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40 Years After Hart to Hart

Several years back, my wife and I got into a nice little routine that we sometimes reminisce about.  It was a fun groove that started around early 2018 or so.  We didn't have any kids yet then, and I had enough seniority on my particular plane that I didn't need to work very often.  When I did, I was always home by the end of the day.  It was like having the best part-time job in the world... but things are a little different these days where I'm often away up to 5 nights at a time.

I've always been the type of person who gets out of bed the second the alarm goes off, but my wife likes to wake up "slowly."  Her first alarm would go off at 5:30, next at 6, and again at 6:30.  The last alarm went off at 7, followed by her rushing out the door for work at 7:30.  

She'd fall back asleep in between alarms, but I'd have been up since 5:30.  Somewhat annoying, but I couldn't be too mad about it.  On most days, when I leave for work, it's before 3 in the morning, and she's let it be known that I've woken her up when I get out of bed, so I guess 5:30 isn't too bad.  Plus, I'd have gotten all caught up on the news and social media and whatnot on my phone by the time she left for work and then had the whole day for myself.  

I'd have gotten out of bed and found something to do, but when we lived on Long Island, our house wasn't much bigger than a tiny New York City apartment.  So, any noise anywhere sounded like it was right next to the bed.  After a few mornings of failing to start my day quietly, I took to just watching television (on mute) while I lay in bed, dozing in and out as I waited for her to start her day.  I don't want to give you the wrong impression because it wasn't that bad, and I never really got too mad at it.

There was one minor issue, though.  There isn't much to watch early on a weekday morning.  I started watching the news, but that got old (and infuriating) pretty fast, and eventually, I found old reruns on Hallmark.  At first, it was a great lineup of shows like Golden Girls or Frasier, but at some point, things changed.

In late spring of '19, we found out that she was pregnant!  Thankfully, she didn't have the morning sickness some mothers are stricken with, but what she lacked in nausea, she made up for with insomnia.  Coupled with the excitement, nerves, and daydreams about how wonderfully our lives were about to change, it was safe to say we both slept very little.  And we loved it!

Even though we ended up being awake all different hours of the night, we quickly grew fond of that time.  We'd often spend our nights lounging in bed, in and out of sleep, talking, and watching classic television on Hallmark.  

The network's lineup also changed somehow just about then.  I think it had something to do with the annual Christmas movie marathon ending, but I honestly can't remember.  Whatever the cause, the sitcoms I enjoyed moved back to the middle of the night and were replaced with hour-long drama/mystery series like Murder, She Wrote, and Diagnosis Murder.  

We were frequently up late (or early?) enough for the Golden Girls and the Frasier reruns, but come morning, we'd enjoy an episode of Diagnosis Murder or two.  When Diagnosis Murder ended, we'd leave the channel on and one day began watching a show we had never seen before.  

This show was from "before our time," and I would never have sought it out had we not been awake with nothing else to do.  We watched one episode, then two, and we were instantly hooked.  It was campy, funny, and entertaining.

It was Hart to Hart.

Hart to Hart quickly became a show we really enjoyed.  I wouldn't call it a "favorite," but it's certainly something we looked forward to watching every morning.  Today, it's still one of those shows we throw on at night to fall asleep to when nothing else is on.  Mostly, it just reminds us of that time in 2019, but also because it's an entertaining show. 

When I saw that May 22nd this year would be the 40th Anniversary of Hart to Hart's last episode, I just had to jump at the chance to revisit this series that starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers.  

In 1983, amidst a landscape of dark, gritty cop dramas, this glamorous, jet-set couple named Jonathan and Jennifer Hart appeared, grabbing viewers' attention with ritzy, glamourous escapades and the excitement of solving mysteries.  "Hart to Hart" wasn't the typical detective show; it was a fun blend of lighthearted crime-solving, romance, and witty humor, all wrapped up with a stereotypical 1980s elite-level lavish lifestyle.  

The show's entire premise is neatly summed up in the opening credits sequence, narrated by Max (Lionel Stander), the Harts' butler, chauffeur, and secretary.  

He says, "This is my boss, Jonathan Hart.  A self-made millionaire.  He's quite a guy.  This is Mrs. H.  She's gorgeous.  She's one lady who knows how to take care of herself.  By the way, my name is Max.  I take care of both of them - which ain't easy.  Cause when they met, it was... MURDAH!  (murder)"  

In the early 70s, famed screenwriter and novelist Sidney Sheldon (no relation) had written a script for a television movie for CBS titled "Double Twist," about a married couple who were both government spies.  The script remained dormant for several years before producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg decided to update the premise for a potential weekly series.  Spelling and Goldberg offered the script to screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had written several successful screenplays by then, including three of the James Bond movies (Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun, and The Spy Who Loved Me).

