|Genre Crime drama|
Original language(s) English
|Country of origin United States|
|Created by Stephen J. Cannell
Starring Ken Wahl Steven Bauer Jonathan Banks Jim Byrnes
Composer(s) Mike Post Walter Murphy
Wiseguy is an American crime drama series that aired on CBS from September 16, 1987 to December 8, 1990, for a total of 75 episodes over four seasons. The series was produced by Stephen J. Cannell and was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, to avoid the higher studio costs associated with filming in Los Angeles.
- Vincent Terranova
- Frank McPike
- Daniel Benjamin Lifeguard Burroughs
- Recurring characters
- Sonny Steelgrave storyline
- Mel Profitt storyline
- White Supremacy storyline
- Garment Trade storyline
- Dead Dog Records storyline
- Mafia Wars storyline
- Washington DC storyline
- LynchboroSeattle storyline
- Season Four
- Guzman storyline
- OCB disbands
- Non arc episodes
- TV movie
- DVD releases
Wiseguy originally starred Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova, a Brooklyn native and deep cover operative for the FBI under the supervision of senior agent Frank McPike, played by Jonathan Banks. The primary cast was rounded out by Jim Byrnes, who played an information operative known as Lifeguard (real name Daniel Burroughs) who would assist Vinnie in the field. This cast remained together for three full seasons, after which Wahl left the series. The writers conceived a new lead character, Michael Santana, and brought on Steven Bauer to fill the role.
The show placed #74 on Entertainment Weekly's "New TV Classics" list.
The series followed Vincent "Vinnie" Terranova, an undercover agent of the OCB (Organized Crime Bureau), a fictional division of the FBI. The show kept its focus on both the mechanics of being deep undercover and the consequences of the protagonist's actions.
Unlike similar series of the day, Wiseguy was structured more like a typical soap opera would be; for example, a cycle of episodes would focus on a particular story and the story would conclude in the final episode of the cycle, which gave rise to the term story arc. Some of the cycles were short while others were extended, but each new story had a specific set of central characters exclusive to it who would appear over the course of multiple episodes. For example, Kevin Spacey appeared in nine episodes of a first season arc as an antagonist, while Jerry Lewis was a protagonist for five episodes in a season two arc.
Vincent Michael "Vinnie" Terranova (Ken Wahl) is an undercover agent who is 30 years old when the series begins. His job is to infiltrate criminal organizations, gather evidence, and then destroy the organization and bring the guilty parties to justice. At the beginning of the show, he is estranged from his family because of an eighteen-month prison sentence (meant to establish his "wiseguy" credentials with the criminal underworld) and continued ties to criminals. His Italian-born mother, Carlotta (Elsa Raven) calls him "Vincenzo" but his legal name is Vincent. Vinnie was often seen wearing Fordham University sweatshirts and hats as he and his brother Pete are Fordham graduates.
Frank McPike (Jonathan Banks) is Vinnie's superior officer, who assigns Vinnie to cases, supplies him with important information and coordinates back-up support. Since McPike is a known law enforcement official and Vinnie is deep undercover, McPike will often have Vinnie arrested on a trumped-up charge so that he can talk to Vinnie without revealing his identity (as he did in the first episode; Frank was the reason Vinnie was locked up and he was not happy that Frank did not spring him before the sentence was completed). Like many characters in law-enforcement dramas, Frank has a troubled marriage. He separates from his wife after diverting some money recovered from a gangster to pay for a liver transplant for her. Later, she is taken hostage in their home, and Frank personally shoots the criminal to free her. At the end, they are still not reconciled.
Daniel Benjamin "Lifeguard" Burroughs
Lifeguard (Jim Byrnes), whom Vinnie communicates with almost exclusively by telephone, is Vinnie's other contact person. Vinnie (ideally) calls him every morning with the latest updates on the case, and Lifeguard provides him with quick updates. He also, under the name of Mike Terranova, provides Vinnie with an emergency contact number (555-4958, a play on Vince's agent number), without revealing Vinnie's true identity. (The cover location is "Sailor Hardware"; the codephrase "Uncle Mike" indicates an emergency request for assistance). Like McPike, Daniel is divorced as a result of his work. His ex-wife stays in close contact, apparently because Daniel has resources she wants. Daniel endures this with resentment. Eventually he forms a relationship with OCB's west coast Lifeguard operator when Vinnie's investigations take him to Washington State.
