Remington Steele shared a lot of similarities with another humorous crime show called Moonlighting, which also featured two detectives that would spend a lot of time bickering although they actually loved each other. This was not so strange, as the creator of Moonlighting cut his teeth writing episodes of Remington Steele. I still preferred the Pierce Brosnan starrer. Hey, we’re both avid cineastes.
The show started out by focusing a lot on a young woman called Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist), a bright and enthusiastic private eye who quickly learned that this was a man’s world. Few clients were willing to hire her. So she invented a male alias and named him Remington Steele, which was a hit, but soon realized that she actually needed someone to pose as Mr. Steele. That’s when He walked into her life, a mysterious stranger (Pierce Brosnan) with a British accent and no name. He was willing to become Remington Steele and the clients trusted him. A perfect understanding were it not for Steele’s bumbling incompetence; he was an adventurer, but had very little experience when it came to solving crimes. That took logical thinking and an ability to understand clues, and that was not his strength.
He got better at it over the years though and his passion for classic Hollywood movies constantly gave him ideas how to solve crimes. Laura reluctantly began to accept him as an equal partner, but there were constant fights. Not just over cases, but personal matters as well. Laura thought she was above falling in love with such a shallow, womanizing and shady character, but she was also a romantic and couldn’t resist the charms of her handsome, fictional employer.
A lot of comic potential
In the first season, James Read and Janet DeMay played Laura’s partner and secretary, but they were soon replaced with Doris Roberts as Mildred, the new secretary, who didn’t know that her boss was just a figurehead. There was a lot of comic potential in the fact that Mildred idolized Steele and completely ignored Laura. This infuriated Laura because she had taught Steele everything he knew, not the other way around, and because he enjoyed this whole charade a little too much. Roberts was terrific and really complemented the Zimbalist-Brosnan duo. The couple allegedly fought behind the scenes, but that’s not noticeable; they’re really good together and the romance was reasonably engaging, especially because you knew there would always come days when Steele’s illustrious past would catch up with him in some way.
When I first saw this show as a teenager, I fell in love with lovely Laura and wanted to be like Steele; the show was a fitting training exercise for Brosnan on his way to becoming James Bond.
The show relied heavily on the playful performances of its cast and a healthy sense of humor, but the writing was not bad at all. The murder mysteries were amusing, although the show never really challenged its format. It was just a lot of fun, even the final few episodes that were shot in 1987 and reunited a cast that was contractually obligated to make an appearance but pretty much hated doing it. I believe Remington Steele had more to offer, even when it was canceled.
Remington Steele 1982-1987:U.S. Made for TV. 94 episodes. Color. Created by Michael Gleason, Robert Butler. Theme: Henry Mancini. Cast: Stephanie Zimbalist (Laura Holt), Pierce Brosnan (Remington Steele), Doris Roberts (Mildred Krebs, 83-87), James Read (82-83), Janet DeMay (82-83).
Last word: “When we went in and pitched the concept to NBC, they gave us the go-ahead. But they also said that sometimes they greenlight a great pilot but then don’t get a great series out of it. So they said, ‘Give us Episode 6 first so we can see what we have here.’ And after they picked it up, they said it would be wonderful to then see how Laura and Remington met. So ‘License to Steele’ was the first to air [October 1, 1982], but ‘Tempered Steele’ [October 8, 1982], which was slightly rewritten, was actually our pilot episode.” (Gleason, Sound + Vision)