J.J. Starbuck and Tenspeed And Brown Shoe


J.J. Starbuck (1987-1988)
Tenspeed And Brown Shoe (1980)
Type: Crossover

   Some minor TV characters just refuse to die. Richard Belzer's Lt. Munch who moved from the show Homicide to the Law And Order spin off Law And Order : Special Victims Unit (what the?), The White Shadow's Warren Coolidge who for no apparent reason became a regular character on St. Elsewhere (how the???)...

   Add to that list Ben Vereen's hustler detective E.L. "Tenspeed" Turner (WHO the???).

   Who is that? Tenspeed who? Oh come on. If you have to ask then you're not too old. Even though the show that the character started on, Tenspeed And Brown Shoe, was a flop that funky title is in some minor way I think burned into most people's memories. Why? Well, one, it's a funky title and therefore hard to forget. And, two, when Tenspeed And Brown Shoe went on the air, ABC hyped the living crap out of it so that everyone heard the title and thus had it stuck in their head ala point number one. Of course it flopped bad despite that but we still get the lasting side effects of the media blitz. Which brings me to the third reason folks remember it: it starred big names Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum. When famous folks end up with a quirky flop on their resume that quirky flop ends up being part of pop culture history in some way.

   Well anyway, Tenspeed And Brown Shoe were a couple of mismatched detectives. Tenspeed, played by Ben Vereen, was the tricky con man character. Every show needs one of these characters. I mean he's the the fun troublemaker. Brown Shoe was played by Jeff Goldblum and the character's real name was actually Lionel Whitney. He was the geeky white guy with dreams of being a bad ass P.I. You know, the dull one. I mean, nothing against the character or Jeff Goldblum but its your basic Ernie and Bert set up and Brown Shoe was the Bert. For God's sake his nickname was Brown Shoe!!! Could anything say boring character more? Sigh.

   Well the show didn't even go a full season. The final episode ended on the shocking cliff hanger of Brown Shoe metamorphing into a HUMAN FLY!!! Could Buckaroo Banzai save him... no wait... I'm confusing my Goldblum projects... But the show did die after a season.

   Cut to seven or eight years later. NBC has a show on the air called J. J. Starbuck. It's one of those detective shows ala Hart To Hart where an eccentric rich guy goes around solving crimes because he's an eccentric rich guy (By the way, when are Donald Trump and Ted Turner going to get off their lazy asses and put some maniac killers behind bars? Hmmm???). J.J. Starbuck was not just an eccentric rich crime fighter though. Nope, he was a Southern eccentric crime fighter so he got to spew out all sorts of colorful sayings too! Think Ross Perot P.I. Anyway, Dale Robertson who played J.J. had some health problems during the end of the first season and so a new character was brought in to help take some of the pressure off him. But it wasn't really a "new" character because for no apparent reason the "new" character was Ben Vereen's Tenspeed!!! And I don't mean his bike. Why? I don't know. I really don't know. Did they think, "Hey, nobody tuned in for the character last time, maybe if we bring him back he'll bring his legion of non-viewers with him!" If that was their plan, well it worked because all the folks who didn't watch Tenspeed And Brown Shoe rallied and didn't watch J.J. Starbuck. And then just like with that first show, J.J. Starbuck ended after only a single season with a cliffhanger in which J.J. saved the Earth from Alien Invaders by planting a virus in their computers and Ben Vereen being eaten by a dinosaur..,. wait... that's Jeff Goldblum stuff again...


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