Checkmate Inc. worked out of Don Corey's beautiful Nob Hill bachelor pad. The set for this apartment was sensational, and was almost a fourth character. I really loved that apartment. I waited for the scenes that took place in Corey's elegant home, hoping to get a different angle on it. (Checkmate's John J. Lloyd won the Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction and Scenic Design.)
The three leads probably weren't paid much money, but the producers splurged on guest stars. A cool group of actors: Lee Marvin, Inger Stevens, Peter Lorre, Claire Bloom, Dan Duryea, Cyd Charisse, Richard Conte, Terry Moore, David Janssen, Angie Dickinson, Jack Lord, Elizabeth Montgomery, Charles Laughton, Tina Louise, Robert Lansing, Susan Oliver and Ralph Bellamy were a few.
My favorite episode was "The Murder Game", an Agatha Christie type story by Douglas Heyes ("Kitten With a Whip") that had an undercurrent of dark humor. A famed criminal lawyer (John Williams), who never lost a capital case, is dying. He learns that one of the clients he got off on a murder charge was really guilty. The lawyer invites several of his former clients to his house for a party, including the guilty one. He plans to murder the murderer. The lawyer also invites his former colleagues Don Corey and Carl Hyatt, and challenges them to stop him. "Checkmate" was on Saturday nights its first season, right after "Perry Mason", who the lawyer might have resembled.
Thriller writer Eric Ambler created this show. Ambler was married to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" producer Joan Harrison, who may have produced some of the early episodes.
John Williams received a Grammy nomination for the striking theme music. Saul Bass created the dazzling opening title credits.
Robert Lansing and Robert Sterling auditioned for the lead role of Don Corey along with Anthony George. Lansing was the choice of Universal executive Richard Lewis who developed the show, but CBS president Jim Aubrey didn't like Lansing's looks.
The Doug McClure character was originally going to be a woman, to be played by the lovely Joan O'Brien.
In the second episode of the second season, a new regular was mysteriously added. Jack Betts played investigator Chris Devlin. Betts had the tall, dark and handsome looks of Anthony George. Maybe George was having contract disputes with Universal, or maybe he had health issues. Or maybe Universal already had plans to move Doug McClure over to "The Virginian" the next season. Jack Betts had the lead in his first episode (with guest star Tony Randell) but after that he didn't get much screen time. I'm only sure of him being in one other episode (with guest star James Whitmore.) Jack Betts is still a very busy working actor ("Spiderman").
For me, this show jumped the shark the second season when "Checkmate" moved out of Don Corey's posh apartment into an expensive office suite. It just wasn't the same without that Nob Hill apartment. But for its first season, "Checkmate" was my favorite show, along with Rod Taylor's "Hong Kong".
Aaron Spelling tried to do a remake of "Checkmate" in 1970 called "The Most Deadly Game". George Maharis, Inger Stevens and Ralph Bellamy starred in the pilot. With that cast (two of whom were veterans of "Checkmate"), it should have worked. But even with Joan Harrison as one of the line producers, the execution was nowhere near as good as "Checkmate". Yvette Mimieux replaced Inger Stevens after her death.