‘The Streets of San Francisco’: 7 Things to Know About the Series That Launched Michael Douglas’s Career

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Michael Douglas, Karl Malden in ‘Streets of San Francisco’ (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

How’s this for a Saturday night primetime lineup: All in the Family, Emergency!, The Bob Newhart Show, Mission: Impossible, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And into that mix in the fall of 1972 dropped another future classic: The Streets of San Francisco.

The drama starred Oscar winner Karl Malden as veteran cop Mike Stone and future Oscar winner Michael Douglas as his protégé, Steve Keller, who caught the baddies doing bad things on the streets of the city by the Bay. Known for its focus on story, a roster of future superstar guests, and doing the San Francisco tourism board’s job for it in using the city as its set, the Quinn Martin-produced series ran for five successful seasons on ABC and helped launch Douglas’s career, which is still going strong 45 years later.

In honor of the new release of The Streets of San Francisco: The Complete Series DVD box set, we’ve gathered a few pithy facts about the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated series, including the book that inspired it, the old Hollywood friendship that inspired its casting, and the future superstars who visited before they were famous.

1. Karl Malden had been a long-time friend of Michael Douglas’s father, Kirk. Malden and the senior Douglas met when they were both young actors doing summer theater in the Adirondacks in 1940. When Malden and producer Quinn Martin were searching for Malden’s co-star for The Streets of San Francisco, a young man walked in for a meeting and immediately looked familiar to Malden.

“’You’re a Douglas, aren’t you?’” Malden asked the actor. “He started to laugh. ‘Yes, I am. I’m Michael.’ We made small talk, and when we parted company that day, I told him to send my love to his father, my old Tamarack Playhouse pal…” Malden wrote in his 1997 book, When Do I Start?: A Memoir. He also immediately recommended to Martin that he hire Douglas to be one of three co-stars… along with him and the city of San Francisco.

Photo: Amazon

2. The series is based on characters in Carolyn Weston’s 1972 novel Poor Poor Ophelia, the first of three books in the Krug and Kellog series. Al Krug became Lt. Mike Stone in the TV show, while his partner Casey Kellog became Inspector Steve Keller.

3. Michael Douglas left the series after the second episode of Season 5. He had won the Best Picture Oscar earlier in 1976 as the producer of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and was itching to dive fully into a movie career that would go on to include another Oscar win — as Best Actor — for Wall Street. His Steve Keller was written out of the series by sending the character off to be a teacher, and after considering Tom Selleck and Don Johnson as his potential replacement, Quinn Martin hired All My Children star Richard Hatch to play Inspector Dan Robbins, Mike Stone’s new partner.

Neither audiences — nor, Malden wrote in When Do I Start?, his co-star — took to the switch, though, and the series was cancelled after five seasons. Hatch went on to star in the original Battlestar Galactica, and Selleck and Johnson ended up with crime-themed hit series of their own not too far in the future.

4. Don Johnson and Tom Selleck both made guest appearances on The Streets of San Francisco. Selleck played a surveillance expert in Season 4’s “Spooks for Sale,” which was directed by Michael Douglas in his only directorial effort to date. Other famous guest stars on the series: James Woods, Mark Hamill, Nick Nolte, John Ritter, Brenda Vaccaro (Douglas’s then-girlfriend), Anthony Geary, Larry Hagman, and Douglas’s mother, Diana.

More famous connections: Nicholas Colassanto, the Emmy-nominated actor who played beloved Coach on Cheers, was also a prolific TV director in the ‘70s, and directed Season 3’s “The Programming of Charlie Blake” episode of Streets.

And then there’s Season 5’s “Dead Lift,” in which then-bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger made his TV acting debut playing — what else? — a bodybuilder, who’s so sensitive to criticism that he shakes a woman to death when she laughs at him for looking like a “big ape” when he shows her his bodybuilder moves. Finer acting you have not witnessed:

5. Once the show started filming in San Francisco, locals began associating the actors with their roles. Malden said he found out just how strongly one morning on his way to work. “I stepped out of the Huntington Hotel, my San Francisco home away from home, at [7 a.m.] to be picked up to go to work,” he wrote in When Do I Start? “Suddenly, someone grabbed me, pointing, and shouted, ‘He went that way!’ I looked down the street to see a young man clutching a woman’s purse that he had obviously pinched on the cable car clanking down the hill. I looked back at the man who had grabbed me. He was studying me, waiting for me to give chase. Luckily for me, my car pulled up at that moment, I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ll be late for work,’ and ducked inside the car, leaving the poor eyewitness wondering what had happened to the Mike Stone he relied on. Whatever had become of San Francisco’s finest?”

6. Douglas didn’t return for the 1992 Back to The Streets of San Francisco reunion TV movie, but Steve Keller did. The plot of the film revolved around now Captain Mike Stone (Malden) investigating Keller’s disappearance, only to find his old mentee, now a criminology professor, had been murdered. Douglas, who was filming Basic Instinct at the time, didn’t appear in the current timeline, but archive footage from the original series was used in the movie to recall Stone and Keller’s friendship.

7. Karl Malden and Michael Douglas forged an off-screen friendship that continued for the rest of Malden’s life. Malden, an Oscar winner himself as Best Supporting Actor for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1952, presented Douglas with a People’s Choice Award in 1996, calling him the son he never had. Malden, who was 60 when The Streets of San Francisco premiered, died in 2009, at age 97.

Karl Malden Salutes Michael Douglas – 1996… by videohollic

The Streets of San Francisco: The Complete Series is available on DVD from CBS DVD/Paramount.

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