Cult TV

Cult TV Essentials: Quincy, M.E.

Gentlemen, you are about to enter the most important and fascinating sphere of police work: the world of forensic medicine, where untold victims of many homicides will reach back from the grave and point back a finger accusingly at their assailant.

Dr. Quincy (Jack Klugman) is a strong-willed, very principled Medical Examiner for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, working to ascertain facts about and reasons for possible suspicious deaths.

In his investigations, Quincy frequently comes into conflict with his boss, Dr. Robert Asten (John S. Ragin), and the police, in particular, LAPD Homicide Lieutenant Frank Monahan (Garry Walberg). Each have their own ideas about what’s going on and about Quincy’s deductions. Usually Quincy is proven correct.

In early episodes, Quincy’s relationship with both men is often volatile and adversarial. This changed dramatically in later episodes where Quincy appears to have much closer professional and personal relationships with the two. Quincy is assisted by his faithful lab assistant, Sam Fujiyama (Robert Ito).

It is revealed in the episode “The Last of Leadbottom” Quincy is a retired Captain in the US Navy and remains in the Naval Reserve. In the episode “Crib Job”, Quincy notes he originally wanted to be a railroad engineer, after revealing a number of facts about the dangers of the occupation.

Quincy lives on a sailboat in a permanent boat slip in Marina Del Rey, California and frequents Danny’s, a restaurant and lounge at the marina owned by his friend Danny Tovo (Val Bisoglio).

Quincy is very popular with women. He was married once before but lost his wife Helen to cancer. In the Mystery Movie installments and earliest hour-long episodes, Quincy has a regular girlfriend named Lee Potter (Lynette Mettey) who sometimes accompanies him on his cases (such as in “…The Thighbone’s Connected to the Knee Bone…”). This is his only steady relationship until near the end of the seventh season, when Quincy remarries (Dr. Emily Hanover, played by Anita Gillette who had previously portrayed Helen Quincy in a flashback) and sells the sailboat in the episode “Quincy’s Wedding”.

Early seasons’ episodes contained elements of mystery and whodunit and focused on criminal investigation; a typical episode would find Quincy determining the real murderer in a crime or the real cause of an unusual poisoning case.

Later seasons’ episodes began to introduce themes of social responsibility; Quincy would find himself involved with a police investigation that reveals situations such as a disreputable plastic surgeon and the reasons his poor surgeries are not stopped, flaws in drunk driving laws, problems caused by punk rock, airline safety issues, dumping of hazardous waste, the proliferation of handguns, Tourette’s syndrome, orphan drugs and anorexia among others.

Quincy, M.E. was one of the first dramatic series to use a format like this to further a social agenda. Klugman himself even came to testify before the US Congress about some of these issues (such as orphan drugs in 1982), describing what he had learned about a difficult or complex social concern as a result of its use in one of the show’s episodes.

Quincy M.E. was the first to regularly present the in-depth forensic investigations which would be the hallmark of later detective shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spin-offs, NCIS, Diagnosis Murder, Crossing Jordan. Klugman himself made guest appearances on the latter two series as, respectively, Dr. Jeff Everden and Det. Harry Trumble, and Dr. Leo Gelber.

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