One of the best short-lived series I've ever seen: PROBE

When I say short-lived, I mean short-lived. As in, seven episodes, including the pilot movie. And I thought Voyagers! had it rough with 20 episodes. If you could think of the worst show you've ever seen in your life, trust me, this is not it, and it didn't deserve cancellation so quickly. But alas, the show fell victim to a writer's strike in 1988 and wasn't continued. It didn't have a fighting chance.

First the basics. What is Probe?

Probe was a 1988 TV series, created by famed television mystery writer William Link and Science fiction author Isaac Asimov. How could you go wrong with a combo like that? Link was noted for co-creating mystery hits like Columbo and Murder She Wrote. (I'm an unabashed Columbo and MSW junkie.)

Asimov is practically a household name as one of the most prolific science Fiction writers of the 20th Century. If you haven't read his books, then you've probably seen one of his very popular science shows that used to air in the seventies and eighties. The opening credits of Probe have the feel of those shows. I find the electronica mixed with a classical music sound adorable. It perfectly suited the eclectic mix of science, mystery, and comedy that made the series. Here is a video of the Pilot opening credits.

The series starred Parker Stevenson as Austin James, a highly eccentric and "slightly schizophrenic" genius who solved scientific and high tech crimes. Ashley Crow co-starred as James' pretty, ditzy, yet supportive new secretary Mickey Castle. Austin is so "maladjusted" (Don't call him "weird") He sleeps in his cupboard and calls it his 'Sensory deprivation tank,' and can almost sense your thoughts and hear you blink. He talks to an invisible computer that controls the warehouse. (Decades before Iron Man does in the movies.) and is always playing classical music to help him think.

In the Pilot how he comes up with astute observations by digging through a suspect's vacuum bag dust! It was amazing. I highly commend writers such as Michael Wagner and others on this series for keeping me so enthralled in Austin's quirks, common sense and logical discoveries. 

Some episodes of the show revolved around Serendip, a Technology company founded by Austin, yet it's a company that he has no interest in running. Austin instead chooses to live within a huge, unobtrusive warehouse that houses all his experiments and tricks of his trade. Though he is world famous for being a scientist, his true fascination lies in detection and crime-solving, ala Sherlock Holmes. 

And that's exactly who he is – a Modern day Sherlock, with Mickey as his Watson. 

Often unwittingly, Mickey always manages to say the right thing at the right time and plant ideas in Austin's head that leads to solving the case. Though Austin is outwardly aloof and comes off strong and full of himself at the outset, you realize that Austin has a huge heart and loves the world and people in his own way. If he didn't, he wouldn't be such a likable hero. Following that way is why he does what he does – like spending ten years developing prosthetic legs for the handicapped.

Okay, let me just have a major OT fan-girl moment here – Parker Stevenson…A fantastic, uniquely and boyishly handsome and underrated actor. Parker has eyes like blue crystals and had the best seventies hair ever…make that one of the best heads of hair ever period! Of any time zone. I'm such a nut, if I saw a guy walking around with a head of hair like that today, I would not really think it's dated at all. Parker will forever be the best Frank Hardy from the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries to me.
(Yes, even though I know Frank in the Hardy books was brunette with brown eyes.)

Aww what the heck? Shaun Cassidy will always be Joe Hardy for me too. I can't resist his huge brown doe eyes, impishly good looks and charming smile and feathery hair. I'm so guilty of rocking out in my room to 'That's Rock and Roll.' One of his hits that he sang on the show. I read online that Shaun is now being referred to as the 'Justin Bieber' of his day. I say Ptooey! Bieber can't even begin to fill Shaun's bellbottoms! And Shaun's expression in the pic dares him to try.

SIGH! I love the Hardy Boys. Joe's got the one-liners and cheeky remarks and Frank's the calm and collected man of the duo. They really make a great team. And yes, Nancy is very cool too. I started off as a fan of her books, and actually never really read the boys!

But this isn't a Hardy Boys blog…I got so off-topic. SORRY!

Probe was a mystery, comedy, and drama rolled into one exciting package. The series didn't last long enough to develop much of a romantic angle. In the final episode Mickey casually asks Austin –

"Why is it you decided not to get involved in relationships?"

"But I have. Me and the universe. It's all I can handle."

As with most male-female pairings on shows like these, the seed of love was immediately planted from the moment Mickey was swept into Austin's life of wacky criminal intrigue and scientific mayhem. There's a real sense of appreciation and a respect that develops. You just know that had the series continued these characters would have been bread and butter, salt and pepper and every other fine pairing you can think of.

If the two promo pictures are any indication, I think they would have made a lovely TV couple. I love Parker's sly, dimpled wide grin and Ashley Crow somewhat resembled a young Mia Farrow. I found her character at first exasperating, but then very engaging as the show progressed. I definitely 'ship it.

