These days, Blake Edwards is best known as the director of the Pink Panther films. However, back in the 1950s, Edwards was best known as the creator of Richard Diamond, Private Detective, a radio drama that was revived as a TV series in 1957 on NBC. The suits at NBC were so pleased with Richard Diamond that the following year they asked Edwards to come up with another private eye show.
Edwards had a quirky sense of humor, and it may be that he set out to give the lead character in his new show the most blatantly phallic name on television: Peter Gunn. He may have expected NBC to veto the name, but they didn't, and on Monday, September 22, 1958, Peter Gunn had its television debut.
Peter Gunn was not your typical tough private eye. He was smooth, sophisticated, a snappy dresser, and a jazz aficianado. Instead of swilling rotgut in a run-down office, he liked to sip a very occasional martini at a jazz club called Mother's. The show's theme song and incidental music, composed by Henry Mancini, echoed Gunn's taste for jazz. In fact, you may not be aware of it, but you're already familiar with the "Peter Gunn Theme" (here it is in the trailer for the Blues Brothers movie).
Peter Gunn was an example of a now-extinct art form, the half-hour television drama. These days, it's not uncommon for a plot thread to extend through an entire season, or even for the entire run of a series. This gives the writers and producers a lot of freedom, but that freedom comes at a cost. The ability to create the necessary elements of a drama, such as plot, characters, and background, and do it all in 30 minutes, requires a great deal of discipline and a knack for concise storytelling that you don't see much on television any more.
Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can now see the pilot episode of Peter Gunn, "The Kill", in glorious black and white (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). And if 30 minutes of Peter Gunn isn't enough, a search through YouTube will also produce the next three episodes, "Streetcar Jones", "The Vicious Dog", and "The Blind Pianist".