Thursday, 21 August 2014

Before “Blue Bloods” there was “Our Family Honor”

The cast of "Our Family Honor". Standing from left are Tom Mason;
Kenneth McMillan; Eli Wallach; and Michael Madsen; while kneeling
in front from left are Daphne Ashbrook and Michael Woods.
Long before we met the Reagan family, three generations of New York City police, there was the McKay family. They too had a police commissioner, hot-headed detective, and rookie beat cop, and they too dealt with the mysterious murder of one of their own. The big difference was the McKays were locked in a perpetual struggle with the Danzigs, one of the city’s top crime families, and there was a little bit of “Romeo and Juliet” thrown in. Before “Blue Bloods” there was “Our Family Honor”.

Family Feud
The show revolves around the feud between the McKays and the Danzigs.

The McKays are led by patriarch Patrick McKay (played by Kenneth McMillan), who is made police commissioner in the pilot. His son Frank McKay (played by Tom Mason) is a hot-headed, single-minded detective, and his granddaughter Liz McKay (played by Daphne Ashbrook) is a rookie beat cop.

The Danzigs are an organized crime family, led by Vincent Danzig (played by Eli Wallach) who is like the godfather. His son Augie (played by Michael Madsen) is Frank’s exact opposite, his father’s right-hand and as crooked as the day is long. His other son goes by the name Jerry Cole (played by Michael Woods) because he wants to distance himself as much as possible from his family.

What fuels the feud is the belief, by the McKays, that the Danzigs murdered Patrick McKay Jr, Patricks’s son, Frank’s brother, and Liz’s dad. That’s why Jerry changes his name – he’s dating Liz, and she has no idea who he really is. Romeo, meet Juliet.

The McKays, and especially Frank, are obsessed with proving the Danzigs are Patrick Jr.’s killer.

Spaghetti gets in the way
My outstanding memory of “Our Family Honor” has nothing much to do with the show really. Early every fall, I anxiously awaited the fall preview issue of “TV Guide”. My mom bought it when they went to Lethbridge for groceries every Thursday. It devoted a page to each new fall show from the three U.S. networks of the time (before FOX came along), as well as CBC and CTV.

In the fall of 1985 I was starting Grade 11. I read the article on “Our Family Honor” and it seemed pretty interesting. It was set to air on CTV, on peasant vision, at 10 p.m. on I think it was Wednesday nights. Finally, it was set to air, and I was excited. Then something else came along.

There was this girl in my accounting class I had developed a crush on. She had actually phoned me the previous weekend because her cheerleading squad was having a fundraising spaghetti supper and wanted to know if I was interested in buying a ticket to go. Although I knew what it was, deep down I had this glimmer of hope she actually liked me, so I was in.

Unfortunately, the supper, which ended up being an amazing time, was the same night as the premiere of “Our Family Honor”. By the time I got home, it was well after 10 p.m., my parents were in bed, and I had to watch it on the little TV in my bedroom.

I do recall turning it on just as Frank was telling Liz he was convinced the Danzigs killed her dad. He was pretty agitated too.

After that, life got busy, and I never really watched more than one or two full episodes again – partly because the show did not last that long, and I could never find when it was on.

Parting thoughts
The death of Eli Wallach back in June reminded me of “Our Family Honor”. Like “The Yellow Rose”, which I eulogized elsewhere, “Our Family Honor” had a great premise and a great cast, but it just never found an audience. It debuted on Sept. 17, 1985 and its last episode aired a few short months later on Jan. 3, 1986, lasting a total of 13 episodes.

But, as happens, sometimes the idea is not bad. Instead it may fall victim to timing or execution.

The McKays have been reincarnated as the Reagans on “Blue Bloods”. Patrick McKay looked more like a police commissioner than Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) – older, greyer, less sexy and more managerial. His son Frank McKay is just as hot-headed and single-minded as Danny Reagan (Donnie Walberg), and he’s on the same quest: to avenge the murder of his brother. Instead of a granddaughter like Liz McKay, “Blue Bloods” has much younger brother Jamie Reagan (played by Will Estes) as the rookie beat cop.

It just shows, every idea has its day.

The other thing this symbolizes is another change in my life. Up to that point, TV had been pretty much at the centre of life outside school. That night, going to that spaghetti supper, illustrated how my world was getting bigger – beyond watching TV and living alone out in the country. I was discovering girls, and beginning the chaotic drift into adolescence.

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