Jul 23, 2016

David Cassidy: Man Undercover

Teen idol careers are painfully short, 3 or 4 years.  The 12 year olds who discover your picture in Teen Beat and moon over your bubblegum pop will eventually turn into teenagers, start dating boys of their own, and relegate you to childhood memories.  Unless you can reinvent yourself as a adult performer, you've had it.

David Cassidy, whose last charting single was in 1972 in the U.S. (though he was still selling records in Germany and the U.K.), tried to reinvent himself as a serious dramatic actor.  In 1978, he played a cop who goes undercover as a high school student in "A Chance to Live", an episode of Police Story.

He was nominated for an Emmy, and NBC was so impressed that they created a series for his character, giving undercover cop Dan Shay (David) a wife, a daughter, and a superior officer to butt heads with (Simon Oakland as Sgt. Abrams).

Unfortunately, they didn't learn from the example of Bobby Sherman in Getting Together.  They made a lot of mistakes.

Mistake #1: The title.  Everybody thought that David would be playing himself, a sort of teen idol secret agent.

Mistake #2: the wife and kids. Teen idols should be single, so the fans can fantasize about getting them for themselves.

Mistake #3: his costumes. All tight jeans and shirts unbuttoned to the navel.  It was the style in 1978, and it was nice to see a basket, but it didn't mesh with the androgynous shoulder-length hair.

Mistake #4: the middle aged superior officer (Simon Oakland).  Too hippie vs. establishment for the 1978.  Dan should have had a peer partner.

Mistake #5: instead of going undercover in a high school, Dan went undercover as a different ludicrous character every week, to snoop out a different ludicrous crime.  See if you can tell which is which:

He went undercover as a: biker, college student, drifter, high school student, hot rodder, junkie, medical patient, pimp, prisoner, trucker, weapons buyer.

To crack the crime of: baby selling, biker gang, drugs, homicide (several times), and supermarket break-ins.

Mistakes #6 and #7: Premiering it on Thursday nights, opposite the youth-hits Barney Miller and Soap, in November, when everyone is too busy preparing for the holidays to try out new tv shows.

Eight episodes aired during the Thanksgiving-Christmas season 1978, and another two were burned off in the summer of 1979, and David Cassidy: Man Undercover went into the records of "worst series ever."

David Cassidy found the experience painful.  After 1979 he concentrated on his music, and limited his tv and film work to occasional guest star spots. Recently he starred in Ruby and the Rockits with his brother Patrick and current teen idol Austin Butler.

See also: David Cassidy's Comic Book Career


  1. David Cassidy starred with his brother Patrick, and gorgeous teen Austin Butler (now 21) in a TV series on the ABC Family Channel called Ruby & The Rockits, which ran for ten episodes in 2009.

  2. Undercover in a high school is now cliché, so you have to credit them for mixing it up, I guess.

    Meh, I'm of the "saw Partridge Family on Nick at Nite" generation. Never saw this. No one wants to remember it.


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