Each week in "Finder of Lost Loves," Tony Franciosa sets out to find someone with whom someone else is aching to be reunited. And for the past five years, Franciosa's fans might have been anxious to send someone in search of him. The place to look would have been across the Atlantic.
"In the last five years, I've done plays and movies in Europe," said Franciosa. The work has ranged from the musical to the macabre and has taken Franciosa from England to Rome to Berlin. But, said Franciosa, sounding just a bit like one of the searching chracters from his new show, "as much as I adore Italy and England I live here -- all my roots are here."
And after five minutes on the phone with producer Aaron Spelling, Franciosa had cut a deal that would bring him home to his wife and three children -- at least for this TV season.
The assignment was for Franciosa to play an independently wealthy man whose wife has died and whose avocation becomes finding the lost loves of other people. Sometimes the lost love is an old flame (in a recent episode it was a former boyfriend who had since become a priest) and sometimes not (for example, a Vietnamese child seeking her American father). Franciosa is assisted by his sister-in-law, played by Deborah Adair. And Marcia Wallace, formerly the secretary on "The Bob Newhart Show," has something of the same job here, assisted by a computer.
The series replaces another Spelling effort, "Fantasy Island." Much of the network promotion for "Finder" made it sound lke another series designed to deal somehow with fantasy, and the extensive promotion during the Olympic Games, featuring Franciosa taking pensive walks along the beach, gave the series a moody, nostalgiac feel.
"In some segments there's a softness and nostalgia," said Franciosa. "But I don't think that's the style of the piece." Franciosa's son, Marco, saw the beach-walk promo and was struck with another idea: "Dad," he said, "the promo looks like a life insurance commercial."
Seriously, said Franciosa, "if there's a style to the show it is to give it a good feeling, upbeat -- but to give it a hard edge where it gets soft and a soft edge where it gets hard . . . I see the show as a romantic drama. I'm trying to make the character as real as possible."
The word in Hollywood is that there is a Los Angeles-area detective who does in real life the sort of thing Franciosa does on TV and that his operation provided inspiration for the series. But listeners to vintage radio may recall a popular seres that inspired both the L.A. gumshoe and the ABC series: "Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons."
Franciosa, who has kept his hand in American television in recent years through occasional guest shots, was a virtual fixture on the tube as a series star from the mid '60s to mid '70s. In 1964-65 he starred as publishing executive Farrow Valentine in "Valentine's Day," a show in which he was constantly chased by women whenever his mother, played by Helen Traubel, wasn't watching. From '72- '73 he starred with Hugh O'Brien and Doug McClure in "Search," the three playing secret agents who each wore a transmitter and earphone implanted in one ear; Burgess Meredith was Control. And from '75 to '76 he played "Matt Helm," a detective surrounded by fast cars and faster women, tailored after the Dean Martin movie series.
But it was in "The Name of the Game" that he did his most lasting TV work ('68-'71), a series that in some stylistic ways was years ahea of its time.
"Shows now copy the music from 'Name of the Game' a lot," he said, "and in other aspects too," such as the appearance of many guest stars. "Game" co-starred Franciosa, Robert Stack and Gene Barry, each of the three being featured, in turn, in the week's episode. It was, in a sense, three series in one, focusing one week on Barry, head of a publishing empire, then on Stack, who played an editor, and on Franciosa, a reporter. Susan Saint James was assistant to all three. To some extent, the series was a forerunner of a popular format today in which characters in a series are involved in storylines that stand independently of the others.
"Three separate crews shot eight shows apiece (each season)," said Franciosa. "Time could be taken with the scripts. That was extremely helpful. That's why the quality, if I may say so, was on a high order.
"One of the nemeses of TV entertainment is time -- there's not time to do things. You go from one thing to another. It's a medium that is voracious."
So far, Franciosa said, he feels "Finder" is shaping up well despite the constraints. "The front office is very enthusiastic, very up about it," he said. "Some of the storylines are a little weak," he acknowledged, "but we're trying to goose those up a bit."