, omitted the fact that the charge came from a former neighbor who made the same accusation toward every other homeowner in the community.

The representative of the investigative firm conceded that his staff did not have the time or the budget to double-check any of the information in the profiles, because it wouldn’t be “economically feasible.” Throughout the trial he remains unmoved and unapologetic over destroying Kevin Ireland’s life. His was the company where Kevin committed his crimes.

The case goes to the jury and there is a verdict, but that’s not where the episode ends. For the benefit of anyone who has not watched this exceptional hour of television, and may now wish to do so, I’ll leave you to discover what happens next.

The following statement appears at the episode’s close: “On April 25, 1971, Congress enacted legislation which gives every American the right to know the nature and substance of all personal information concerning him that has been compiled by a private company and to contest and correct any errors he might find in that information. These companies, however, retain the right to investigate any area of a person's private life, relevant to their purposes or not.”

Senator Proxmire’s admiration was based in how the show illustrated what can happen when such erroneous documents are compiled, and how it gave the public a chance to “see the human side of the law.”

However outstanding “The Invasion of Kevin Ireland” may have read on the page, it is further elevated through being brought to life by an extraordinary cast. Darren McGavin plays Kevin Ireland, and for many of you that will be enough said already. It’s hard to imagine anyone (okay, maybe William Windom) playing this tragic downward journey and its accompanying range of emotions as movingly. 

Director Alexander Singer shoots many of McGavin’s scenes in close-up, especially while he’s on the witness stand. It’s a wise decision. More than any other component in this remarkable hour of television, it is McGavin who makes this episode unshakeable.

Dana Elcar, usually an actor that specialized in affable characters, is chilling here as Mr. Gale, representative of Corporate Research Associates. He gets no first name, which I’m sure is intentional. Elcar plays Gale as unfailingly polite, soft-spoken, and utterly without any shred of conscience. Is he an evil man? It’s an interesting question that might spark an equally interesting debate. 

Burl Ives is top-billed in The Bold Ones: The Lawyers as attorney Walter Nichols. He maintains a jovial unflappability throughout the series as he defends clients both innocent and guilty. But here, confronted with such insouciance by Corporate Research Associates in the face of the damage they’ve caused, he can barely control his contempt. His closing statement to the jury is yet another standout moment in a remarkable show. 

I can’t put myself in the place of someone who watched this episode in 1971, but viewed in 2018 the story remains not just powerful but frighteningly prescient. 

Consider how much more of our existence has now been compiled into digital files and shared with or without our knowledge. Corporate Research Associates didn’t have the time or the budget to authenticate the information in its reports. Are the thousands of online “news” sources around today any better? How many reputations now are sullied by what is now called fake news?   

I hope I’ve succeeded in conveying how compelling this episode is. If you appreciate quality television, it is worth your time to seek out.


  1. No offense, Mr. Hofstede, but what do you think was wrong with "The Sound of Anger," the 1968 telefilm that served as the initial pilot for "The Bold Ones: The Lawyers"? David Macklin, who played one of the defendants in the movie, has been very proud of "The Sound of Anger." Also, it's my understanding that the DVD set for "The Bold Ones: The Lawyers" utilizes a LOT of syndicated episode cuts. I admit that I have the set myself. One episode features future "Santa Barbara" star A Martinez.

    BTW, Alexander Singer directed "Hunters of the Reef," the unsold pilot from 1978 that featured Mary Louise Weller and the late Michael Parks as scuba divers. The late William Windom was also in it. I REALLY wish that "Hunters of the Reef" could get a legitimate home-video release. If a manufacture-on-demand DVD release isn't in the cards, perhaps the movie could made available for purchase via iTunes and/or Vudu.

    1. What bothered me about that pilot was the characterization of Walter Nichols as a callous manipulator. The softening of that character's harder edges, and the recasting of Guy Stockwell with Joe Campanella made for a better series.

  2. As it happens, I remember "The Invasion of Kevin Ireland" from its first run on The Bold Ones back in 1971.

    What struck me at the time was that it was a lot like "Epitaph On A Computer Card", an episode of Judd For The Defense that aired two years before, in 1969.
    On Judd, the victim/plaintiff was played by William Daniels, who was a comparative newcomer in primetime TV back then (he was barely clear of Captain Nice; 1776 was in the future).
    The computer apologist here was Peter Donat, who was so slick he practically slid off the film; viewers always knew that he wasn't to be trusted -ever.
    Judd was always slightly more intense than Bold Ones turned out to be - Carl Betz earned his Emmy with oak leaf clusters for many of the shows.
    Since Judd has not had a proper DVD release, I have to rely on a crappy "collector" copy (which I'm still looking for in my DVD Wall - dammit, I know it's in there!).
    But I do recall how the two shows played out - which was quite similar in both cases.
    - with one slight exception:
    In the Judd episode, the computer snoops have to settle with Daniels for a ('69) tidy sum.
    Throughout the show, Daniels constantly says to himself "Little holes in little cards ..."; it becomes a kind of mantra during the hour.
    In the tag scene, Carl Betz presents a check to Daniels's wife, played (as always) by Jacqueline Scott.
    As was the custom of the time, the check is on a computer card.
    And dear Jacqueline Scott just looks at the check/card, and repeats "Little holes in little cards ..." as we fade to black.
    For 1969-me, this was unshakeable ...
    And two years later, when Bold Ones did the same story (basically, anyway), it struck me as awfully low-key by comparison.
    But I was younger then, just past high school; all this stuff was sort of new at the time.
    Maybe that's it ...
    ...who knows?

    1. Great information, Mike. 'Judd' has been on my want list for a very long time. Announcements like 'Mr. Novak' still have me holding out hope for a legit DVD one day, but if it doesn't happen soon I'll pursue the unofficial channels more aggressively. I'm very curious to see the episode you've described.

    2. Charles Witbeck wrote a newspaper article on the similarities between the JUDD and BOLD ONES episodes for the Miami News in March 1972 when the BOLD ONES episode was repeated for the first time.

      According to Witbeck's article, Proxmire also entered the JUDD episode into the congressional record when it originally aired in January 1969.

      Found the article here: