The Most Memorable Episode of a TV Mystery Show in American Television History

Mystery shows have been around for as long as TV has existed.  It would be pretty difficult to find a single night of prime-time programming in which at least one mystery isn’t solved somewhere.   Many TV mysteries are ranked in the highest echelon of classics reserved for the Hall of Fame, like Columbo, while some of the very best never got a fair shake and were canceled prematurely, like Ellery Queen with Jim Hutton.  If you are a certain age you will doubtlessly remember the NBC Mystery Movie introduced every week with its catchy theme song and the guy with the flashlight.  The NBC Mystery Movie was actually a revolving anthology that featured Columbo, McMillan and Wife, McCloud, Hec Ramsey, and others.  One of those others was a mystery starring George Peppard as the title character Banacek.  Banacek was an insurance fraud investigator who specialized in mysterious thefts that could not possibly have happened. 

What this means is that Banacek essentially specialized in what are known as locked room mysteries.   Only in Banacek’s cases the twist was that valuable properties would disappear from places in full view of multitudes.  The second episode of Banacek took this idea to the ultimate extreme and became legendary.  I only saw this episode once and that was in 1972 when I was 9 years old.  Nevertheless, this greatest mystery episode of all time was cemented in my mind and has never fully left it.  It was only recently that I got the chance to see it again.

This Banacek episode is titled “Let’s Hear it for a Living Legend” and I mainly wanted to see it because it had been heavily advertised as having several NFL players as guest stars, including Gene Washington and Deacon Jones, as well as broadcaster Curt Gowdy.  I was a big football fan back then and little did I know as I watched this episode of Banacek that my beloved Miami Dolphins were about to become the only team in NFL history to go unbeaten right on through the Super Bowl.  (And they didn’t even need to cheat to finish the regular season unbeaten, if you get my drift.)   At the time, however, I just wanted to watch Banacek for two reasons: to see the guy who played the Blue Max WWI fighter ace and to see famous football players act. 

Instead, I was captivated by a truly terrific mystery.  The episode’s premise is how do you kidnap a football player in full view of a packed stadium from right off the field?  How is such a thing possible?  The show’s mystery begins during a football game when a play is run and the opposing team tackles the other team’s star player.  When they get up to run back to their respective sides…the star player is missing.  Gone.  Vanished.  Poof!   All that’s left is his helmet.

It is up to Banacek to solve this seemingly impossible mystery and if you think I’m going to give away the ending, you are insane.  This particular episode is available on Netflix for rental, or DVD for buying, or Mininova for downloading.   See for yourself if “Let’s Hear it for a Living Legend” is not the most memorable episode of a mystery show in TV history.