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Wiseguy

By chocolatetouches

This show was the ultimate "undercover" cop show. Stephen J. Cannell, who is very good at creating crime dramas with a twist, came up with this gem. Ken Wahl starred as "Vinnie Terranova" operative of the OCB, which was a branch of the FBI going undercover in the mob, and other forms of Organized crime. "Wiseguy's" 1st. season was the best, with Ray Sharkey as "Salvatore (Sonny) Steelgrave" crime boss of Atlantic City. Kevin Spacey played the super intelligent/highly insane "Mel Profitt.

The joy and difference of this series was that unlike other shows, this one had story arcs. Which is to say that a plotline would take place over several episodes giving you a rich tapestry of all characters. Most notable was the fact that the villain was at times more entertaining than the hero. (Who was it that said, "A hero is only as good as the villain"?) The show ran for three seasons with Ken Wahl, and one season with Steven Baur, as "Micheal Santana". My understanding was that the producers of the show couldn't convince Wahl to come back to the show. They were planning on concentrating on the villains even more, and that didn't set well with him. Many write off the forth season with Baur, but it had potential. They were creating a character which didn't have the emotional baggage that was a good and bad trait of the Terranova character.

 

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"General background: Wiseguy tells the story of Vincent Terranova (played by Ken Wahl), a.k.a Vinnie, who had been originally assigned to the Undercover Agents plan of the O.C.B (Organized Crime Bureau), and was sent to prison for a year and a half to substantiate his cover as a criminal, in the eyes of the under world. The story starts as he gets out of jail, and it becomes clear that his purpose in life is to bring down the crime barons of the U.S. The figures that help and support him are Frank McPike (Jonathan Banks), his supervising officer and the lifeguard 'Uncle Mike Terranova' also known as Daniel Benjamin Burroughs (Jim Byrnes). This program is divided into story arcs of varying lengths with regulars and new characters appearing in each arc. The uniqueness of Wiseguy is embedded in its rare treatment of the negative characters; a common person could earn a rare glimpse into the world in which people are so different from himself - yet so much alike - and sometimes understand and identify with their problems and actions. The Steelgrave Arc: All the above is told primarily in regard to this arc, which is the best of the series; the arc's remarkable cast and its outstanding performance, superb storyline and multidimensional characters, sadness and, ultimately, striking significance make it unmatched compared to all the arcs that followed it. Masterfully orchestrated action scenes are also an important factor that adds a lot to the appeal of this arc. And, yes, Ray Sharkey - without him it couldn't be the same. Ray Sharkey probably gives the roll of his lifetime with the portrayal of Sonny Steelgrave - the crime boss of New Jersey - as one of the most humane characters ever to be seen on television. His actions and motives, for good or ill, are understood and almost justified in the eyes of the viewer. The battle between right and wrong was never so strong, confusing and challenging. It is clear, after a few chapters, that the major issue is actually the decline of the Steelgrave empire. The weakness and vulnerability of Sonny become the center of the series, as the viewer sees how everybody in the underworld wants to get a piece of his crumbling realm. His racketeering enterprises, relatively small time crimes and drug distribution become minor as he has to face his formidable enemies with the help of Vinnie, that becomes his right hand, and that is also doomed to be his Brutus. Episode overviews: Pilot (episodes 1 & 2) - this is the classic opening of the series. Right in the beginning you'll witness the release of Vinnie from the Newark State Penitentiary, a scene to be shown from that point on in the monumental opening theme by Mike Post. In a remembered early scene Vinnie initiates first contact with Sonny - and the rest is history; most of the major characters are presented and from that point on things start rolling pretty fast. In all, the foundations of the story are put in place, not without puberty hardships that would be amended later on. New Blood - an unforgettable episode, in which the characters of Sonny and of Vinnie are engaged in one of the zeniths of their relationship's development process. From that point on you'll be captured by the charm of this arc to the end. Originally, I'd seen this episode first (and saw the pilot after quite sometime) and it left an unfading impact on me - definitely not for the last time. The loose canon - in my money, one of the weakest in this arc, though quite interesting. We're starting to see how the lies affect Vinnie's life, but there were better episodes to illustrate this angle. The action scene in which Vinnie is shooting some bad guys while standing in a limousine is one of the most memorable of the series. The birthday surprise - a redundant episode that presents two formidable villains - The Zhoratso's. You might also remember the funny name Kiki Vanno after watching this one. One on one - a memorable episode with Annette bening. It has an especially thrilling scene in which Sonny almost reveals Vinnie's cover, and a hard scene about the tortures and then rescue of Frank McPike from captivity. Prodigal son - a strong episode in which Vinnie tells his mother, that has been in the dark regarding his true occupation, that he is a Fed. Another aspect of Sonny's weakness, humanity and compassion is revealed. A deal's a deal - one of the best episodes ever, originally it was made after the arc was finished, when the producers had decided to add a little more to the overall scheme of things; the three major points of interest here are the astounding attempt made by corrupt police officers to expose Vinnie's cover, the setting of the stage for the final conclusion and the introduction of Joey Romanauski, the real life singer Billy Vera. The song he sings, "Ronnie's song", is one of the best I've ever heard, partly, I guess, because of the emotions this episode generated in me. Evidently - top notch performances of all the players involved. The lesson learned in this episode (which is embedded in its name) is one not to be forgotten. The marriage of heaven and hell - the name refers to the upcoming wedding of Sonny with Teresa Baglia, the daughter of a has-been crime boss, mostly in order to strengthen Sonny's position in the eyes of the underworld. There is a complicated and messy betrayal triangle in the story, that leads to the arc's climax in the next episode. I remember being totally shocked and confused seeing the developments in this episode. However, it is nothing compared to the occurrences of the next episode. No one gets out of here alive - this is one of the most significant episodes - and probably the saddest - in the history of television. The most ill-fated finale of all times will always be a sad monument to everything this story is about: friendship, trust, loyalty and betrayal, choices, the different points of view people have and of how confusing the distinction between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false can be. The interweaving of the song "Nights in white satin" right before the horrific end will forever remind me of the true sadness and loss I felt during and after the heartbreaking and devastating conclusion."