Sonny Steelgrave storyline
Vinnie was launched into the first arc upon his release from prison. Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey) was the leader of the Atlantic City Mafia; his brother Dave (Gianni Russo) assassinated Vinnie's training agent, who had been investigating the Steelgrave organization. Vinnie infiltrated Steelgrave's "family," attracting the interest of Dave's daughter Tracy (Jessica Steen). He worked his way up to be Sonny Steelgrave's right-hand man after Dave's death and the apparent defection of one of the Steelgrave captains. When Vinnie finally tried to bring him to justice, Sonny Steelgrave committed suicide rather than face the death penalty. Vinnie was ultimately able to exorcise the guilt he felt over his betrayal of Sonny during a brief stay at a sanitarium.
(The first airing of the episode "No One Gets Out of Here Alive," the finale to the Sonny Steelgrave storyline, featured The Rascals' "Good Lovin'" and The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin," but because of issues with performance rights, the latter was subsequently replaced by various songs or an overdub of score music in later re-airings and in the DVD release. The original song was present, though, when the episode aired on CBS Late Night in 1989.)
Arc Guest Stars
Mel Profitt storyline
Vinnie, using his reputation developed as a result of infiltrating the Steelgrave crime family, made contact with a hitman/assassin named Roger Loccoco (William Russ). However, Vinnie soon discovered a much bigger target: Roger's boss, the (mentally unstable) multi-billionaire international criminal mastermind and arms dealer Mel Profitt (Kevin Spacey), and his sister Susan (Joan Severance). Mel had an addiction to prescription medication (often administered to him by Susan) which further contributed to his unstable emotional state. He was also a believer in Malthusian economics. After much international intrigue involving Mel, Susan and Loccoco (who turned out to be a CIA agent, under even deeper cover than Vinnie), the entire organization was destroyed. The arc alluded to an incestuous relationship between Mel and Susan.
After everything collapsed around him, Mel suffered a complete mental breakdown and asked Susan to "send him home". She obliged him by injecting him with a lethal dose of heroin and amphetamines and giving him a Viking funeral, and eventually went insane (through no help of Loccoco, who began torturing her) and was committed to a mental facility.
As it turned out, the Profitt connection was part of a much larger plot by the CIA to train mercenaries install a puppet regime in the Caribbean. Loccoco's training officer and immediate superior Herb Ketcher proved to be behind the plot and after Vinnie and McPike infiltrated the operation, the entire thing was exposed as a front for an American corporation and Loccoco turned states' evidence. Shortly after his testimony, Loccoco went off the grid. Ketcher, after being exposed, would take his own life before consequences were dealt to him.
As the arc came to an end Vinnie announced his resignation from OCB and would not listen when McPike said he would give him six months off instead.
Stephen J. Cannell, producer of Wiseguy, stated that the character Jim Profit from the short-lived Fox series Profit (which Cannell also produced) was named after and partially based on the Mel Profitt character.
Note- In 1997 TV Guide ranked the episode Blood Dance number 14 on its '100 Greatest Episodes of All Time' list.
White Supremacy storyline
At the beginning of the second season, Vinnie is living at home with his mother and brother, Father Pete (Gerald Anthony) and working for a friend at a gas station as everyone in his neighborhood still believes he is in the Mafia. McPike, meanwhile, has orders from the new director of OCB to either process his resignation and debrief him or force him back to work. Vinnie refuses.
Meanwhile, his friend gets an eviction notice and nearly is driven to sabotage in an attempt to protect his business. A patron of his turns him on to the teachings of "Dr." Knox Pooley, who leads a group called the "Pilgrims of Promise" that has white supremacist leanings. His right hand man, Calvin Hollis, has a particularly dim view of Jewish people and he leads a group of Pilgrims in an attack on a synagogue. In the aftermath of the attack, Pete goes on television condemning the attack; shortly after he is run down in an alley.
After agreeing to return to work, but only on his terms, Vinnie discovers that Hollis runs an even more extreme group than he knew about and one that is determined to eradicate other races by any means. Pooley is simply a con man and former used car salesman trying to make money off of the men who he follows. Hollis' grip on reality loosens more significantly as the time goes on, eventually leading to him murdering a talk show host which finally sets Pooley off and causes him to disavow his existence. Before Hollis can be brought to justice for his crimes, he is killed in a fire which he inadvertently set by shooting a crony of his. Pooley, meanwhile, simply moves on to his next angle: selling beachfront real estate in Florida.