Probe developed a cult fan-following and many believe that it was the forerunner to shows like X-Files and Monk. I agree. I believe it might've inspired a very popular Japanese Drama series from the early 2000's called "Galileo" – A handsome genius Physicist teams up with a female Detective to solve crimes - purely out of his fascination for proving scientific theories. (But of course he truly cares under his aloof, humorless, demeanor.)

Probe was way ahead of it's time. It was a show that made you use your noodle, and not one you can easily walk away from and then know what was going on when you returned.

Take it from a big mystery fan-you must pay constant attention to everything going on in the scenes of any mystery show. And in this case, Austin and Mickey were always on the go and spouting out theories and witticisms in nearly every scene.

As Parker Stevenson puts it: "I felt lucky at having a shot at it because it wasn't a 'formula' show. But it was complex stuff…it wasn't the kind of show in which a viewer could get up during the middle of it, get a sandwich and think, "I'll catch up when I come back." Viewers had to work at watching the show, and perhaps that was a bit too much to ask. Maybe that's why they tuned into Cosby instead."

Now I have major gripes with both ABC for canceling Probe and NBC for canceling Voyagers! SHAME on the blind ABC Eye and the stuck up Peacock! SHAME!

And to keep true to this blog – I found a big Voyagers! connection here – The second to last episode of Probe was directed by Virgil Vogel, who directed the two great Voyagers! episodes – Created Equal and Bully and Billy. The co-star on the Probe episode was none other than Miss Agnes Spence herself, actress Sondra Currie. She was in the Voyagers! Pilot episode.

I urge all fans of sci-fi comedy/friendship shows to give this one a chance. Come on, it's only seven episodes. You can handle it!

At the very least, watch the Pilot movie. I LOVED it! You may be instantly hooked on the enigma of the brilliant Austin James. It seemed to be a tailor made role for Parker Stevenson and one of his very best.


  1. You really enjoyed it, then! As I said elsewhere, I have seen the pilot, though I've not got around to watching the rest yet. I guess it didn't grip me as much as I'd hoped. I found it a bit too quirky, like they were trying too hard to make his character odd. It's a good idea though, and it's always sad to see a show end so soon. I fell in love with a recent sci-fi detective show over here called "Paradox", which lasted all of six episodes before being axed. No fair!

    Calling Frank calm and collected made me smile. :) Calm, collected, and certifiably insane! And you never read the books?! I'd tell you to go and read them now, but you'd have to make sure you bought old, second-hand editions. The modern ones are terrible. *mutter mutter grumble grumble* I was crazy about those books growing up. My poor mother. I think she rather despaired! :D

  2. I understand what you mean about the show trying too hard with the character's quirks. But he does mellow out over the course of the series. In the first it's really like he's a young Doc Brown! lol. I like that insane edge Frank Hardy has, yet he's so mild about everything. Like in the King Tut episode he laughs kindly and under his breath tells the crazy girl, "you do it and I'll break every tooth in your mouth." roflol!

    And what years do you suggest I read? Considering HBoys have been around since the 20's!! lol. My guess is the seventies and eighties? I grew up on those for Nancy, but I did get hooked on her fifties stories. The hard cover yellow and blue books. lol. I always loved the eighties Frank and Nancy team ups. It was much more mature than the current ones.

  3. Actually, the best Hardy boys are the ones from the fifties and early sixties. That's the set I grew up with - got the fifties set from my older brother, and my parents bought the others for me when I really got into them. And I actually found a first edition of...Dang, I can't remember the title now, but it was the one with the stolen cars; one of the early ones in the series. I think maybe the second or third book.

    I did put a comment here earlier today, but apparently it got dumped. What I said then was simply, you're probably going to want to shoot me, but I always rather thought Stevenson looked a little like John Travolta, and it's especially obvious in these Probe pix. As for the Hardy boys series in the seventies, I didn't like it at all. I thought they dumbed it down too much; even then, the books were a lot more mature than the show.

  4. Hi Jake! Yes, I remember you told me you loved the HB series too. I'm sorry your comment got dumped. :( That happens to me on Facebook all the time too.
    Nope I won't shoot you, I agree! I think he looks a lot like a blonde Travolta! But I think Parker is handsomer. I'll really have to read the books to see the differences from the show. It must be hard to do a tv series, they always have to make so many changes and follow the censors or else everyone gets up in arms. We already know what they did to Voyagers! And that was a real kid's show!

