Why I Won’t Be Watching Nancy Drew on CBS

I got into an internet argument this week. Well, it wasn’t much of an argument, really. I made three comments and annoyed one opinionated little man before moderators stepped in and shut the argument down by deleting the entire thread.

Rather anti-climactic, to be perfectly honest.

I am not proud of that moment. I am, however, mystified by the reaction, especially since it wasn’t really on a subject that could be considered life-altering or earth-shattering.

It was about Nancy Drew.

I admit it: I am still a nerd about some of the books I read as a kid. Nancy Drew wasn’t my favorite, but she was near the top of my list, coming in a close fourth behind The Three Investigators, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden. And even though she wasn’t my favorite, there was still something special about Nancy and her friends George and Bess. My mom read those books. My niece read them. Even my daughter has read them.

So when I learned that CBS is planning to make a new Nancy Drew TV series, I was thrilled. I figured they would probably take some “liberties” with the franchise to modernize it, but that’s okay, right? I mean, every book has to undergo changes in the process of being adapted to TV or movies. How much could they really change such a well-known and established character?

Quite a bit, apparently. According to CBS president Glen Geller, the character will be “diverse.” He has been quoted as saying that she will not be Caucasian, and that he would be “open to any ethnicity.”  

Okay, a bit surprising, but fair enough. The world has changed a lot since the character was created, so I understand the reasoning behind changing her ethnicity. I’m cool with that.

But then Geller goes on to say that there will be other changes as well.

“Now in her 30s, Nancy is a detective for the NYPD where she investigates and solves crimes using her uncanny observational skills, all while navigating the complexities of life in a modern world.”

Hang on.

The books are about a teenager in a small town, solving mysteries with her friends while still in high school. The TV series is about an adult woman who solves crimes as a police detective in New York city.

Um, what?

Basically, that was the nature of my comment in the discussion in a Facebook group for those of us who  still have fond memories of the books we read and collected as kids.

So they are turning a white teenaged detective from a small town into a black 30 year-old police detective in New York City? Really?!

Big mistake on my part. I was slammed for being a racist. Another member of the group — one with whom I have never had any previous conversations — demanded that the thread be deleted and requested a moratorium on all future discussions of Nancy Drew, CBS, or anything that might possibly spark conversation that had anything to do with race in any way, shape or form.

I made two further comments defending myself before the thread was deleted, but now I wish I would have just said one very simple thing:

Seriously, Dude?

Look, if CBS wants to make a series about a 30 year-old female detective working for the NYPD, more power to them. I’d probably watch it if it’s well-written and well-acted. I don’t care about the ethnicity of the main character. But I think it is ridiculous to market it as something it clearly is not.  

A teenager who solves crimes in a small town while still in high school is not the same thing as a 30 year-old woman working for the NYPD. Pretty simple. As someone who grew up reading the books, I would tune in to a Nancy Drew TV series expecting to see a show about a high school student solving crimes in a small town with her best friends, not a show about a 30 year-old police detective in New York.  

It’s not about race. Granted, my comment should not have included any reference to color, and for that I apologize. I threw that in that as part of the list of things that are being changed for the new show, and I shouldn’t have included it since I really don’t see it as a problem. But I do see it as a problem that they want to change everything except the character’s name and expect fans to accept it without argument.

When the series fails — and it will fail, spectacularly — how many people are going to line up and claim that it failed because white America just wasn’t ready to accept a Nancy Drew who is not white?

I stand by my original opinion that it is not an issue of race. It’s an issue of respect for the original material upon which the show is based. If CBS wants to make a show about Nancy Drew, why not make a show that in some way resembles the books?

What’s next? Maybe they can make a series about crime-fighting wizards at a reform school in New York and call it Harry Potter: The Series.  Or remake Twilight as a musical about two rival gangs known as The Vamps and The Wolves.

Personally, I’m waiting to see the The Hardy Boys: All Grown Up in which Frank and Joe are a young married couple instead of brothers. Instead of being about teen detectives, it’s going to be a raunchy comedy about undercover superheroes who own a bar in Chicago.

No, thanks.

Greetings, Mystery Lovers!

There has been at least one in every generation of my family:  a Reader.  Not someone who merely enjoys reading, but one who lives for those moments of every day that are spent with a book.  One who is at a loss without something to read.  One who often has a hard time stepping out of a book and back into the real world that needs us.  One who might have a hard time choosing between a new book and oxygen if ever forced to choose.

My grandmother and mother were like that.  In my generation, it is my cousin Beckie and me; two of our other cousins married women who read as much as we do, so I am surprised the next generation of our family didn’t emerge from the womb with ISBN numbers stamped on their foreheads.

Mom used to forbid certain books as a sure-fire way of getting me to read them, so I often read things that were probably a bit too mature for me.  However, my favorite books were always those that were part of a series, because I found comfort in slipping back into the familiar worlds created by my favorite authors.

The Hardy Boys.  The Bobbsey Twins.  The Happy Hollisters. Trixie Belden.  I also loved mysteries and puzzles, so these books grabbed me like no others.  I devoured the books, snapping up every one I could find at libraries and garage sales.  When other little girls my age were asking Santa for Barbie Dolls, I begged him to bring me the newest adventure of the fictional characters I had begun to think of as my friends.

