Mannix's Mike Connors was a TV acting pioneer
Today, movie stars pop up on TV all the time. That wasn't the case in 1967.
Here's how big of a star Mike Connors was: When he traveled to Barcelona to accept the Best Actor award at the International Film Festival, Paramount Studios took out an insurance policy with a principal sum of $1 million. If that seems outrageous, that's because it is. Sure, studios had previously insured stars and their noteworthy features. Studios insured Ann Miller's legs and Shirley Temple's hair, but that was an entire generation before Connors was broadcast on TV. Besides, those policies were mostly publicity stunts. Paramount Studios, by contrast, really wanted to protect what they had with Connors, who starred in CBS' Mannix.
What, exactly, made Mike Connors so valuable to Paramount? The reasons were threefold: First and foremost, Mannix was a bona fide hit, regularly earning an average of 30 to 40 million viewers. Secondly, Mike Connors was reliable and a dependable family man who did not cause the studio headaches with headline-grabbing shenanigans. The third and biggest reason, when it came to Paramount's bottom line, was Connors' bankability.
Mike Connors was bankable in a way that TV stars previously were not. That's because, prior to solving crimes as Joe Mannix, Connors was a genuine movie star. He had roles in comedies, Westerns, and thrillers, building a following with each new movie. He was in a remake of John Ford's Stagecoach. He parodied James Bond in Kiss the Girl and Make Them Die. He even shows up in Cecil B. Demille's famous The Ten Commandments.
It may be commonplace now, but in the '60s and '70s, movie stars rarely moved to TV unless their careers were tanking. The big screen was thought of as where all the status was. Movie stars wouldn't stoop to the levels of broadcast television. It just didn't happen. Why did Mike Connors take the role of detective on Mannix with a career chugging ahead at full steam? The actor provided some insight to the Los Angeles Times in 1970.
"Well I guess I made the move for a couple of reasons," he said. "No. 1, I wasn't getting the types of roles I wanted in the types of pictures I wanted. No. 2, the offer they made me [for Mannix] was lucrative. And No. 3, I'm an actor, and I like to act — I don't like sitting around idly for long periods."
Long before "prestige television" had movie stars jumping ship from the big screen, Connors on Mannix was a big deal and a huge gamble. Who knows whether Nicole Kidman would've done Big Little Lies without the groundwork Mike Connors established?