REACHING THE BREAKING POINT

by Lisa Oldham (c)2011

Over the past year or so I've obtained some intriguing memorabilia relating to Paul Richards' 1963-'64 television series Breaking Point. I'm going to share it below, but first, here's a bit of background info about the show:

Paul Richards' starring role in Breaking Point almost didn't happen.

While in its planning stages, the series was known as Doctor X. The lead role of young psychiatrist "McKinley Thompson" had been offered to up-and-coming young thespians such as Robert Redford, Cliff Robertson and Peter Falk, all of whom declined it. 

Paul Richards' name reportedly came up in early casting discussions, but was tossed aside. Richards didn't take his rejection lying down. In a 1964 interview he explained, "...I wanted the part. I knew it was my role or would be if I could ever get to read for it. So one day I got fed up and demanded that I be allowed to read for the role."

The determined actor stayed up until 4:00 am learning his lines. He showed up for a screen test later the same day with only 10 minutes remaining after all the other actors had tested.

The show's executive producer, George Lefferts, said he'd never heard of Paul Richards, but after seeing him audition, Lefferts decided on the spot that Richards was his "Dr. 'Mac''.

Breaking Point was cleverly introduced by having the first part of its opening story, For This Relief Much Thanks, air as an episode of ABC's already popular Ben Casey medical drama (both series were part of the Bing Crosby Productions stable). The second part of the story, Solo for B-Flat Clarinet, aired as the official debut episode of Breaking Point on September 16, 1963. 

Airing at 10:00 pm on Monday nights, Breaking Point was scheduled opposite another "problem play" on CBS, the gritty East Side/West Side starring George C. Scott as a brooding social worker in New York City. Since this was the era when most US viewers had only three major broadcast networks to choose from--and long before the dawn of VCRs, DVDs, DVRs, Tivo, Netflix and "on demand" viewing--those interested in quality television were faced with the weekly dilemma of deciding which of the two shows to watch.

Cecil Smith, television columnist for the Los Angeles Times, noted the viewers' frustration and added that he himself chose to watch Breaking Point:

"I must confess I am more interested, personally, in psychiatry than in social work and consequently prefer Breaking Point. It is easier for me to identify with mental pressures in this sunlit land than with any sort of pressures in New York's dank tenements."

Incidentally, this writer [LLO] has seen a number of episodes of both series, and I, too, prefer Breaking Point, and not just because of Paul Richards. Both series are well-written and well-acted. Too often, however, the plots of East Side/West Side snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Just when it seems justice will prevail, the characters end up no better--and sometimes even worse--than when the episode began. On Breaking Point each episode usually ends on a note of life-affirming hope.

Breaking Point didn't shy away from tough topics, though. It addressed provocative subjects such as rape, infidelity, abortion, autism, suicide and the plight of senior citizens. It was also one of the first prime-time series to openly mention homosexuality. In an episode titled "The Bull-Roarer", a sensitive young man worries about his uneasiness around women. The episode's director, Ralph Senensky (who describes Breaking Point as "one of the greater achievements of early sixties television"), candidly discusses filming "The Bull-Roarer" on his fascinating website.

Senensky directed two other episodes of Breaking Point including "Shadow of a Starless Night," in which Dr. Thompson mysteriously disappears at the beginning of the story and is spelled by another young psychiatrist, Dr. Watkins. On his website, Senensky suggests that Charles Robinson, the actor playing Dr. Watkins, was being given a trial run as a possible replacement for Paul Richards, because some people associated with Breaking Point apparently feared that Richards, despite being a very talented actor, didn't possess enough "star power" for the series to be renewed.

Senensky's theory seems plausible: Meta Rosenberg, the agent/producer who created Breaking Point, later groused in a video interview that the show would have probably remained on the air longer if a more "successful" actor (such as her then-client, Robert Redford) had played the lead.

Whatever. The show's weighty subject matter and late Monday time slot probably didn't help its renewal chances, either. Both Breaking Point and East Side/West Side were regularly beaten in a three-way ratings race by NBC's breezy tunefest, Sing Along With Mitch.

However, when Breaking Point was cancelled after only 30 episodes, TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory claimed that more viewers had protested its cancellation to him than any other show axed that season (which included East Side/West Side).

Unfortunately, Breaking Point is rarely aired today and is largely forgotten or unknown by most viewers. Some episodes can be viewed via bootleg videos, but this thoughtful, well-crafted series cries out for a full-scale, official DVD release. Hopefully, an enlightened distributor will answer the call. Until then, here's a peek at some photos and other memorabilia from the one-season wonder that was Breaking Point.

The Sketch in the Script

"Crack in an Image" was the seventh episode of Breaking Point to air. Broadcast on October 28, 1963, "Crack in an Image" was filmed in late August and early September of 1963. I know this because I have an original script for the episode:

Judging from the handwritten notes inside, I believe this script was used by actor Mark Richman (later billed as Peter Mark Richman), who played "Steve Anson", an ambitious politician whose emotionally unstable wife (Kim Hunter) is being treated by Dr. Mac. The name "Steve" is circled repeatedly and the character's lines are bracketed with pencil marks. There's also a drawing sketched on one page along with some dialogue:

Is this sketch a caricature of Paul Richards? Or, his co-star Eduard Franz? Or, perhaps it's a self-portrait of the artist (presumably Peter Mark Richman?) According to the IMDb, Mr. Richman is still acting at age 84, so if he happens to see this, hopefully he can fill in the blanks about this sketch in the script.

Breaking Point - The Comic Book?

Well, not exactly a comic book, but several episodes of Breaking Point were presented in graphic novel format by TV Adventuras, a Spanish language publication. TV Adventuras printed actual images and dialogue from Breaking Point, which was titled Crisis when it aired in Latin America.

I was lucky enough to find four of these rare magazines from the mid-1960's. The cover shown below is for the novelization of the episode "Whatsoever Things I Hear":

The image below is from the novelization of the episode "Solo for B Flat Clarinet". I'm rather fond of it:


Rough translation: "Lisa approached him and kissed him lightly
 on the cheek to thank him for his great understanding." ;-)
 

My favorite episode of Breaking Point, "Confounding Her Astronomers", has been posted (in four parts) on YouTube:

COMING SOON - Dr. Mac Sees Stars: Special Guest Patients on Breaking Point


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