When the final, curtailed season of Remington Steele launched on Jan. 5, 1987, it represented one of those classic moments when show-business bosses demonstrated their amazing ability to make strange decisions.
The crime show starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan wasn’t unpopular – in fact, it had delivered comfortable ratings throughout its previous four seasons. Viewers remained fascinated by the adventures of private investigator Laura Holt (Zimbalist), who’d invented a fake male boss to help secure clients in a sexist environment and hired an unnamed con man (Brosnan) to pretend to be Steele.
Alongside the detective drama came a layer of romantic comedy as the sexual tension between the lead characters ebbed and flowed.
The role had made Brosnan’s name, although he said he was nothing like the character he played. “He is very sure of himself; I’m not that much of an extrovert,” he told The Washington Post in 1985. “And I am not as silly as the character. I am much more practical. … I wouldn’t say I’m more macho, but I can handle myself.”
Playing what he called a “champagne and cocktails” type of person led to comparisons to James Bond, who’d most recently been played onscreen by Roger Moore. “I think I’d put the man in the coffin then … just doing a harder-edged Remington Steele,” Brosnan reflected. “But yes, yes, I would do it.”
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Despite constant rumors that the actors didn’t get along (one member of the production said Zimbalist and Brosnan almost never spoke to each other off camera), Remington Steele remained a hit show. The problem appeared to be that since NBC signed up the new Stephen J. Cannell show Hunter, there just wasn’t room for Steele in their schedule. So it was canceled … until the network chiefs performed an unexpected U-turn.
The reason was clear. With the show apparently ended, Brosnan was now linked with the vacant role of Bond for the upcoming movie The Living Daylights. As a result, interest in Remington Steele exploded. With just a few days to go until NBC’s option expired, a fifth season was commissioned. That cast doubt on Brosnan playing Bond; it also meant that Zimbalist couldn’t play Officer Anne Lewis in Robocop. “I’d done all the photos with the iconic gun pose,” Brosnan told The Guardian in 2019. “And my late wife and I were about to toast our new life with a bottle of Cristal when my agent called and said, ‘It’s fallen through.’ It was because I couldn’t get out of Remington Steele.”
It was in NBC’s interest for Brosnan to play Bond, so the network was open to doing whatever it took to have him in both roles. But that wasn’t good enough for Bond producer Cubby Broccoli, who’s reputed to have said that he didn’t want 007 associated with a TV show and went on to secure Timothy Dalton as Moore’s replacement. (It’s been reported that Dalton was his first choice anyway, although it’s also been said that when Broccoli first met Brosnan, he immediately wanted him, saying, “If he can act, he’s my guy.”)
Unsurprisingly, Brosnan wasn’t in position to say much in public. “He was devastated,” said actor Louie Anderson in 2019, recalling the time he made a guest appearance on Remington Steele during its fourth season. “It was a horrible thing for him. He did talk to me about it. He was heartbroken. He wasn’t mad – he was heartbroken. … He’s a lovely human being, and he was really heartbroken. .. It made me understand showbusiness. What you sign, make sure you read what you sign.”
What happened next was pure Hollywood. As soon as it became known that Dalton was going to be the next Bond, the renewed interest – financially speaking – in Remington Steele evaporated. NBC was committed to making a new season but seemingly cut its losses and ordered six movie-length episodes rather than a complete run of 22 episodes (although it’s possible the format was chosen to allow Brosnan to be Bond). With an additional love interest via new character Tony Roselli (Jack Scalia) and plots based on political and espionage themes, the closing run was a considerable success, ending with Steele’s real name and background revealed, and the suggestion that he and Holt were finally going to get together.
The network made the most of the 007 link, however, making sure Brosnan was seen in Bond-like costumes in promotional material. Then that really was the end, although the actor later expressed interest in a new version of the show through his own company, and NBC explored a reboot based on a more comedic approach. But that didn’t happen.
Brosnan eventually went on to become Bond, though the Remington Steele experience left him unsure whether he wanted to pursue the 007 role for a second time. “I heard rumblings that the part was available but ignored them because I didn’t want to put myself back in that emotional vortex,” he recalled. In the end, he signed on and helped revamp the movie franchise with 1995’s Goldeneye and three follow-up movies.