10 easy-going, crime-busting facts about 'Barnaby Jones'

Learn how Buddy Ebsen's detective series links to Richard Nixon, The Price is Right and naps.

Top image: The Everett Collection

Catwoman and Jed Clampett seem like an unlikely crime-solving duo. Yet for eight seasons Lee Meriwether and Buddy Ebsen teamed as father-daughter detectives on Barnaby Jones. The charming, good-natured sleuths stood in contrast to the gritty, bare-knuckled detectives of the 1970s. Barnaby and Betty used their intellect — and Barnaby's ahead-of-its-time crime laboratory — to figure out whodunnit.

The premise proved to be quite popular, as the series ran from 1973 to 1980, peaking in the ratings and breaking into the Top 25 between '76 and '78. Even former presidents wanted to join its fan clubs, as you will see.

Barnaby Jones was the product of TV ace Quinn Martin, the man behind smash dramas such as The Fugitive, The F.B.I., The Invaders, The Streets of San Francisco and Cannon.

Here are some things you might not know about Barnaby Jones.

1. The show was meant to be a spin-off from 'Cannon.'

"The original plan was to do the Barnaby Jones pilot as an episode of Cannon. Barnaby was to be a spin-off from Cannon," Lee Meriwether explains in the book Quinn Martin, Producer: A Behind-the-Scenes History of QM Productions and Its Founder. The series maintained a long-running relationship with its Martin-made sibling. William Conrad's Cannon character appeared in the first episode of Barnaby, and the two shows crossed over in "The Deadly Conspiracy" in 1975.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. Quinn Martin had at least one television series running in prime time every year for 21 straight years.

Let's take a moment to remember the unparalleled output of Martin. At various points in the 1960s and 1970s, Martin would simultaneously have as many as four series running on various networks. Few creators have been so prolific and successful.

3. Buddy Ebsen often fell asleep on the set.

Ebsen was 64 when the series kicked off, and the veteran actor had a long commute from his Valley home to the set each day. In the aforementioned Quinn Martin, Producer book, crewmembers remember the star's frequent catnaps. Ebsen would fall asleep in his car, and fall asleep standing up. Director of Photography William W Spenser recalled, "[The set] was quieter and there wasn't that much going on. Buddy always seemed to know when we were ready to shoot though. He'd just sort of wake up automatically." 

Top image: AP Photo/Harold Filan

4. Richard Nixon was a big fan of the show.

As reported in a 1984 article in the Milwaukee Journal, the former POTUS wanted "to join a fan club honoring the television sleuth," the Barnaby Jones Lunchean Club. Ebsen bumped into Nixon in Palm Springs, where the president geeked out and professed that he had seen every episode and could quote lines from the series. Ebsen in turn wrote to fan club president Jordayne Thomas. No word if Nixon ever became an official member of the BJLC.

Image: AP Photo

5. Several children of the cast and crew appeared on the show.

It was a relaxed, inviting set by all accounts — and a bit of a family affair. Bonnie Ebsen, the daughter of Buddy, pictured, appeared on the series. Meriwether's daughter Kyle Aletter, who later became a model on The Price is Right, also popped up, as did Martin's daughter, Jill Martin.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. William Shatner and Robert Reed played villains.

Barnaby Jones proved to be a great forum for familiar faces to break from expectations. The bad guys included the Star Trek captain as a man who fakes his death and the erstwhile Brady Bunch father as a journalist who will literally kill for a scoop. Meredith Baxter-Birney also played a serial killer.

7. There was a slight nod to 'The Donna Reed Show' when former sitcom dad Carl Betz guest starred.

Another familiar face that met Barnaby was Betz, who formerly played patriarch Dr. Stone on The Donna Reed Show. In the episode "Stand-In for Death," Betz's jealous husband character slept in a separate twin bed from his wife, which was a subtle, intentional nod to the sleeping arrangements on The Donna Reed Show.

Image: The Donna Reed Show

8. A 'Beverly Hillbillies' crossover was planned with Buddy Ebsen playing both Jed and Barnaby.

Now here's a great "What Might Have Been." There were plans to produce a crossover with The Beverly Hillbillies that would have featured Ebsen portraying both Barnaby Jones and Jed Clampett. The proposed plot remains a mystery, but Jones would likely have to come to the rescue of Clampett. This didn't officially happen for various reasons, though a similar scenario did materialize years later…

Image: The Beverly Hillbillies


Though the Hillbillies crossover never came to fruition, the two worlds would meet in 1993 when Ebsen's Jones character makes a cameo in the dud big-screen remake of The Beverly Hillbillies. Jim Varney was playing Jed, however.

Image: 20th Century Fox

10. Andre Previn turned down the offer to compose the theme song.

Previn, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, turned down the gig. Jerry Goldsmith stepped in to craft the instrumental theme, though he, too, almost backed out. On seeing the pilot, Goldsmith tried to get out of the gig as he disliked the show. Turns out, however, it would end up being his second longest running theme song next to The Waltons.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. Buddy Ebsen published a Barnaby Jones novel in 2006.

Three years after his death, a posthumous Ebsen novel titled Sizzling Cold Case was published. It opened with a "theme song" of sorts, which featured the line, "Barnaby, Barnaby—can one man save the human race?" Late in his life, Ebsen published a handful of books, ranging from romance to mystery.

Image: AuthorHouse via Amazon

There's more: 12 fascinating facts about Buddy Ebsen

Ebsen was a dancer, an actor, a singer, a soldier, a writer and a painter. What couldn't he do? READ MORE

Image: Buddy Ebsen's Uncle Jed Country

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Donoradvocate 24 months ago
In Daughter of Evil, near the ending of the episode, it shows a good side view shot of Barnaby's revolver, and it appears that it has a bobbed hammer
NaviAlagondar 37 months ago
Whenever I can't sleep, I get up, make myself a coffee and watch Barnaby Jones. Sure takes me back to the good ole days.
T 37 months ago
His daughter Bonnie was a terrible actress. She appeared on one episode as an aspiring singer - it was painful to watch and listen.
K T 35 months ago
She was actually on 6 Barnaby Jones episodes. And yes, she was very bad. Nepotism at its best.
seacoast 47 months ago
Great show! It's goes to show that Buddy Essen could sing dance and act a multi talented man. I don't know if any shows today that Star a 64 year old at the start of the series. When TV was fun to watch.
DocForbin 47 months ago
Buddy Ebsen was also a rather passionate coin collector. He even got mentioned in Coins Magazine, which is considered the go-to publication for coil collectors.
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