Garment Trade storyline
David Sternberg (Ron Silver) and his father Eli (Jerry Lewis) ran a clothing business, and were being squeezed by the fearsome gangster Rick Pinzolo (Stanley Tucci). David goes to the OCB for help, thus Vinnie is recruited to act as security for the Sternbergs. After a small-time loanshark attacked and injured Vinnie, he was temporarily replaced by retired agent John Henry Raglin (Anthony Denison). (This was done in order to allow Ken Wahl to recover from a broken ankle he suffered in an on-set accident.) Raglin brought down (and killed) Pinzolo, but not in time to save Eli's business or David's life. Joan Chen appeared in one episode of this arc, as a rebellious Chinese sweatshop worker with whom the married Raglin briefly has an affair. After Raglin breaks Pinzolo's jaw, the character has his jaw wired shut, requiring Tucci to talk through clenched teeth afterward.
Dead Dog Records storyline
Upon his recovery, Vinnie's next assignment took him into the music business, where he dealt with music impresario Isaac Twine (Paul Winfield) and his wife Amber (Patti D'Arbanville). He was set up as a new executive in a front company, "Dead Dog Records", which was originally created by the Drug Enforcement Administration, who offered it to the OCB when their investigation ended. Vinnie then attempted to infiltrate the music industry in search of corruption. The principal villain of this arc is English record mogul Winston Newquay (pronounced Noo-kway in the show, rather than Nyoo-key in the English fashion). Newquay, played by Tim Curry, ruthlessly cheats the artists under his control, funneling their money into his own companies while hiding his activities with accounting tricks.
Debbie Harry, Mick Fleetwood, Deidre Hall and Glenn Frey also appear during this story arc. In 1993, Chicago rock band The Lilacs put out a record called Penelope on a label called Dead Dog Records in homage to the show.
Because of the expense to acquire the rights to music featured in these episodes, the Dead Dog arc is not available on DVD as of this writing, although bootleg DVDs have circulated on the Internet.
Mafia Wars storyline
At the beginning of the third season, Vinnie had not been assigned any recent cases, but, in usual Wiseguy fashion, a case found him. Vinnie's stepfather, Don Rudy Aiuppo (George O. Petrie) was shot and wounded, leaving Vinnie the temporary head of the local Mafia commission. Vinnie investigated the other members, including Albert Cericco (Robert Davi). Eventually, Vinnie brought down most of the commission, only to find Aiuppo had been manipulating him to exact revenge on some rivals. An enraged Vinnie angrily told Aiuppo that, stepfather or not, he wanted nothing more to do with him. Aiuppo in turn tried to drive a wedge between Vinnie and his mother by implying that he had learned of Vinnie's undercover role from her. In reality, he had bugged a payphone outside his hospital room, thinking that the various Mafiosi visiting him would be using it just after taking their leave. Vinnie had used it to contact Uncle Mike.
Washington, D.C. storyline
Vinnie was summoned to the Justice Department and put in charge of an investigation of Japanese yen counterfeiting, unaware that the whole thing was a setup by certain unscrupulous government figures who sought payback for damaging fallout from the Mel Profitt case. Based on the real-life Operation Bernhard, the conspirators aim to undermine the Japanese economy by printing large amounts of counterfeit Yen, smuggling them into Japan on cargo aircraft, and then announcing it all in order to devalue the currency. After the revelation, a convenient scapegoat is supposed to take the blame, in this case, Vinnie. When the plan is foiled en route, Vinnie nevertheless becomes the focus of an investigation, and is only saved when a third party "connects the dots" for the investigating committee.
Vinnie was made a deputy of a small town in Washington State, where local strongman Mark Volchek (Steve Ryan) was essentially treating the town like his own personal dictatorship. The arc took an unexpected turn when recent murders were determined to be the work of a serial killer based on the then real life unsolved Green River Killer cases. As a large federal task force was on its way to Lynchboro, Volchek, fearful of the disruption and attention, was determined to identify the killer through his knowledge of the town and residents. Through a rapid process of elimination based on the existing profile, Volcheck was able to narrow the suspects and flush out the killer. Vinnie had been set on adding Volchek to his list of victories when he witnessed the electrocution suicide of the killer which brought back flashbacks of Sonny Steelgrave. Unable to cope with the memories, Vinnie fled, but not before contacting Roger Lococco (William Russ), who took his place, and working with McPike, brought Volchek to his senses and freed the town. (This story-arc was, in mood and setting, eerily prescient of the early episodes of the show Twin Peaks, which debuted a few weeks after the sequence was aired.)
After the Volchek investigation had ended McPike went looking for Vinnie, who had taken a job with a Seattle company that was illegally dumping medical waste. Embroiled in the company manager's desperate attempts at covering up, Vinnie fled in repulsion from hired assassins as well as from his own burgeoning violent impulse, to find respite in a city church. Just as McPike found him in hiding there, a would-be assassin's bullet missed Vinnie and critically wounded McPike, propelling Vinnie on a final pursuit of justice.