Spelling and Goldberg asked Mankiewicz to update the movie script into a weekly television show and that if his draft was successful, he could direct the pilot episode himself.  Mankiewicz rewrote Sheldon's original script, changing the title to Hart to Hart, and included an emphasis on the couple's steamy romance instead of focusing solely on crime-fighting.  The script was (obviously) successful, and Mankiewicz got to direct the pilot episode.  He remained a creative consultant to the series afterward for the rest of its time on the air.

Self-made millionaire Jonathan Hart was described as the picture of wealthy sophistication while remaining down to earth.  The producer's initial choice for the role was none other than Cary Grant; however, at seventy-five years old, Grant was effectively retired from acting for over a decade and was unlikely able to perform the required stunts and other physical acting.  Continuing their search, they looked for a younger actor who would embrace the same style, zest, and persona of what Cary Grant was famous for and quickly offered the role to Robert Wagner.  

No one else was considered for the role, although George Hamilton has claimed he was up for the part in the past.  Speaking about the personality each actor projected, Aaron Spelling said that if Hamilton had been signed for the role, "the audience would resent him for being that rich, but no one would begrudge Wagner a nickel."  

Wagner had been an established star long before Hart to Hart, including a 1956 film that I highly recommend you watch, titled "A Kiss Before Dying."  

Jennifer Hart, Jonathan's beautiful and intelligent wife, was a freelance writer who was described as the one who brought spunk and investigative curiosity to their partnership.  ABC wanted Natalie Wood, Wagner's real-life wife, to star as Jennifer Hart.  Wagner didn't think it was a good idea for the two to work together, and she ended up passing away shortly after the show began, but I'll skip over that entire subject.  However, Natalie Wood still appeared in the series when she made a cameo appearance during the pilot episode as an actress playing Scarlett O'Hara.  

Other choices for the role of Jennifer included Suzanne Pleshette, Lindsay Wagner (no relation to Robert), and Kate Jackson, who was coming off a hot three-year run on Charlie's Angels.  Robert Wagner suggested Stefanie Powers, who had previously made a guest appearance on Wagner's previous series "It Takes a Thief."  Powers previously appeared in the films "McHale's Navy" and "The Big Gamble."

Robert Wagner pressed the network to hire former boxer Sugar Ray Robinson to play the Hart's "majordomo" Max.  A majordomo is defined as someone who "speaks for, makes arrangements, and takes charge of another."  Basically, it's a personal assistant, chauffeur, butler, chef, and aide.  In any event, the network thought that a black man serving a wealthy white couple wouldn't play well on television and eventually turned to Lionel Stander.  Stander had also worked with Wagner in an episode of "It Takes a Thief," where he similarly played a lifelong friend named Max.

It was immediately apparent that Wagner and Powers had chemistry together, making their playful banter and romantic escapades a highlight of the show.  

As the story goes, Jonathan Hart was a self-made millionaire, and the CEO of a global conglomerate based in Los Angeles called Hart Industries.  His wife, Jennifer, is a former fashion designer and freelance journalist, and the couple live the picturesque jetset lifestyle.  Their glamourous life is interrupted each week by a new thrilling mystery, whether it be uncovering art heists, thwarting international spies, or rescuing kidnapped friends.  The charm of the show was how this power couple would navigate the challenges with intelligence, a touch of self-deprecating humor, and a campy style that is still fun to watch today. 

While the Hart's glamorous lifestyle was certainly appealing, especially in a day before Instagram "influencers," the strength of the show lay in its characters.  Jonathan and Jennifer weren't just wealthy crime solvers; they were a genuinely loving and supportive couple that was the opposite of the brooding, overly serious detectives that dominated television back then.  Their playful banter added a heartwarming layer to the show, making the audience care about their personal lives as much as their detective work.  

Hart to Hart thrived through its lighthearted approach to nearly everything.  The Harts were placed in glamorous locations around the globe, giving them an air of sophistication that we all like to dream about.  While each show presented a new murder, kidnapping, or other danger, it kept a comedic and romantic undertone.  This couple clearly still had "the hots" for each other after many years of marriage!

The two lived in a beautiful ranch-style estate, which is surprisingly simple given their supposed wealth.  It's lovely, yet not opulent.  The home used for exterior filming previously belonged to actors Dick Powell and his wife, June Allyson.  Powell was an old friend of Wagner and Aaron Spelling and allowed the use of the home for filming.  The Powell's house, known as Amber Hills, sits on 48 acres in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood, Los Angeles.  You can find the actual home at 3100 Mandeville Canyon Road, but the address given on the show for the Harts was 3100 Willow Pond Road, Bel Air.  

The series is currently under Sony Pictures Television's control.  It was remastered in 2000 for widescreen, high-definition presentations and can be seen on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Cozi, and other syndicated networks that air old content.   

The pilot episode aired on August 25, 1979, and the first season officially began on September 22, 1979.  After five seasons, the show ended on May 22, 1984.  