--Eran

"A favorite of mine because after all these years, the emotional attachment to the characters remains intact. Vinny, Sonny, Mel, Susan, Uncle Mike, and Frank became more than just a "TV" show. The first arc, with the late great Ray Sharkey, was the best -- emotionally searing, intelligent and utterly absorbing."

--Wiseguyette

"Ken Wahl starring as Vinnie Terranova in this awesome and well-written show captured my heart by first sight. He blew me away - and so did the rest of the crew. Frank McPike, Sonny Steelgrave, Mel Profitt.... together they built a show that has yet to be topped."

--A female Wiseguy-addict

"This was the best cop show of the time. Ken was the hottest piece of ass at the time too, and together the show was the absolute best. Favourite episode:: toss up between 'No one gets out of here alive' and 'Sleepwalk.'"

--Anonymous

"Two favorites, Kevin Spacey as Mel Profitt, one thing I still say "The toes knows" and Johnathon Banks when he shoot the JukeBox when its playing Hit The Road Jack, after his wife leaves him after giving the hospital one million dollars for a new kidney. I wish they would bring back the whole series to TV."

--Rootie

"Man I totally miss "WiseGuy". It was a different show at the time. It dealt with undercover agent Vinnie Terranova and the O. C. B. The O. C. B. was a division within the the FBI, that took down bad guys like Sonny Steelgrave. At the time when "WiseGuy" came out, I was only five years old. I remember watching episodes with my mom every Thursday night, and I remember how my mom's face used to brighten up. It was a very good show!"

--Eddie V

 

TV TIDBITS

Aired: September 16, 1987 - December 8, 1990

Cast: Ken Wahl, Steven Bauer, Johnathan Banks, Jim Barnes, Ray Sharkey, Kevin Spacey, Glenn Frey, David Spielberg, Jerry Lewis, Tony Romano, Martika

Network: CBS

Genre: Police Drama

Theme song

Image courtesy of CBS


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