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Wiseguy title card, season one
|Created by||Stephen J. Cannell|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||75|
|Executive||Stephen J. Cannell|
David J. Burke
Rod Holcomb (pilot)
Alfonse Ruggiero, Jr.
|Running time||60 mins|
|Production||Stephen J. Cannell Productions|
|Original release||September 16, 1987 -|
December 8, 1990
Wiseguy is an American crime drama television 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.
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 assisted 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.
On October 25, 2011, NBC announced a pilot commitment for an updated series written by Alex Cary.
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. 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 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 seven 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. He became Vinnie's immediate superior after Vinnie was released after completing an eighteen-month sentence in the Newark State Penitentiary (Frank was responsible for ensuring that Vinnie served the full term in order to cement his cover). 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. 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.
Lifeguard (Jim Byrnes), with whom Vinnie communicates 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 code phrase "Uncle Mike" indicates an emergency request for assistance.) Daniel is a double-leg amputee, but is remarkably mobile in his wheelchair; he is also mobile with a pair of prosthetic legs. 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, and 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.
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's mother was hospitalized after being mugged, Vinnie revealed the truth about himself to her; overjoyed, she swore to keep his secret (later Sonny had the muggers found and killed). When Vinnie finally tried to bring him to justice, Sonny 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.
|4||The Loose Cannon||1|
|5||The Birthday Surprise||1|
|6||One on One||1|
|8||A Deal's a Deal||1|
|9||The Marriage of Heaven and Hell||1|
|10||No One Gets Out of Here Alive||1|
Arc Guest Stars
Vinnie, using his reputation developed as a result of infiltrating the Steelgrave crime family, made contact with a hitman/assassin named Roger Lococco (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 Lococco (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 Lococco, who began gaslighting 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 and install a puppet regime in the Caribbean. Lococco'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 Lococco turned state's evidence. Shortly after his testimony, Lococco 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.
|11||Last Rites For Lucci||1|
|13||Fascination for the Flame||1|
|14||Smokey Mountain Requiem||1|
|15||Player to be Named Now||1|
|16||The Merchant of Death||1|
|17||Not For Nothing||1|
|21||Dirty Little Wars||1|
|22||Date With an Angel||1|
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 been dispatched to find Vinnie by the new director of OCB. Vinnie's resignation letter has yet to be processed, and McPike has been given the following choice: either debrief Vinnie and process his resignation or bring him back from sabbatical. Vinnie refuses to go along, however.
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 follow him. 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.
|24||School of Hard Knox||2|
|25||Revenge of the Mud People||2|
|26||Last of the True Believers||2|
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.
|28||7th Avenue Freeze Out||2|
|29||Next of Kin||2|
|30||All or Nothing||2|
|31||Where's the Money||2|
|32||Postcard From Morocco||2|
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.
|35||Dead Dog Lives||2|
|36||And it Comes Out Here||2|
|37||The Rip-Off Stick||2|
|38||High Dollar Bop||2|
|39||Hip Hop on the Gravy Train||2|
|40||The One that Got Away||2|
|41||Living and Dying in 4/4 Time||2|
|42||Call it Casaba||2|
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 (to Frank McPike's delight). 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.
|43||The Four-Letter Word (1)||2|
|44||Le Lacrime de Amore (2)||2|
|45||A Rightful Place||3|
|46||Battle of the Barge||3|
|47||Sins of the Father||3|
|48||Heir to the Throne||3|
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 called Lynchboro in Washington state, where local strongman Mark Volchek (Steve Ryan) was essentially treating the town like his own personal dictatorship. Vinnie worked under Sheriff Matthew Stemkowsky, nicknamed "Stem".
The arc took an unexpected turn when recent murders, including several of Stemkowsky's deputies, 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. Vinnie, however, was convinced it was Volchek. Volchek displayed a curious obsession with the movie "Mr. Sardonicus", which became a factor later in the arc.
The night before the task force was to descend on Lynchboro, Volchek worked with McPike to try to narrow down the possible suspects through a rapid series of deductions. Eventually, a frustrated Stem cracks under the intensifying pressure and confesses his crimes.
However, rather than face justice, Stem chose to violently kill himself with a stun gun in front of his deputies. Vinnie immediately began having flashbacks of Sonny Steelgrave's death and went off the grid, making one phone call to someone who owed him a favor. (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.)
That person turned out to be Roger Lococco, who himself had gone off the grid two years earlier once he testified in the Mel Profitt investigation. He replaced Stem as sheriff and immediately began looking deeper into Volchek, who had a dream to build a hospital focusing on cryogenics. After fate turned against him, however, Volchek eventually was talked into loosening his grip on the town. In a cameo appearance, film critic Jeffrey Lyons appeared as himself to deconstruct the movie that Volchek was obsessed with. Re-enacting part of the movie with Volchek as the main character became part of his recovery.