  5. Parker Stevenson is better looking than John Travolta! I have never read the HB series , but I have read Nancy Drew ,when they made Nancy Drew four years ago I felt they made her too perfect and that is not how she was in the books. I thought the t.v. series was better. I love how you refer to the Peacock as stuck up! EmilyW

  6. Yes, I definitely agree that it's the sixties HB books that are better. There's one quite famous example. The book "The Flickering Torch Mystery" was quite an exciting adventure tale. For some reason, when it was republished in around the late sixties or early seventies, it had been completely changed into a story of attempted murder at a rock concert. My copy is the original story, and it's much better! I think the ones that I had were all sixties publications or a few from the seventies, as my family had collected them over the years from second hand stores. Some of the eighties ones were okay, but as that decade went on, they got seriously weird. Hardys wielding machine guns?! I love adventures where stuff gets blown up a lot, but I do not expect that from a pair of teenage boys...

    I have no idea what the earliest HB books are like, though! The twenties was an era of fun escapism in literature, but I have heard that the first few HBs were a little worthy and dull. Nancy Drew, of course, is simply not worth reading at all. :p

  7. I'm gonna have to go second hand. I'm sure the library doesn't carry the earlier ones.

    Hey Swordz, this was a good read-

    It's an article about one of the earliest ghostwriters for the HB and they discuss the twenties version of the books.

    I don't remember Frank and Joe holding machine guns! LOL. But wait, I was reading Nancy crossovers.

    I have a question. How old would you say Frank and Joe are on the TV show? I don't believe they are still teens. Joe had an ex in college, and neither of them are still in school. My guess is Joe is 19-20 and Frank is 21-22.

  8. It's a difficult one. I could never decide (I think I rambled a bit about it here and there while I was reviewing the show). They are always referred to as "boys", they're never seen to drink alcohol, and in season three - when they're working as federal agents - they're not allowed to carry fire arms! And yet Frank gets seduced by a jewel thief, and it's blatantly obvious what's happened between them; and then there's the very grown up Callie flirting with him in season one. I would have to conclude that the writers didn't have a clue how old they should be either! The annual produced to tie in with the series had Joe as sixteen (which makes him a year younger than in the books), and Frank as eighteen. There's no way that Joe is that young. I think you're free to interpret their ages as you choose.

    The machine gun book had them helping out in some kind of African revolution. They were driving about the place in a tank, and actually killed people. In another book, Joe's girlfriend was blown up by a car bomb. Strange days. I definitely prefer the gentle fisticuffs of earlier years!

  9. Thanks. I think I'll stick to 20 and 22. It's fanfic-It could always be a little time passed. I never saw season 3 so I'm skipping the department of investigation stuff for now. I still haven't seen a few episodes on Season 1 because of streaming rights on Netflix. doh! I'm sitting on the Nancy episodes-it's just no fun w/o Frank and Joe popping up.

    I was able to catch all of 2-and a few of them on YT. Someone else put up season 1 episodes but when you watch it it's choppy and buffered, a very weird encoding. darn!

    Since F&J are usually are two years apart..? Wait, it might be 1. I think it's 1 in the books. But Joe's always making a huge deal about how Frank is the oldest. I'll say 2.

    And don't forget that cougar woman after Joe in the episode Death Surf. She was obviously in her mid to late 30's and practically jumped his bones. It was so over the top. And at the end they showed him kiss her in the car!? Oh the ambiguity!

    Gee, I think I'll skip those eighties stories too. With so many ghost writers, you have people trying to break the 'rules' and writing whatever they please. And messing with canon.

  10. In the books they are always seventeen and eighteen, and have been now for getting on ninety years. :D I think if you want to age them a bit, they'd probably be mighty grateful! Certainly Parker Stevenson is more than one year older than Shaun Cassidy, so they might well be differently spaced in the series.

    That "cougar" you refer to was played by an actress who is only two years older than Shaun C, by the way! I checked her out on the IMDb when I watched that episode, as I was a little startled. :D I guess he was still rather a baby face back then, so he looked much younger.

  11. LOL 90 years! Yep, they need a few years on them.

    I know Parker was around 26 years old when he first played Frank Hardy, and Shaun was 20. They both have great young genes. Shaun definitely looked his age, and Parker, his skin was so smooth and he played Frank with a very soft-spoken manner, perhaps to seem even more younger. That's good acting.

    Oh boy, I'm so bad with guessing ages then. I can see why you were startled, cuz now I am! Oops. Maybe saying she was mid-late 30's was a stretch. But then again, maybe not. I'm 31 and people still think I'm 20-25. It depends on the lighting and day you catch me! lol.

  12. Fantastic article! I haven't watched Probe in awhile, but I agree with most of what you said abou the characters (especially how the female leads becomes more likable as the show progresses). Parker is totally underrated and has an interesting career that I wish was just a bit bigger, but then again, we might not have ended up with Probe!

    Again, this was wonderful and insightful. Thank you!

  13. Thank you for commenting Amanda, and for posting a link on your FB group page. I had fun writing this post and I couldn't resist putting in a bit about Frank Hardy and his big hair either. :D


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