When Susan Saint James and Nancy Walker both did not return for the sixth season of McMillan and Wife, some massive retooling was required. The show was renamed "McMillan", with Rock Hudson carrying on as San Francisco police commissioner Stuart "Mac" McMillan for six more episodes as part of NBC's Sunday Mystery Movie. As the season opens, Mac has been a widower for about eight months, as his wife Sally (Saint James) has been killed in a plane crash. His housekeeper Mildred (Walker) has moved back east, but has been replaced by her sister Agatha (Martha Raye) who had previously appeared in the series.
That's not the end of the changes, as McMillan's long time sidekick Charles Enright (John Schuck) has been promoted to lieutenant, and no longer works directly with the commissioner. Mac's new right hand man is Sergeant Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland), a semi-competent, kind of klutzy type who mainly provides an unnecessary comedic element. Gloria Stroock returns as Mac's secretary Maggie.
Minus a spouse, and mostly on his own, Mac is the focus of attention, and assumes a more physically active role. Fortunately Rock Hudson was up to the challenge. The stories in the fifth season were very good, and the quality of the writing remains at a high level in the sixth and final season. With Sally out of the picture, Mac is usually heavily involved with one of his luscious female costars, which include Jessica Walter (Play Misty for Me, Archer), Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family), Julie Sommars (Matlock), Joan Van Ark (Knots Landing), Stephanie Powers (The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), and Karen Valentine (Room 222). As always, the program features an impressive array of top draw guest stars, who will be very familiar to fans of this era of television.
For the 1976-77 season the Mystery Movie returned to a 90 minute length, with episodes running around 72 minutes. One of the strongest stories is "Dark Sunrise" where Mac is on a fishing trip, when two people are killed in an explosion in his home. Mac is presumed dead, and enlists the help of Officer Maureen Rupert (Karen Valentine) to help him discover who wants him dead. Valentine is wonderful in this well-written and suspenseful tale that also features Julie Adams (The Creature from the Black Lagoon), and a young Kim Basinger (LA Confidential).
"Affair of the Heart" is another great episode, which has kind of a Columbo type vibe, as early on it is appears that a clue to the killer's identity has been provided. However as the investigation continues, it turns out that things are not exactly as they might seem. Larry Hagman, who was just about to assume the role of J.R. Ewing on Dallas, guests as Mac's dentist, while Stephanie Powers plays an assistant DA.
In "Coffee, Tea, or Cyanide?", Mac is on a plane bound for a vacation in Hawaii, when a man mysteriously dies of cyanide poisoning, and another man is found murdered. The plane returns to San Francisco, where Mac continues the investigation. Guest stars include Ed Nelson, Julie Sommars, Russell Johnson (Gilligan's Island), and Trisha Sterling (Coogan's Bluff).
The series finishes on a high note with the sleight of hand of "Have You Heard About Vanessa?" With a little homicidal encouragement, top model Vanessa Vale (JoAnna Cameron) has fallen to her death from her high rise apartment. Joan Van Ark guests as a photographer concerned about the loss of one of her best models.
Stuart McMillan is surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women, but has no lasting attachments to anyone. There's a little romance, but nothing too heavy. The writers appear to go easy on Mac, and avoid making one of his lady friends a traitor or murderer. Sally's presence is definitely missed, but with Mac a bit over-burdened, there's not much time for love.
Martha Raye is terrific as Agatha, who keeps pushing for Mac to find a wife, and is a solid replacement for Mildred. While the addition of Raye is a plus, replacing Charles Enright with Sergeant DiMaggio, is pretty much a failure. Speaking of disasters, around the same time, John Schuck was also starring as a robot in the ABC series Holmes and Yoyo, which was created by Leonard Stern, the executive producer of McMillan. The short lived Holmes and Yoyo, has come to be regarded as one of the worst TV series of the 1970's.
Fans of McMillan and Wife will note that although similar, McMillan obviously lacks romantic playfulness, and just doesn't play quite the same. Still, McMillan is very well written, and the stories are engaging and entertaining. Rock Hudson is put to the test, and he comes through with flying colors. After the 1977 season the NBC Mystery Movie (1971-77) came to an end, closing the book on a notable period in television, as Columbo (45 episodes), McCloud (46 episodes), and McMillan and Wife/McMillan(40 episodes), each part of the original lineup, all managed to complete the entire run.