March 25, 2007

Probe title card

Since I’ve been talking about beloved 1980s television, do you think there’s a chance I’ll ever see a DVD set of Probe? It’s best known (if at all) today for being co-created by Isaac Asimov, but I quite enjoyed this short-run TV mystery series. There was a two-hour pilot movie, followed by six hour-long episodes. (Judging by the comments there, some people are still bitter it’s gone.)

Parker Stevenson co-starred as genius Austin James, who lived in a computer-controlled warehouse kind of like a mad scientist Batcave. This was back in 1988, so “computer-controlled” meant something a bit different than that does now, when you can pop down to Lowe’s and pick up a home kit. Although, come to think of it, I’m reminded of the sheriff’s house on Eureka.

Probe still

Wacky secretary Mickey Castle (Ashley Crow, who I’ve never seen anywhere else but is apparently now appearing on Heroes) balanced his arrogance with clumsy humanity. The mysteries had a strong science fiction twist to them, (as with the computer that tried to kill people by turning both direction’s traffic lights green at the same time, an image I don’t think I’m ever going to forget due to its blend of normality and morbid imagination), lightened with humor.

Why’d I like it? Because Austin James was one of the very few fictional characters I was exposed to who was valued, respected, and feared for being smart. He lived life on his own terms, and he got away with it because of his intelligence. As a kid who only had that going for me, I loved his smart-aleckness and amazing store of knowledge.

There’s an ad-heavy show fan site with an episode guide, fanfic, and best of all, links to youtube clips of the shows. You can also vote for a DVD set at tvshowsondvd.com. Pictures are from this show writeup, which is nicely thorough.

22 Responses  
Lyle Masaki writes:  

Probe is one of those series that I try to explain to people only to get the most incredulous stare, like I must have dreamed up such a strange-sounding TV show in some delusional dream… then I tell them about Automan from a few years earlier.

What I remember liking about Probe was the imaginative mysteries which offered a puzzle but didn’t follow a clear formula (at least not one as clear as traditional mysteries). The early Harry Potter books have a similar appeal to me for mixing mystery with new rules for nature.

Me, I related to Mickey since she had a tendency to notice the important detail (which I frequently did as a viewer) without realizing its importance. I liked that dynamic… Mickey would find the question and Austin would find the answer. (At least, that’s how I remember them.)

I think my favorite Probe was the one with the ape that spoke sign language. The revelation at the end was very cute.

Barry writes:  

Oh, wow, a blast from the past! I adored this show. As a (fellow) geeky smart kid, I loved the idea that it was possible (theoretically, at least) to grow up and someday be admired and needed for your brains. In a world of Monk and Numb3rs, this show would probably do fairly well if reimagined today.


Dan Coyle writes:  

There was a show I watched around the same time, which hasn’t aged nearly as well, called War of the Worlds, which of course was based on the Martians taking over and blah blah blah. But one thing that still holds up is Jared Martin’s Harrison Blackwood- only rarely did he reveal a beating heart within the cold shell of a man who was very ruthless in his quest to rid the earth of the alien presence. He was a scientist, and approached things as a scientist wood. Martin was never the strongest actor in the world but on that show he was good.

It’s been alleged that one of Chris Carter’s many “influences” for X-Files, was Probe.

Johanna writes:  

I loved Automan, too! I thought about trying to acquire some of those episodes to see if it stood up as I remembered — all I recall now is his ability to mimic Jerry Lee Lewis. And the inertia-less car and its cornering.

Barry, good point about those heroes becoming more common.

Dan: Interesting X-Files connection. I noticed several of the fanfic Probe pieces were crossovers with that show, so obviously the similarity was noted.

Chris G. writes:  

I’d certainly netflix, at the very least, a DVD release of Probe. Didn’t it air in a show-killing graveyard timeslot, like 8 pm on Saturdays?

On Automan: A few years ago, a friend gave us tickets he couldn’t use for Kiss Me Kate at the Kennedy Center. About halfway through the first act, I recognized Chuck Wagner from Automan and nearly stood up and shouted, “DUDE! It’s AUTOMAN!” It’s best that I didn’t…

Lyle Masaki writes:  

Yeah, I think Probe aired on Thursdays at 8 PM, a time slot where ABC has sent plenty of good programming to die until this season. (IIRC, at that time the time slot was dominated by The Cosby Show… with The Simpsons joining the battle a year or two later.)

