Peter Gunn ran for three seasons from 1958 to 1961. Created by Blake Edwards, later famous for the Pink Panther movies among other things, the show starred Craig Stevens as the ultra-cool and very well-dressed private eye for hire who used jazz joints as his office. The house bands played music composed and arranged by Henry Mancini, who also supplied the innovative background score with its propulsive main theme. Fronting the band was Gunn's long-suffering lady love, Edie Hart, played by Lola Albright. Other regulars at Mother's included Mother herself, played by Hope Emerson in season one and Minerva Urecal in season two, Barney the Bartender (uncredited associate producer Byron Kane) and house pianist Emmett (Bill Chadney, who was married to Albright from 1961 to 1975 -- the actual pianist heard on the soundtrack was a guy named Johnny Williams, who later went on to write music for things like Star Wars). Another long-suffering acquaintance of Gunn was police Lieutenant Jacoby (Herschel Bernardi).
Each Peter Gunn episode is like a mini film noir, cramming an amazing amount of detail into 24 or 25 minutes, with quirky individuals, many of whom were played by well-known character actors or up-and-coming stars, atmosphere typical of the times (beatnik coffee houses, mobsters and hoodlums whose roots are in the Depression which ended only 20 years before), often a song by Edie or some other music featuring Los Angeles studio musicians like Shelley Manne or the Candoli brothers, surprisingly erotic moments between Gunn and his girl friend, and photography which harkens back not only to film noir, but German expressionism. And then there is the iconic music.
Peter Gunn has been well-served on records and CD. Mancini's music was re-recorded for two soundtrack albums, and the main theme has been covered by dozens of other musicians over the last fifty years.
On video, the show has has not fared as well. Episodes have been released on video tape, laser disc and DVD. Quite a few of them seem to have fallen into the public domain, because the quality leaves a lot to be desired, especially the tape and DVD releases, many of which are in compilations with other police and detective shows.
A&E Video released the first season on four DVDs in two box sets in 2002, each containing two DVDs. The quality of the prints used was not very good in many cases as far as the video and sound are concerned, and, despite the fact that it says on the boxes that the episodes are uncut, at least one of them was cut. The A&E sets are now out of print.
In England, Liberation Entertainment released the first two seasons in 2007 in two box sets, each containing five DVDs. The difference between these and the A&E release is like day and night. The prints are either very good or they have been cleaned up. The only problem is, these DVDs are in the PAL format, though most DVD players sold in North America these days can play both PAL and NTSC (the North American standard). The Liberation transfers sometimes have a slight lag to them (typical of PAL playback on NTSC players), but the overall quality is so much better, I doubt if anyone would really care about this. These sets are available on Amazon in the UK, though they went out of print briefly a couple of years ago.
In the USA, Timeless Media Group released the complete Peter Gunn on DVD in October 2012, and subsequently released each of the seasons separately.
In creating this episode guide, I have tried to keep my comments brief, since there are almost 40 episodes for each season. The quality of the first season in particular is very high -- there are only a couple of episodes which don't make the grade. Most of the reviews are taken up by the plot summaries, with additional comment where applicable, similar to what I have done with Hawaii Five-O.
If you have any comments or questions, I would be interested in hearing from you!
The RCA Peter Gunn soundtracks (click on image to see larger). These are Japanese CD reissues.