Search: The Complete Series DVD Review: About 40 Years Ahead of Its Time

Search is perhaps the greatest "lost" TV show of all time.
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Search was a show that aired for one season back in 1972-73, and if you do not remember it, join the club. After watching Search: The Complete Series, what surprised me the most was that it never developed a Star Trek-type of cult following, because Search was about 40 years ahead of its time.

The recent Warner Archive set includes all 23 episodes on six DVDs. Unfortunately, the pilot is not a part of the package. Search started out as a TV-movie titled Probe (1972), which was the original title of the series, but legal issues forced the change. We basically jump in headfirst with “The Murrow Disappearance,” the first episode. Things fall into place pretty quickly, although this is a sophisticated show.

One of the theories about Search’s early demise is that the technology was too futuristic. It makes sense, but in watching these episodes today, we see that the technology was incredibly prescient. The series was modern day, meaning it was set in 1972. The agents of the World Security Corporation are called “Probes,“ hence the original title. And tools the Probes use include versions of Bluetooth, the internet, satellites, micro-cameras, and more. All of these are combined and connected to the agent as a piece of equipment called “scanners.”

The idea of rotating leads was popular at the time, and Search uses three. Doug McClure is C.R. Grover, Hugh O’Brian is Hugh Lockwood, and Tony Franciosca is Nick Bianco. They are the Probes of World Security, and their boss is V.C.R. Cameron (Burgess Meredith). Meredith appears in every episode. World Security is like a CIA-sponsored operation, but appears to be independent. The exact situation is never fully explained, but may have been in the pilot.

The nerve center of World Security is a room with multiple big screens, tied in to the Probe’s scanner. In a wonderfully early ‘70s touch, the scanner is concealed in a cool medallion worn by the stylish men. The scanner is more than a camera, as it can send back all sorts of data, including the chemical compounds of suspicious drinks, and can even gauge the body reactions of others to give an indication of whether they are telling the truth or not.

All of the data is fed back to World Security, with Cameron literally in the agent’s ear at all times via earpiece.  The “search” is set up in the first few minutes. Something big is happening and it is up to World Security to figure it out and solve it before the situation becomes catastrophic.

“Numbered for Death” is a good example. Grover is pulled in to the case of a compromised Swiss bank, which could threaten the world economy. There are only two keys to the computer room, and neither person seems a likely culprit. As Grover discovers, the break-in  involves advanced telecom hardware, the daughter of an escaped Nazi, someone inside, and a Mafia stooge. With jets waiting on the tarmac and cars to speed them around at a moment's notice, “Numbered for Death” reminded me of The Blacklist, minus James Spader and the ultra-violence.

Another memorable episode is “Short Circuit,” which features a brilliantly mad inventor with a bomb that will short-circuit everything in its vicinity.  Another favorite was “The Adonis File,” starring Bill Bixby. He plays Mark Elliott, who began his career as a sports hero. Elliott moved from there to his highly rated late-night talk show, and his next step is the Senate. It turns out that he owes it all to a think tank, which Lockwood has penetrated to see what their motives are.

“The Adonis File” is a great episode on its own, but it becomes even more intriguing when you think about the context. When the World Security people are trying to figure out what is going on, one of them mentions that “it wouldn’t be the first time that someone from show business went into politics.” This is obviously a reference to Ronald Reagan, and the later revelations about his backers and the like are just plain eerie.

The list of guest stars is a good overview of early ‘70s television, and includes Diana Muldaur, Wally Cox, David White, Bert Convy, Stefanie Powers, Sebastian Cabot, Barbara Feldon, Mel Ferrer, and a young Annette O’Toole, among others. There is even a connection to the first two Godfather films. Remember when Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) slept with the fishes in the first one? Montana appears in the Search episode “24 Carat Hit.” And in the second installment, Michael meets with the corrupt Senator Pat Geary (G.D. Spradlin). Spradlin is part of the think tank of “The Adonis File.”

The final episode of Search aired on April 11, 1973 and was titled “The Packagers.” This one features McClure as Grover, who is basically the lead Probe. The mystery involves the disappearance of an exiled revolutionary leader in an unnamed Third World country. This is an action episode, as opposed to some of the more cerebral ones, and was actually held back from the first part of the season to conclude the program's run.

Having never even heard of Search before, I cannot believe how good it is. Much of it is filmed in the dark style of something like Midnight Cowboy (1969), and like that movie, it often presents a seemy world that no longer exists. Juxtaposing that type of imagery with the futuristic (but now common) technology makes for a fascinating vision. I could not pull myself away, and only wish the show had caught on. Search is perhaps the greatest “lost” show of all time. It is certainly the finest one I have ever seen.

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