Banacek (pronounced "BAN-a-check") is an American detective TV series starring George Peppard that aired on the NBC network from 1972 to 1974. The series was part of the rotating NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie anthology. It alternated in its time slot with several other shows but was the only one to last beyond its first season.
Peppard played Thomas Banacek, a suave, Polish-American freelance investigator based in Boston, who solved seemingly impossible thefts (see locked room mystery). He then collected from the insurance companies 10% of the insured value of the recovered property. One of Banacek's verbal signatures was the quotation of strangely worded yet curiously cogent "Polish" proverbs such as:"If you're not sure that it's potato borscht, there could be orphans working in the mines."
"Though the hippopotamus has no sting, the wise man would prefer to be sat upon by the bee."
"A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a unicorn."
"When a wolf is chasing your sleigh, throw him a raisin cookie, but don't stop to bake a cake."
"Just because the cat has her kittens in the oven doesn't make them biscuits."
"You can read all the books in the library my son, but the cheese will still stink after four days."
"No matter how warm the smile on the face of the Sun, the cat still has her kittens under the porch."
Part of the joke was that Ralph Manza as Banacek's chauffeur Jay Drury, would often ask "What does it mean, Boss?" Banacek also had a running agreement with his chauffeur for a 10% share of Banacek's 10% if he solved the crime. Mr. Drury was never at a loss for a potential solution which Banacek would always manage to shoot down with his very next line. Another recurring gag was for other characters to mispronounce his name, often, particularly in the case of rivals, deliberately. The name "Banaczek" (as pronounced in the show) is actually quite rare in Poland.
Also featured were Murray Matheson as rare-bookstore owner and information source Felix Mulholland and Christine Belford as Carlie Kirkland, Banacek's sometime-lover and always-rival. Felix was the series' only character to ever call Banacek by his first name.
Banacek's success as an investigator allowed him to live well. He had a mansion at 85 Mt. Vernon Street, (the same house used in The Thomas Crown Affair starring Steve McQueen) on Beacon Hill in Boston. He had a limousine and driver. He owned and drove an antique 1941 Packard convertible. He had a mobile radio telephone in each of his cars at a time when these devices were uncommon and expensive. Banacek was intelligent, well-educated, cultured and suave. He was an unapologetic ladies man who enjoyed the company of beautiful women, but he was street-smart and could engage in violent hand-to-hand fighting if the moment called for it.
The Thomas Crown Affair premise had been that a bored, wealthy Boston businessman (McQueen) masterminds a crime, leading to a match of wits with an insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway) who collects a 10 percent fee from the insurance company if she solves the case. Banacek borrowed elements of both characters and plot points.
In general the series was shot on the Universal Studios backlot, though location scenes were filmed around Los Angeles in areas that could pass for Boston, or rural areas near there. The episode titled "If Max Is So Smart, Why Doesn't He Tell Us Where He Is?" was shot on location at the California Institute of the Arts around the time the school first opened. "Ten Thousand Dollars A Page" was filmed at the Pasadena Art Museum, later known as the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art and now the Norton Simon Museum of Art.
A customized 1969 American Motors AMX was built by George Barris for the second regular season episode. The car became known as the AMX-400 and it is now owned by an automobile collector. Other continuing cars in the series were a 1941 Packard 180 with a Victoria body designed by Howard "Dutch" Darrin (license plate number 178344), a 1973 Corvette (driven by Ms. Kirkland) and a 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine (mobile telephone number KL 17811). In keeping with both the exotic car theme and the humor between Banacek and his driver Jay Drury, he was even chauffeured around in an ancient Jeep and a brand new Ford / De Tomaso Pantera.
In preparation for both the pilot, first, and then the second seasons the cast went to Boston and filmed a variety of background scenes. These scenes were then used through the series and are especially shown in the opening scenes including Banacek rowing on the Charles River and walking through Government Center. In the pilot, Banacek's car pulls into his Beacon Hill home, the historic Second Harrison Gray Otis House located at 85 Mount Vernon Street. In other episodes, views are shown of the Public Garden, the entry to Felix's bookstore at 50 Beacon Street, and the Esplanade. The Boston filmed pieces were done by a second unit and directed by Peppard himself.
Although the show had a mixture of humor and rather intricate plots, it never generated strong ratings. Despite this, the show was well received by critics. In addition, the Polish American Congress gave the series an award for portraying Polish Americans in a good manner.
Banacek was well received by television critics, and as a result was picked up for a third season. However, before the third season could start, Peppard quit the show in order to prevent his ex-wife Elizabeth Ashley from receiving a larger percentage of his earnings as part of their divorce settlement. The complication ended any chance of reviving Banacek during Peppard's lifetime. A&E continued rebroadcasts of Banacek in syndication.
Arts Alliance America has released the entire series on DVD in Region 1. Season 1 was released on May 15, 2007, without the series pilot. Season 2 was released on January 22, 2008 and included the pilot episode. On September 30, 2008, Arts Alliance released Banacek: The Complete Series, a 5-disc boxset featuring all 16 episodes. As of 2012, these releases have been discontinued and are out of print.
In Region 2, Fabulous Films released both seasons on DVD in the UK on February 10, 2014.
In Region 4, Madman Entertainment has released both seasons on DVD in Australia.
Banacek is currently airing on MeTV in most market areas.