The Most Deadly Game
In early January 1970, Inger began filming Run Simon Run at the Papago Indian Reservation near Tucson, Arizona. Filming of the ABC Movie of the Week presentation lasted until mid-February. At some point during that spring, she agreed to return to network television in Aaron Spelling's proposed fall mystery/crime series, ZigZag. Produced by Morton Fine, David Friedkin, and Joan Harrison, the show was about a crack team of criminologists who investigated unusual, "unsolvable" murders. Co-starring with Inger would be veteran actors Ralph Bellamy and George Maharis, both of whom she had worked with in the past. Each of the three lead actors seemed perfectly cast for their characters:
Ralph Bellamy = Mr. Ethan Arcane
Mr. Arcane is an independently wealthy industrialist/capitalist and student of human psychology when it comes to the subject of murder. A philanthropist and collector, Arcane is fascinated by the interplay of motive, method, and mindset involved in murder, the connection between behavioral trends and patterns, and often the apparent lack of the same; hence the original working title of the show, ZigZag.
George Maharis = Jonathan Croft
Croft is the active field investigator, both suave and street-wise, who can more than hold his own in a fight. A former military intelligence officer, he is recruited by Arcane to join the team and initially refuses, but later relents because of his sense of justice and growing interest in the team's female lead, Vanessa.
Inger Stevens = Vanessa Rovary (sp? Vanessa's last name as mentioned in original presentation material; later changed to "Smith" when Yvette Mimieux joined the cast)
Vanessa is a beautiful, poised, and sophisticated woman; she has the ability to move almost effortlessly from chatting with the intellectual elite to going undercover. Impeccably coiffed, her physical appearance belies a sharp, analytical mind of a seasoned investigator.
On many of the online databases that describe the show, ZigZag is listed as an episode (unaired pilot episode 0)of the broadcast program which was subsequently renamed The Most Deadly Game when production was resumed after Inger's death. At this time, it is uncertain whether Inger ever finished shooting an entire pilot episode of the series. Given the time frame from Inger's return from Tucson to her actions thru April 1970, there is a narrow window of opportunity for a pilot to have been filmed. It is believed that in lieu of filming a complete pilot episode of the show (which was the industry norm at the time), a "highlight" reel/teaser/trailer was made instead, to be shown to prospective sponsors to sell the show. The trailer ran for mere minutes, but apparently it was enough for the sponsors who were sold on the star power and premise of the program. It was also fortunate enough to be coming from Aaron Spelling Productions, given Spelling's track record of producing hit shows for the networks(it must be remembered that from the late 1960's thru the 1980's, Spelling was a prolific television producer, churning out a number of hits; his programs almost singlehandedly accounted for ABC's meteoric rise to the top of network rankings in the 1970's). Combining the casting of Bellamy, Maharis, and Inger (all recognizable TV veterans) and the teaming of producers Fine, Friedkin (I Spy fame) and producer Joan Harrison (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and adding in eleagant costuming and exciting locales, the production had the ingredients to deliver a successful, if not a hit show, for the fall 1970 season. Inger's return to network series television would also be a major talking point to promote the show. As mentioned previously, she had already completed a number of interviews promoting the show in early April, and dined with Spelling and his wife (along with Inger's date Burt Reynolds) to celebrate her signing onto the show on the evening of Monday, April 27th (Reynolds himself also had reason to celebrate, as he was set to star in his own police show debuting that fall, Dan August.
The events of April 30th changed everything. With Inger's untimely passing, an immediate search began for her replacement. Actress Yvette Mimieux was soon announced and signed to replace Inger, and production went ahead with the new cast in place. Ms. Mimieux, a talented and gifted film/tv performer in her own right, should be commended for taking on the task of continuing the series under such difficult circumstances. ZigZag was renamed The Most Deadly Game, and the show premiered on ABC on October 10, 1970 to lukewarm reviews. Ultimately, the show completed and aired 12 episodes, with the final episode shown on January 16, 1971. The program was not renewed.
It is difficult to assess what impact if any, Inger's death had on the ultimate success of the show. In a similar vein, it is equally difficult to speculate how the show would have fared if Inger had lived. Since her death occurred during the early stages of pre-production, it was relatively easy to re-name the character and have the writers then pen scripts with the unique qualities that Ms. Mimieux brought to the role. The loss of one key performer did not seen sufficient to derail the efforts of an ensemble cast, but there is little doubt that the production company pressed on under a persistent gray cloud. In the end, the viewers and ratings were simply not there to justify continuing the show.
Show below are a number of images associated with the show, drawn from some of the promotional press material that was released. A early publicity brochure for the program with Inger in the credits sold on EBay for nearly $100 dollars, a true collectible. Run Simon Run was indeed Inger's last film role, but these images of her in ZigZag are the final scenes of her acting career: it ended where it began, from a housewife in a Vel detergent commercial to Vanessa, ace criminologist, roles for television. With all due respect to her motion picture successes, Inger Stevens remains a television icon.
Below: (left) press photo showing Yvette Mimieux with Maharis and Bellamy; (right) program description from Fall Preview edition of TV Guide, September 12, 1970.