City of Angels (1976 TV series)

For the 2000 television series starring Blair Underwood, see City of Angels (2000 TV series).
City of Angels

City of Angels title card
Created by Stephen J. Cannell
Roy Huggins
Starring Wayne Rogers
Elaine Joyce
Clifton James
Philip Sterling
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 13
Executive producer(s) Jo Swerling Jr.
Running time 60 min.
Production company(s) Roy Huggins-Public Arts Productions
Universal Television
Distributor NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original network NBC
Original release February 3 – May 18, 1976

City of Angels is a 1976 television series created by Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins, who had previously worked together on The Rockford Files. American mystery novelist Max Allan Collins has called City of Angels "the best private eye series ever."[1]


Wayne Rogers plays a determined but unethical private detective, Jake Axminster, who looks out for himselfand somewhat less aggressively for his clientsamid the corruption of Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1930s. He is aided in his investigative efforts by two friends: his ditzy blonde secretary, Marsha Finch (Elaine Joyce), who also runs a call-girl business on the side, and attorney Michael Brimm (Philip Sterling). Brimm is called upon frequently to defend Axminster from charges (mostly trumped-up) leveled against him by Lieutenant Murray Quint (Clifton James), a fat, cigar-chomping, and thoroughly crooked member of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Axminster drives a 1934 ragtop Studebaker and keeps his office in downtown L.A.’s historic Bradbury Building, phone number OXford-8704. (Brimm’s office is across the hall.) For his services, Axminster charges $25 a day plus expenses. Although Brimm describes him as “Mr. Play-It-Safe,”[2] Axminster regularly places himself in danger by helping friends and annoying the police with his questions. His efforts frequently result in his being beaten up. So often does Quint order his thrashing, that Axminster has taken to having nude photographs shot of himself in order to prove later on how aggressive the cops were in their interrogations.[3]

The detective drinks coffee addictively. When one client asks him whether his habit keeps him up, Axminster responds, “No, but it helps.” He appears to be constantly in debt, and he’s not above borrowing money from friends and even his bootblack, Lester (Timmie Rogers).[4] Axminster “gripes in general about the cost of staying alive. ‘All the angels left this burg about 20 years ago,’ is his succinct summation of the 1930s ...”[5]


Rogers as 1930s L.A. private eye Jake Axminster.

Inspired by the 1974 film Chinatown,[6] City of Angels adopted the same cynical view of Depression-era Los Angeles, a place where Hollywood and crime competed for attention. This series also found its roots in Roy Huggins’ hard-boiled 1946 detective novel, The Double Take,[7] which had earlier provided the source material for another Huggins-created series, 77 Sunset Strip. Individual installments of this show were based on real-life events. The three-part pilot episode, “The November Plan,” was based on a notorious 1933 American conspiracy known as the Business Plot, which involved wealthy businessmen trying to bring down United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a coup. Another episode, "The Castle of Dreams," featured a pricey brothel where the prostitutes were movie-star lookalikes. That establishment was based on the historical T&M Studio (later fictionalized in L.A. Confidential as the "Fleur de Lis Club"). During the show's run, Nazism, communism, railroad-riding hoboes, and the Ku Klux Klan all figured into the plots.

Like Banyon, an earlier and similar L.A.-set American series, City of Angels was short-lived. Only 13 hour-long episodes were produced before NBC decided to cancel the program. Critics argued that the TV audience did not easily connect with Rogers as a tough, wise-cracking gumshoe. TV Guide's Cleveland Amory wrote:[8]

Altogether, Mr. Rogers does not seem completely at home in his part, but he does assault the Bogart-style dialogue with appeal, if not aplomb. When, in the first episode, a starlet (Meredith Baxter Birney) can't afford to pay him, she offers him her ringsand he says he'll have them appraised. "You aren't very subtle," she says. "You want subtlety," he says, "it'll cost 10 bucks a day more."

Series co-creator Huggins was said to have thought Rogers had been miscast.[9] Meanwhile, Rogers had his own gripes with the series. An "associate of his" was quoted in TV Guide as saying that "Wayne actually tore up Angels scripts while they were shooting on the set and rewrote them himself. He hated the material they gave him."[10] That article continued:

Rogers says, "Angels is a classic example of convoluted, disconnected, bad storytelling." The show had share-of-audience figures of 50%, 31% and 29% for the first three episodes—certainly a respectable record for a mid-season replacement. "These were fine episodes, written by Steve Cannell," says Rogers. "After that, the others couldn't match Cannell's pace and the bottom fell out."
He mostly blames lack of story preparation time for the demise of Angels. "Often we'd have only an outline in hand, with the shooting deadline almost upon us. Sometimes we'd have a script only at the very last minute. I never heard of a show where you shot through the night and ran out of darkness, but that's what happened to us.
"The other big factor was that we'd see someone lost or murdered on page 1 of the script and Jake Axminster would be hired to handle the matter. Then we'd have 49 pages of red herrings. On page 50 we'd come back to the initial thesis. We were seeing non sequiturs all over the place. You can't get away with that."

Wayne Rogers was paid $25,000 a week for his starring role in City of Angels.[11]

The series' theme music was composed by Nelson Riddle.[12]

City of Angels had a short run on the A&E Network beginning in 1990, and then made another brief appearance as part of a package of Universal series airing on TV Land, starting in 1999.

Episode list

Episode Title Original Airdate
1 "The November Plan, Part I" February 3, 1976
2 "The November Plan, Part II" February 10, 1976
3 "The November Plan, Part III" February 17, 1976
4 "The Parting Shot" February 24, 1976
5 "A Lonely Way to Die" March 2, 1976
6 "The House on Orange Grove Avenue" March 16, 1976
7 "Palm Springs Answer" March 23, 1976
8 "The Losers" April 6, 1976
9 "A Sudden Silence" April 13, 1976
10 "The Castle of Dreams" April 20, 1976
11 "Say Goodbye to Yesterday" May 4, 1976
12 "The Bloodshot Eye" May 11, 1976
13 "Match Point" May 18, 1976


  1. Pierce, J. Kingston. "Killers, Cover-ups and Max Allan Collins." January Magazine, September 1999.
  2. "The Castle of Dreams" - Episode 10
  3. "A Lonely Way to Die" - Episode 5
  4. "The November Plan, Part II" - Episode 2
  5. Wilkins, Barbara. "TV's 'Manure,' Says Wayne Rogers, Who Plays the Angles as Skillfully as 'City of Angels'." People, March 8, 1976.
  6. Thompson, Robert J. (1990). Adventures on Prime Time: The Television Programs of Stephen J. Cannell. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-93330-X. Pg. 74. Excerpts of the book can be found here
  7. Pierce, J. Kingston. "The Book You Have to Read: 'The Double Take,' by Roy Huggins." The Rap Sheet, January 9, 2009.
  8. Amory, Cleveland. Review: City of Angels. TV Guide, April 10, 1976. Pg. 35.
  9. Smith, Kevin Burton. "Jake Axminster." The Thrilling Detective Web Site.
  10. Stump, Al. "The Wonderful Wizard of Bucks." TV Guide, July 10, 1976. Pgs. 20-22.
  11. Stump, pg. 21.

External links

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