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I was seven or eight years old when I discovered Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators and was introduced to a new set of fictional friends.  Unlike the other “kid detectives” I read about, these guys weren’t siblings.  There was no sibling rivalry, no parents stepping in to help solve the case, no repulsively cute younger brothers or sisters in constant need of a rescue.  No romance, no melodrama.  Just three friends solving mysteries with a touch of the supernatural, and of course, Hitch himself was there to give me the tiniest glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, these guys were real.

The series was created by Robert Arthur, beginning with The Secret of Terror Castle in 1964.  William Arden (Dennis Lynds) joined the fun in 1968 with The Mystery of the Moaning Cave.  After Arthur’s death in 1969, Arden was joined by Nick West (Kin Platt) and M.V. (Mary Virginia) Carey, with Marc Brandel jumping in near the series’ end.

Hitchcock made an appearance in each book, introducing the boys and giving hints of the tale we were about to read.   In some books, he became part of the story by introducing them to clients or giving them information to help solve the case, but he usually disappeared until the final scene, when the boys would sit in his office and wrap up any loose ends.

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Hitchcock’s death in 1980 was devastating to the series, but the character of Hector Sebastian was introduced in The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar, and Sebastian took over the introductions and closing scene of every book after that.  Many fans felt that this marked the beginning of the downhill slide in quality of the books.  Later “updated” issues of the early books replaced Hitchcock with a fictional Hollywood director named Reginald Clarke.

The First Investigator was Jupiter Jones, described as being very smart and very logical.  He was stubborn and level-headed, and often used long words that confused his friends.  He was a former child actor who sometimes “played dumb” as a way of getting suspects to talk.  But he was also a realistic and somewhat sympathetic character who sometimes made mistakes and even admitted to being stumped from time to time.  He was stocky and unathletic, but never portrayed as a stereotypical fat kid or arrogant genius.

Pete Crenshaw was the Second Investigator, and my favorite character.   He was the athletic one, the one who struggled most to understand the complexities of a case, but once again the various authors avoided stereotyping him.  He was never a dumb jock.  And while he had most of the series’ funny lines, he was never portrayed as a cowardly comic relief character. Pete may have complained about facing danger, but he was almost always the one to take the biggest risks and the first to place himself between his friends and danger.

Bob Andrews, the Records and Research member of the team, was Everyman.  He was the most down-to-earth, relatable character of the three.  While Jupe and Pete both followed their instincts and hunches, Bob was usually the one who showed the most common sense, often voicing the questions that we readers were asking.  Many of the most memorable scenes of the series were told from Bob’s point of view, which makes sense as his character was given the task of recording all of their cases to hand over to Hitchcock (later Sebastian and Clarke).

Bob wore a leg brace for the first few books in the series, having broken his leg in a fall during some pre-series adventure.  He was described as being small and slight, but he never quite crossed that line into being frail or needing protection.   There were a few references to his leg injury for a while, but the character was allowed to recover enough to keep up with his friends as the series moved on.  From the start, his handicap established him as the quiet observer, although he could always be counted on for a snappy comeback or a bit of sarcasm.

Even the secondary characters were memorable, but none ever quite stole the spotlight from the boys. There was Worthington, the British chauffer who drove them around in the gold-plated Rolls-Royce (believe it or not, it really makes sense in the context of the books).  Hans and Konrad, the Bavarian brothers who worked for Jupe’s Uncle Titus while spouting some rally embarrassing Pidgin English that would never be allowed in a book published today.  And Uncle Titus himself, the former circus performer who owned the Jones Salvage Yard that Jupe called home.  Titus’ wife, Aunt Mathilda, who spent her days putting the boys to work, is still a fan favorite, although Allie Jamison will always be my personal favorite of all secondary characters.  She appeared in The Mystery of the Singing Serpent and The Mystery of Death Trap Mine and very nearly took over each time; I was always disappointed that M.V. Carey never spun her off into her own series.

The books were deliberately vague about the boys’ exact age.  The older I got as I read the books, the older I imagined them to be.  We were told that Jupiter took advanced classes and was therefore ahead of the other two in school, and we knew that their rival, Skinny Norris, was able to get his Driver’s License in another state, so it was a pretty safe guess that they were supposed to be around fourteen or fifteen years old.

I read and re-read those books, right up until the series ended in 1987 with book #43, The Mystery of the Cranky Collector.  Random House tried to revive the series with the dreadful Three Investigators Crimebusters reboot and a few equally terrible Find Your Fate books, and then my old friends limped off into obscurity.

I found out later that they actually limped off to Germany, where the series blossomed in ways that it never did here in America.  There were new books, radio broadcasts, and even two really odd movies that bore very little resemblance to the books.

2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Three Investigators, and we fans are still a pretty loyal group.  We have a Facebook page and several websites, most notably The Three Investigators U.S. Editions Collector Site.   There are fanfiction writers creating new adventures of our favorite trio, and of course there are constant discussions about the possibility of reviving the series.   It probably won’t happen, thanks to the tangled mess of rights and ownership between the publisher, authors, and Robert Arthur’s family. But we can still dream.

My nieces and nephews grew up on R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, and my older children have enjoyed everything from The Magic Tree House to Percy Jackson.  I’ve tried to get my youngest nephew interested in The Enigma Club, although he still prefers Encyclopedia Brown or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  I wish there was a modern-day Three Investigators series for all of them, but I’m sure they will all look back on their own favorites with the same fondness that my friends and I feel for Jupe, Pete and Bob.

What about you?  What were some of your favorite young adult series books when you were a kid, and which ones would you like to see revived?