TV’s Happy Valentines: Adorable Sleuthing Couples in McMillan & Wife, Remington Steele, and More

By Karen A. Romanko

Television has a long history of scripted shows with “adorable sleuthing couples,” as I like to call them. Starting with The Detective’s Wife in 1950, with Connie and Adam Conway (Lynn Bari and Donald Curtis), and continuing with Mr. & Mrs. North (1952-1954), among others, the formula is the same, plus or minus a detail. The husband is a professional detective, while the wife is a talented amateur, as with Mrs. North (Barbara Britton), who has a keen eye for detail and an impressive ability to read people. There’s lots of witty banter, and the crime investigation is played mostly for laughs, with some light thrills and romance thrown in for extra spice.

The 70s revisited this formula, and produced my favorite adorable sleuthing couple in McMillan & Wife (1971-1977), starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James as San Francisco Police Commissioner Stewart “Mac” McMillan and his hip, irrepressible wife Sally. Mac and Sally solve crimes together, even though Sally isn’t on the police payroll, but it’s the domestic scenes that make this series sparkle, especially romantic scenes between Mac and Sally, who have charisma to burn. Sally pays some lipservice to feminism, updating this subgenre for 70s audiences, but mostly the show is about the amazing on-screen chemistry between Hudson and Saint James, almost rivaled, in my book, by the chemistry between Hudson and Nancy Walker, who portrays the McMillans’ housekeeper, Mildred. Mildred’s love-hate relationship with ‘the commish,” highlighted by physical comedy emphasizing the height disparity between Hudson and Walker, is a standout.

Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James in McMillan & Wife

The paradigm shifted in the 80s, when adorable sleuthing couples became partners in business before becoming partners in romance. The name of the game then was “will they or won’t they,” and my favorite show in this category is Remington Steele (1982-1987). Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist), a professional private detective who isn’t taken seriously because of her gender, begins a precarious business relationship with a mysterious man of many names (Pierce Brosnan), who becomes Remington Steele, the figurehead of her detective agency. Laura tries not to mix business with pleasure, but Mr. Steele’s abundant charms are hard to resist, even though he struggles in the honesty department. This glamorous duo made the “will they or won’t they” question about more than just sex, examining questions of trust and respect, while Laura always remained true to herself. This one is still fresh over 30 years later.

Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist in Remington Steele

There are so many others. If you like adorable sleuthing couples who are pretty and rich, then jet-setting Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers) will be your cup of tea (or, more likely, champagne) in Hart to Hart (1979-1984). If you prefer adorable sleuthing couples who yammer (lots and lots and lots), then Maddie Hayes and David Addison (Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis) will fill the edgy bill in Moonlighting (1985-1989). If you count spies as sleuths (and why not, if they’re government agents), then Amanda King and Lee Stetson (Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner) will steal your heart while they’re stealing each other’s in Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983-1987).

Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner in Scarecrow and Mrs. King

Who are your favorites?

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