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King of Diamonds (1961)

Reprinted with permission from

Syndicated Television, The First 40 Years, 1947-1987

By Hal Erickson

No new syndie of 1961 was as eagerly anticipated as Ziv-UA’s King of Diamonds. Ziv built its entire 1961-62 ad promotion around the series and the star power of Broderick (Highway Patrol) Crawford, the impressive credits of producer-director John Rich, and the female-viewer value of Crawford’s "exciting" young costar Ray Hamilton. To make sure no one would miss the ballyhoo, Ziv had it’s Diamonds trade-magazine ads decorated with jewel-like Halloween glitter. Broderick Crawford was so anxious to break his Highway Patrol character to play John King, globetrotting troubleshooter for the International Diamond Industry, that he signed a long term contract with Ziv – thus ending his chances of replacing the late Ward Bond on the NBC network smash Wagon Train. Promised a substantial share of Diamond’s profits, Crawford gleefully dreamed of a windfall exceeding his riches accrued by Highway Patrol.

Ziv gave King of Diamonds lavishness far in excess of its usual product, presenting a wide range of lightning-paced adventures dealing with John King’s battle against a cartel of villains who helpfully listed themselves in the yellow pages as the Illicit Diamond Buyers, Inc. There was even time for Brod Crawford to dally with beautiful ladies, a far cry from the Highway Patrol era when the actor didn’t even have time to shave every day. Its potential audience aroused, Ziv was able to premiere King of Diamonds in 118 markets, and for a while the series did "Top Ten" business.

But this was 1961; the series was too expensive to survive without the financial backing of big network or major sponsor. Several of the stations who’d bought Diamonds were network-owned, and thus forced to shunt the series to weaker time slots when their networks began expanding their evening schedules. A powerful "anti-violence" campaign was then in full swing, affecting every action show on television. And on top of everything, in their zeal to create a thrilling series in the "I-want–it-done-yesterday" world of 1961, Ziv forgot that Broderick Crawford’s basic appeal on Highway Patrol had been the clipped austerity of his acting style. Put bluntly, Crawford was in over his head as the smooth well-traveled John King, a role someone like Michael Rennie or James Mason could have played blind folded.*   So despite its initial success, King of Diamonds lasted only but a year. Its disappointing financial returns, together with Broderick Crawford’s recent and costly marital breakup, depleted the star’s bank account, Highway Patrol residuals and all. And the series inability to cope with marketplace utterly squashed assurances made by Ziv-UA’s president John L. Sinn early in 1961 the Ziv was committed to syndication and would forever provide a strong supply of non-network series.

* "Hey Hal, I think Brod could have played this part better then Rennie or Mason had it not been for his age and weight gain." - Gary Goltz