Everyone is familiar with the Jerry Bruckheimer produced shows (Cold Case, the CSI franchise etc..) that have dominated the ratings for decades now but how many of you remember his first TV series back in 1997… the one that failed?
Soldier Of Fortune Inc. was a 1997 First Run Syndicated series that was about just what the title implies Soldiers of Fortune selling their services. Mainly this was to run Black Ops for the US Government, but they took on non-governmental contracts as well now and then.
For Season One the team was Major Matthew Quentin Shepherd (Brad Johnson) who was drummed out of the army after he disobeyed orders to save a fallen soldier and compromised the entire mission. His men saluted him as he was escorted off base despite him no longer being a soldier.
Staff Sergeant Benny Ray Riddle (Tim Abell) was kicked out of the Marines when he also disobeyed a direct order from the UN which he believed was contrary to the interests of the United States. Margo Vincent (Melinda Clarke) is an ex-CIA officer who left the agency of her own free will only to continue her work without authorization. Lt. Jason “Chance” Walker (Réal Andrews) was an army vet who was forced into retirement when he was injured on a mission. Staff Sergeant Christopher “C.J.” Yates (Mark Sheppard) is British SAS and the demolitions expert of the team. Ricardo “Rico” Valesquez was used a few times when needed and Lieutenant Gunter Hauer was a member of the team killed in the first episode. Xavier Trout (David Selby) is the person who routinely hires out the team for their missions.
The missions could consist of anything from rescuing US prisoners that don’t officially exist to overthrowing small third world governments to extracting hostages in a foreign embassy to stopping a rogue US sniper from assassinating Castro… things that the US can’t be caught doing.
Each Season One episode is structured much as you would expect with the opening pre-credits teaser giving us the situation, Trout coming to the beachside bar that the team operates out of and then the story moving forward. Soldier of Fortune Inc. episodes were very action heavy and used an interesting editing technique of coming back from commercial break with a black and white few seconds of the end of that break so the same few seconds bookended each segment of the show (something NCIS would begin to use constantly once it was established).
The show was a VERY expensive series for a First Run Syndicated series and therefore relied on heavy use of product placement in the stories which does get kind of annoying once you notice it.
When you break down season 1 of Soldier Of Fortune Inc. it comes off as a much smarter and more realistic version of the A-Team with the team members often having to take on disguises or false identities to achieve their goals. I mean it when I say the show was well written, odd episode aside it was very well done.
Engaging stories and with what looked like to be a main character killed in the pilot you were never sure if every character would actually make it to the next episode. Also that many episodes would refer back to older episodes there was a sense of continuity with the show (this is an issue when it comes to home video, more on that later).
Season One did okay in the ratings, but didn’t break any new ground ratings wise and with it’s larger than normal budget some changes had to be made so Season Two was a complete overhaul. This began with a name change. The show was no longer Soldier Of Fortune Inc... it was now Special Ops Force (still being abbreviated as SOF oddly).
For Special Ops Force Mark Sheppard and Réal Andrews were let go from the cast (one line of dialog stating they had taken work in other states) and to replace them were David Eigenberg and (I am serious) Dennis Rodman!
Rodman was the “bad boy of basketball” at this time and was expanding into acting so it was thought he could really gain up some interest in the ratings… the exact opposite happened.
People were so off put that this realistic and plausible military show would add such a cartoonish actor to their roster the audience they did have tuned out.
While ratings never really improved I can say Rodman was far less of the distraction than I (and everyone else) thought he was going to be. His character of Deke Reynolds was the teams weapons man and other than a few spotlight episodes (every character got at least 2) he was really only in a few minutes of most episodes.
The team would need something for the mission, they would find him and he would outfit the team and they would go off and continue the story.
He was really only supporting cast most of the time.
David Eigenberg as Nick Delvecchio on the other hand was a great shot in the arm for the series. He was a DEA agent who was an expert at lying and deception to the point we (the viewers) were never sure we could trust this character. He was funny and charismatic and made a good addition. Julie Nathanson was also added as dim-witted waitress at the bar/headquarters who played a huge role in the finale and what would have been season 3 had there been one.
Special Ops Force was a little more showy and less realistic than Soldier Of Fortune Inc. but was still a fantastic show. Viewers disagreed though and Special Ops Force was cancelled after only 17 of the ordered 22 episodes were shot. This left some plot threads dangling but Episode 17 ended on a huge cliffhanger that could have radically shaken things up if it had gone for another year.
SOF (either one) were great series that no one seems to remember and even fewer watched from 1997 to 1999.
It may be forgotten so much today due to it’s lack of a real VHS or DVD presence. I am not sure if it is a legal issue or something else but there was only a single VHS release (simply titled Soldier Of Fortune Inc.) which was also released on DVD.
In Japan the Special Ops Force season was released on DVD due to Rodman being huge over there, but no release for Season One (the Season Two is long OOP though so it will fetch high prices). There is a huge problem with the VHS tape and DVD that is out there though.
Remember when I mentioned that the episodes had continuity to them?
Well episodes 14 and 15 were the only expressly made two part episodes of the entire series so someone decided that they could just edit those two episodes into a “movie” and put that out. Well guess what?
Those episodes were a two-parter for a reason, they are extremely continuity heavy and if you have not watched the previous thirteen episodes you will beyond lost into what is happening since events from EVERY episode are used to move this plot along.
So many people picked up this “movie” only to be confused from the get go. As a stand alone “movie” the story makes ZERO sense. Why they didn’t simply package the first two episodes into a “movie” is beyond me.
So SOF is a show I feel is worth seeking out (all of the episodes are on YouTube as of this writing).