After the third season ended, Ken Wahl left Wiseguy over a dispute with CBS over the direction of the show. Steven Bauer was brought in to be the new lead character, a former United States Attorney named Michael Santana who had recently been disbarred. Jonathan Banks and Jim Byrnes returned, and new addition Cecil Hoffman rounded out the cast. A new theme song by Mike Post, who wrote the original theme, was commissioned and had a more Latin flair.
The season began with a fully healed McPike on the lookout for Vinnie, who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. McPike discovered that Vinnie had been looking into the murder of a Catholic priest by a right-wing death squad in El Salvador, and also found out that he had apparently been abducted from his apartment. Since Vinnie had made contact with Michael Santana before disappearing, McPike traveled to Miami to meet with him. The two confirmed that Vinnie had been kidnapped.
Soon, McPike and Santana found Amado Guzman (Maximilian Schell), a Cuban-American businessman who worked for the Medellín Cartel laundering money. They also found out that Guzman was offering support to the Salvadoran death squad, which in addition to murdering the priest was responsible for Vinnie's kidnapping. With the help of U.S. Attorney Hillary Stein (Hoffmann), they took Guzman's operation down. However, they were never able to locate Vinnie and he was presumed afterward to have been killed by the death squad.
With the Guzman investigation closed, McPike convinced Santana to become an official OCB agent, but just as he was entering the job, the entire OCB organization was eliminated due to federal budget cuts. McPike, Santana and Lifeguard were immediately hired by the New York District Attorney's office, and began to investigate the New York drug underworld, as well as its death grip on a particular inner city high school run by the hardline and humanitarian educator Jesse Hains (Billy Dee Williams).
Although Wiseguy was a well-received series, it was not a particularly strong ratings draw. Ken Wahl's departure from the show caused a significant drop in the already-struggling ratings and CBS cancelled the show nine episodes into the fourth season with the New York story left unresolved.
Ken Wahl said that the entire fourth season concept was "ridiculous" because it got away from what Wiseguy had been about. Whereas before the show was more character driven, CBS wanted to make the show more of an action-based crime drama and Wahl felt he could not continue in the role if that was where they wanted to go.
There were also several stand-alone episodes between the arcs, most of which dealt with the personal lives of the main characters. For instance, after the "Dead Dog Records" arc, Vinnie has a liaison with Amber Twine, who was widowed when her husband suffered a heart attack during the main story. He attempts to live in her world of late nights with musicians but finds he has no interest in it, and she has no interest in his world. This sequence featured a cameo by blues harp player Kim Wilson and his band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. In other episodes:
In 1996, ABC commissioned a reunion movie with the possibility of a revival series in the works. Ken Wahl, Jonathan Banks, and Jim Byrnes all reprised their roles.
Vinnie's absence from the series was explained with him being forced into wiretapping by the FBI due to his actions in season 3 regarding his stepfather and abandoning his duty in Washington state (effectively retconning the series and disregarding the entire fourth season, including Vinnie's kidnapping and the disbanding of OCB). Vinnie is ordered to infiltrate the organization of criminal boss Paul Callendar (Ted Levine). The movie had many of the same themes as the TV show, including Vinnie's constant conflict in betraying the people he had grown to care about.
While the movie was a critical success, ABC aired it against NBC's Thursday night Must See TV lineup and it failed to draw. In addition, Wahl suffered a broken neck in 1992 in a fall that left him temporarily quadriplegic and by the time the Wiseguy reunion was commissioned, he had been in near constant pain after he regained the use of his arms and legs and would likely not have been physically capable to take on the demands of the role. Thus, the movie was the last time the original Wiseguy cast appeared in their roles. The movie was rerun on Sleuth in 2008.
On October 25, 2011, NBC announced a pilot commitment for an updated series written by Alex Cary.
In May 2009, Mill Creek Entertainment announced that they had acquired the rights to release Wiseguy on DVD in Region 1. They subsequently released the complete first season on August 25, 2009. On March 9, 2010, Mill Creek released Wiseguy: The Collector's Edition, a 13-disc set featuring episodes from all 4 seasons. However, due to rights issues with the music contained in the show, the 'Dead Dog Records' arc from Season 2 is not included.
Beyond Home Entertainment has released all four seasons on DVD in Region 4. Again, due to rights issues with the music contained in the show, the 'Dead Dog Records' arc episodes are not contained on the Season 2 release.
The first season became available on iTunes on April 28, 2008.