Jerry McNeely, Creator of TV’s 'Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law,' Dies at 86

12:36 PM PST 07/18/2014 by Mike Barnes
Courtesy Joel McNeely

He received an Emmy nom for writing the emotional 1977 telefilm "Something for Joey," based on the true story of a Penn State football star and his cancer-stricken kid brother.

Jerry McNeely, an Emmy Award-nominated writer and creator of such series as Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, died Monday of Parkinson’s disease in Tarzana, his son, film and television composer Joel McNeely, said. He was 86.

McNeely received Emmy and Humanitas nominations for penning the emotional 1977 CBS telefilm Something for Joey, based on the true story of Heisman Trophy winner and Penn State running back John Cappelletti (played by Marc Singer) and his younger brother (Jeff Lynas), who had leukemia.

McNeely was one of television’s most dependable writers in the 1960s and ‘70s, penning episodes of Dr. Kildare, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Ironside, The Name of the Game and Marcus Welby, M.D.

He created and wrote multiple installments of the ABC lawyer drama Owen Marshall, which starred Arthur Hill and aired for three seasons from 1971-74; Lucas Tanner, a drama about a high school teacher (David Hartman) that ran on NBC in 1974-75; and Three for the Road, a 1975 CBS family adventure starring Alex Rocco, Vincent Van Patten and Leif Garrett.

In the 1980s, McNeely developed and produced the Glen Larson ABC medical series Trauma Center, starring James Naughton, and produced the NBC family drama Our House, with Wilford Brimley and Shannen Doherty.

Earlier, he wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone, Mr. Novak, The Virginian, The Streets of San Francisco and McMillan and Wife. He also directed episodes of Owen Marshall, Lucas Tanner and Steven Bochco’s Paris, starring James Earl Jones.

McNeely was born June 20, 1928, in Cape Girardeau, Mo. He received his B.A. from Southeast Missouri State College, then attended the University of Wisconsin, where he received his master's and — after Army service during the Korean War — a Ph.D. in speech.

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He joined the University of Wisconsin faculty in 1956 and eventually received a full professorship. An avid musician, he produced and directed numerous plays and musicals with the Wisconsin players (and eventually wrote lyrics for songs in several of the TV shows he wrote).

McNeely wrote his first teleplay, The Staring Match, for Studio One in 1957 and won a contest with his script The Joke and the Valley, which Hallmark Hall of Fame produced in 1961.

His later TV longform scripts included The Critical List (1978), Fighting Back (1980), Tomorrow’s Child (1982), Sin of Innocence (1986) and When You Remember Me (1990).

In an unusual situation, McNeely remained on the Wisconsin faculty throughout his prolific period of the 1960s, writing long distance and occasionally commuting. He resigned from the university and moved to California to pursue TV writing and producing in 1975.

In addition to his son Joel — a frequent Seth MacFarlane collaborator who composed the music for A Million Ways to Die in the West — McNeely's survivors include his wife Ellen, other children Melissa, Betsy and Ian and two grandchildren.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4

 

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