Ironside Episode Reviews

Ironside Episode Reviews


Ironside ran on NBC for eight seasons from September, 1967 to 1975, starring Raymond Burr as Robert T. Ironside, former chief of detectives of the San Francisco Police Department, who was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot. The show's 2-hour pilot was broadcast on March 28, 1967, almost 6 months before the show debuted, and according to a column from the Vancouver Sun on March 30, Universal City Studios wanted to know people's reaction to this pilot, not a normal procedure to get feedback regarding a TV show. Viewers were asked to mail their opinions on the idea of Raymond Burr playing a detective in a wheelchair, as well as what they thought of the actors playing the members of his team, directly to Universal.

I think the main reason Ironside lasted for eight seasons was because of Raymond Burr's popularity on Perry Mason, where he had played the lead role from 1957 to 1966. There is no doubt that Ironside raised public awareness of handicapped people with its star in a wheelchair. In fact, when Ironside goes to investigate crimes, I was constantly saying, "There is no way that buildings and houses in the late 1960s and early 70s can be well-equipped to deal with the needs of people like him." In many shows, there are steps where you would expect them to be, like at the entrance to people's homes, rather than ramps.

To assist him, Ironside has two cops: Sergeant Ed Brown (Don Galloway) and Officer Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson). He also has a young black guy named Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell) helping him out, though the actor was not that young, born in 1943, between Galloway (1937) and Anderson (1945). Both Anderson and Mitchell may qualify as early representatives of women cops and black people on TV respectively.

In the pilot, it is established that Sanger previously threatened to kill Ironside, but the former chief of detectives figures if he offers Sanger a job, it will help to rehabilitate him. The relationship between Sanger and Ironside is peculiar. In the pilot, Sanger says "Yes, sir, boss" to Ironside, sort of like Eddie Rochester, Jack Benny's valet and tells him at one point, "You told me you don't want me to be ignorant." However, many of Sanger's responses to Ironside in later shows are equally sarcastic, bringing The Chief back to earth if he is getting a bit out of line.

Ironside lives on a floor in the old San Francisco Hall Of Justice building, which housed the city's police headquarters. His living area is equipped with a ramp and other things which are "handicapped friendly." In the pilot and the first episode of the series, he is being pushed around by Sanger, but later he is also seen using a battery-powered wheelchair or propelling himself with a "manual" chair using his hands. In early episodes of the show, Sanger drives Ironside around town in a modified 1940 1-ton Ford police patrol wagon which looks like a World War I military vehicle. It has been equipped with a V8 engine, an automatic lift in the back and other features like a mobile phone.

Ironside is a very crabby guy, and I would no doubt be crabby too if I had been paralyzed from the waist down by an assassin's bullet and ended up in a wheelchair. However, there is a video made in 1959 seen during the pilot which suggests that Ironside previously had a gruff persona and didn't take crap from anyone. He takes great pleasure ordering members of his team around, yelling at them that they are clueless if they can't figure out criminals' modus operandi and addressing them as "children." He prefaces questions with the word "QUERY" frequently and uses the word "flaming" which presumably replaces "fucking," sort of like "fracking" on Battlestar Galactica years later.

The show has a musical theme by Quincy Jones which includes a sound like a cat that has been thrown into an electrical substation. According to Wikipedia, this "was the first synthesizer-based television theme song," which is confusing, because the theme also uses "real" instruments. According to Jon Burlingame in his excellent book Prime Time, "a history of American television themes and scoring," this sound was produced by a Moog synthesizer, which Ironside was "the first series to use." The sound was supposed to "imitate a police siren." Jones' theme (minus the synthesizer sound) gets a lot of use in episodes.

Wikipedia also says "In addition to the opening theme music, Quincy Jones composed the entire score for the first eight episodes. Oliver Nelson took over those duties up to the end of the winter to spring 1972 episodes." This is totally wrong. According to the show's end credits, Jones composed the score for the pilot and 12 of the first season shows: 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12-17. Oliver Nelson did four episodes: 1, 3, 7, 11. Benny Carter did the sixth. The credits for shows 18 to 28 say that Jones did the theme, indicating that stock music was used. (This becomes confusing at IMDb, because the entire score of these stock shows is credited to Jones.) Marty Paich did shows from the fifth season on.

For a series which ran for 8 seasons, Ironside's release on DVD has been disappointing. According to the show's Wikipedia page, Shout Factory put out seasons 1 to 4 in North America from 2007 to 2010, with a re-release of seasons 3 and 4 in 2017. These sets do not seem to have been remastered. Seasons 5 to 8 and the complete series was released in Australia by ViaVision Entertainment from 2007 to 2011, and it was also released in France, though that seems to be with French dubbed dialogue and no subtitles. According to one WWW page I read, the Shout Factory DVDs are based on PAL releases in Europe. There are big discrepancies in the times of episodes in the first season and I think that some of the first season shows (and maybe others) were edited because of music rights issues. The foreign DVDs can be obtained in North America from sites like and eBay.

Ironside for the 21st century was rebooted on NBC in 2013 and was a huge flop. Only four episodes were aired, though nine were made. The remaining five were later streamed on iTunes. There was a big stink made because the actor playing the lead role was not a paraplegic, though the explanation for this was there were flashbacks to the past, prior to him becoming disabled.

I started this site in 2017, and did a few reviews, which are now indicated with an asterisk (*), most of which were revised. As of 2024, I started doing reviews again, of season one in particular, and while I finished that season, because I had serious issues with many episodes, I was discouraged from reviewing shows from other seasons, even though I have been told that "the show gets better as it goes along." There are four 2017 reviews from season four plus three 2024 reviews in the "OTHER SEASONS" section.