Nearly a decade after the series ended, Wagner and Powers reunited for a series of Hart to Hart "made for TV" movies.  Eight 90-minute movies were created between 1993 and 1996.  The first five films aired on NBC and the rest were broadcast on The Family Channel.  

Lionel Stander also returned to the television film series as Max, appearing in five of the eight movies.  Unfortunately, he passed from lung cancer on November 30, 1994.  He posthumously appeared in "Secrets of the Hart," which aired in March 1995.

The final film, "Till Death Do Us Hart," aired on August 25, 1996, seventeen years to the day after the pilot episode.  August 25th is an important day for our family, and it further connects us to this series in a fun little way.  

Following Hart to Hart, both Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers stayed quite busy.  

Wagner would go on to several supporting roles in various series and made-for-television films.  His career received a boost in the late 90s after he played Dr. Evil's right-hand man, "Number Two," in the Austin Powers trilogy.  Afterward, he had a few more high-profile film roles and a notable 13-episode tenure on the hit television show NCIS as Anthony DiNozzo, Sr.  

Interestingly, the character, Anthony DiNozzo, Jr., was played by Michael Weatherly, who had previously appeared in the film as Robert Wagner in "The Mystery of Natalie Wood."  Talk about awkward...

After 50 years of refusing to work with Raquel Welsh ever again (following a dispute during the production of "The Biggest Bundle of Them All"), they reunited on a 2017 Canadian television series, "Date My Dad."  Wagner quietly stepped away from acting after that and, as of writing, is enjoying his retirement at the age of 94.  

Stefanie Powers continued working after Hart to Hart ended.  She appeared in several television movies, such as "Deceptions" and "At Mother's Request."  Most of her work after Hart to Hart was on stage in New York and London.  Today, at 81, she seems to have stopped working and is enjoying her retirement.

In 2002, ABC attempted to revive the series as a "gay" Hart to Hart, with actor Alan Cumming attached to the project.  Titled Mr. and Mr. Nash, the series was supposed to feature a gay couple, both interior designers, who "stumble into a murder each week."  The premise never went into production.

In 2015, Deadline Hollywood reported that NBC had made a script commitment to a remake series of Hart to Hart, also featuring a gay male couple.  As of September 2020, this project was announced as "dead."  

As the band Fuel sings, "Leave the memories alone."  Let us just enjoy the 80s goodness of the original.  I have read about a theory where there are only seven stories in the world, and everything is just a variation thereof, but... I BEG Hollywood to leave the past alone and develop new ideas.  Please!

Forty years later, Hart to Hart has left its mark on television... and my family.  It paved the way for lighter crime dramas with stylish characters and glamorous settings.  The entire Hallmark Mysteries network and genre of films owes its existence to Hart to Hart.  The show's influence can be seen in other series of its time, such as "Murder, She Wrote" and "Moonlighting, which adopted similar elements of humor, occasional romance, and lighthearted mystery.  

Even four decades later, Hart to Hart continues to gain new fans.  The combination of glamour, travel, and mystery is a welcome escape from the often grim realities of modern television (and life).  

Watching it today reminds me of a different time.  It may have never won critical awards, but it has achieved a pretty loyal following that appreciates the charm and undeniable chemistry of Jonathan and Jennifer Hart.  


  1. Omg…

    First of all, I do vaguely remember Hart to Hart. I’m a little older than you (although not by much) but it was before my time, too. However, it definitely does ring a bell when I saw the title and read the details you mention.

    What struck a stronger chord with me was your description of your wife’s sleeping/waking habit. Because… MY WIFE DOES THAT STUFF TOO!!! Granted… what you described is actually worse than my wife - she does 10-minute snoozes and usually wakes up 30-40 minutes later (I don’t know how you deal with a 2-hour gap between the first alarm and her finally getting up!).

    Also, you mentioning the fond memories of when you and your wife were expecting your first child also brought up good memories of my own from when my wife was pregnant with our first child. He’s actually an adult now (him graduating HS last year was one of the reasons we went on a cross-country trip that summer), so that was a significantly longer time ago than when you and your wife were doing the Hart to Hart watching. By my math your kid’s about 5-ish right now, so while it’s great to look back… make sure you enjoy the present too. They only stay at that cute/innocent age for a short time. Enjoy it while it lasts! =P

    Anyway, thanks again for getting my week off to a funny start.

  2. I never minded the time in the morning, I got my best thinking (and mindless phone scrolling) in then. Since having our kid, she pops right out of bed like I do now though!

    1. Wow. Lucky! Mine still does the repeated snooze thing. It’s been 25+ years now, so I’ve given up hope of ever having a normal sleeping pattern.

      What makes it worse is my daughter takes after my wife - so we have TWO sets of alarms repeatedly going off in the mornings in my house. My sons are like me and just get up when it’s time, so sometimes we’re just sitting around the table during breakfast shaking our heads as the alarms just kinda alternate.