Augie De Blieck Jr. writes:  

I remember enjoying it when it first aired, but I was a little baby geek at the time, not even reading comics yet, nor my first Asimov short story. It was only years later that I discovered the show’s pedigree. I’d love to see it now on DVD, just to see if it was as good as I remembered at the rip old age of 12.

But I’m not holding my breath. . .

Barry writes:  

>>Barry, good point about those heroes becoming more


I think it’s all part of the “geeks rule the world” vibe that has caught on. Too late to help the teen geek I was, but pretty cool to witness now!


Adam Arnold writes:  

Whoa, and here I thought I was the only one that liked that show…

I never saw Probe when it first aired, but I got into it when it was on Sci-Fi Channel back in the 90s. There was another show that I really enjoyed that was on either before or after it… Otherworld. That was about this family that taken to this alternate universe or something.

Speaking of old sci-fi shows that need to be on DVD… where is my DVD box set of VR-5?

Allan writes:  

If we’re talking shows we want to see on DVD, mine would be Search (its pilot was called Probe too). Burgess Meredith and Doug McClure starred in this spy/technological adventure. As a kid growing up in the early-70s, I loved it.

Or then there was Manimal… Hey – c’mon, it had Melody Anderson in it!

Dan Coyle writes:  

The best part of Automan was when Automan would do a fast turn and it was so obvious they were just having Desi Arnaz Jr. throw himself up against the glass and reversing the film.

Lyle Masaki writes:  

Adam Arnold, Otherworld was a favorite of mine when it originally aired, though it shows its age IMO.

Augie De Blieck Jr. writes:  

Adam – I always hold out hope for VR.5. It was a show that got maligned for far too much far too soon. It was a much better show than its pilot, but most people gave up after that. There was once a DVD solicited — like the VHS releases at the time, it would be 2 episodes per DVD, but on 6 or 7 separate releases. They got canceled before they came out. This was before EVERY TV show and its mother had a DVD release, though, so maybe it’s possible someone will give it a shot again.

Sadly, like the VHS tapes, they’d likely get rid of all the beautiful music — Dee Carstensen has the voice of an angel — and replace it with that crappy digital music stuff.

Side note: Two Januaries after VR.5’s unfortunate demise, a new pilot premiered on another network starring one of the stars of VR.5. What the heck, I thought, let me give this BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER a shot — it’s got Anthony Stewart Head in it!

Side note II: I believe Adam Baldwin, another Whedon actor, was in an episode of VR.5

OK, I’m done with the mundane trivia now.

Lyle Masaki writes:  

I was lucky enough to miss the pilot of VR.5 and tuned in with the second episode. That show really charmed me because it essentially was a series about a woman who had a device that let her peek into people’s subconsciousness. That show had some interesting episodes that nicely played on how what you see in someone’s mind is just their perception of things.

And I, too, remember how in those days ASH was the guy from the coffee commercial couple. (What was the brand… Folgers Instant?)

Johanna writes:  

Tasters Choice, wasn’t it?

Lyle Masaki writes:  

Ding! That was it!

Automan » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] After being reminded of this show by my readers, I was able to find a set of Automan episodes online. There were only 13 […]

Orphan TV DVDs Include Anything But Love » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] the other hand, I’ve found bootlegs of other old favorites, like Probe and Automan, and I loved them, possibly because I kept my expectations low and was pleasantly […]

Cynthia writes:  

I loved this show! I would buy the DVD today if I could. The water bill overcharge episode was genius. Now I’m on a mission. If I find the DVD somewhere I will post back!

Joe writes:  

Just an FYI: the pilot (called “PROBE”) is being released on DVD from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection on May 3, 2011!

Johanna writes:  

I think you’re mistaken. The movie called Probe that they’re releasing is dated 1972, stars Hugh O’Brian, and became the TV show Search. Our Probe was from 1988.

Delete » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] how digitally connected everything is today. Heck, I was frightened by the idea back in 1988 when Probe had a rogue AI messing with elevators and traffic lights. Delete, the latest in the series of […]


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