Vinnie, meanwhile, wound up in Seattle with $42 to his name, which he used to rent a room in a transient hotel. He took a job with a waste removal company called Health Elimination Services that specialized in dumping medical waste. Vinnie, working for $100 a day, discovered that one of his jobs, dumping bodily fluids into a storm drain near an elementary school, resulted in a hepatitis outbreak at the school and that the company was aware of it.
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, which resulted in him violently beating the manager and disposing of two of the assassins. He would 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.
|60||A One Horse Town||3|
|61||His Master's Voice||3|
|63||Let Them Eat Cake||3|
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 in their regular roles, 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 series also found a new timeslot, moving to Saturday nights at 10:00 pm Eastern.
The season began with a raid on a drug warehouse in Miami run by the Medellín Cartel, with United States Attorney Michael Santana leading the raid. The head of the cartel is put on trial and is headed for a near certain conviction. However, as the jury deliberates, a Miami policeman comes forward and reveals he coerced a confession which led to the warrant being issued. Santana's misconduct after finding all of this out results in the dismissal of the case and eventually his disbarment.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, a now-bearded McPike has fully healed from the gunshot wounds he sustained at the end of the previous year and the OCB Director, Paul Beckstead, is looking to have him assume desk duty. McPike, after all he has been through over the recent months, does not agree and leaves frustrated.
This proves to be the least of McPike's problems. Already angry over Beckstead's position, his emotions are further tested during a call with Lifeguard, who has been trying to get in touch with him. While undercover, Vinnie checks in with Lifeguard reliably. However, he tells McPike that Vinnie has been silent for the last few days. Lifeguard also gives McPike the impression that he is hiding something from him.
McPike heads back to Brooklyn and finds a pot of pasta cooking on the stove in Vinnie's kitchen. The TV is playing in the living room and the shower is running hot in the bathroom. Upon further review, though, nobody is home and there is a handprint on the door to Vinnie's apartment; McPike and Lifeguard conclude that if Vinnie left the apartment, he did not do so willingly.
Trying to find answers, McPike drops in on Carlotta Terranova and Don Aiuppo to find out more. One of their neighbors, a Catholic priest, had been murdered by a right-wing death squad in El Salvador, and Vinnie had been assisting the family in trying to find answers. 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 cartel as a money launderer. 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), who had been working the original case as Santana's AUSA before his removal and disbarment and was his love interest, they took Guzman's operation down.
Despite this, OCB never was able to locate Vinnie. He was presumed dead, being killed by the same death squad he had been investigating, and a memorial service was held in his honor. McPike spoke at the service, where he revealed the truth regarding Vinnie's services with the FBI and OCB.
With the Guzman investigation closed, McPike convinced Santana to become an official OCB agent. However, Director Beckstead is forced to shut down the task force due to budget cuts. Instead, McPike and Santana are sent to the New York FBI office to work in tandem with the U.S. Attorney's office there. They were immediately thrust into an investigation into a scheme involving the deaths of several naval pilots in crashes involving faulty plane parts. Former AUSA Stein, meanwhile, has joined her family's law firm and taken on the case, but after the firm's partners elect to not go after the partmaker she turns her attention to finding justice for the families affected by the crashes. Through the work of McPike and Santana, as well as the continued covert work from Lifeguard, the head of the company is arrested and brought to justice.
Wiseguy was cancelled after one additional episode (with Billy Dee Williams as a guest) aired.
The program was never the strongest ratings draw, despite the positive feedback from critics. The loss of Ken Wahl combined with the move to a traditionally low rated Saturday night spot depleted the ratings further and the series came to its end after 75 episodes.
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.
|67||Fruit of the Poisonous Tree (1)||4|
|68||Fruit of the Poisonous Tree (2)||4|
|72||Witness Protection for the Archangel Lucifer||4|
|73||Point of No Return||4|
There were also several stand-alone episodes between the arcs, most of which dealt with the personal lives of the main characters. For instance:
In order to explain the disappearance of Vinnie, a story was devised which effectively retconned the series and disregarded the events of season four. Following his desertion after witnessing Stem's suicide during the Volchek case in Washington state, as well as his problems with his stepfather, the FBI pulled Vinnie out of OCB and reassigned him to a wiretapping detail where he was still working at the time the film began.
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.
While never released on VHS or DVD in the United States or in Europe, the movie was released overseas on Video CD (MagnaVision CW071-003001) but is no longer commercially available.
|1989||Casting Society of America||Best Casting for TV, Dramatic Episodic||Vicki Huff|
|1990||Edgar Award||Best Television Episode||David J. Burke and Alfonse Ruggiero|
(For episode "White Noise")
|1990||Golden Globe Award||Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama||Ken Wahl|
|1988||Viewers for Quality Television Awards||Founder's Award||Ray Sharkey|
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 67 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 (8 of 22 episodes) is not included.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 4|
|Season 1||22||August 25, 2009||December 1, 2008|
|Season 2||14 +||N/A||March 4, 2009|
|Season 3||22||N/A||July 8, 2009|
|Season 4||9||N/A||September 9, 2009|
+ omits the eight-episode "Dead Dog Records" arc
The first season became available on iTunes on April 28, 2008.