The Executioners

Production Code: 3807
Airdate: CBS as “The New Tuesday Night Movie”; Tuesday 9 October, 1973; 9:30-11:00PM ET
Writer: William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey

Cast: Richard Roundtree (John Shaft), Ed Barth (Lt Al Rossi), Robert Culp (Marshal Cunningham), Richard Jaeckel (Det Sgt Turner), Kaz Garas (Gerald Fell), Barbara Babcock (Jane Cunningham), Dean Jagger (Judge Mccormick), Judie Stein (Laura Parks), Richard Lawson (Don Lewis), Noah Keen (Charles Dawson), Michael Gregory (Bobby), Charles Boyd (Gordon Dana), Maurice Hill (Walter Anderson), Harv Selsby (Stan Burgess), Jeanne Sorel (Dr Connors), Diana Webster (Sister Elizabeth), Rafael Campos (Juan Otero), Peter Elbling (Numbers), Melissa Sue Anderson (Cathy).

When a lawyer friend fails to return home after successfully defending a man accused of slaying a police officer, Shaft is summoned by the wife. When the lawyer and his client are fished out of the river, Shaft discovers they are the latest in a line of similar murders that have stumped police Lieutenant Al Rossi for months.


  • The first 81-page draft script was produced on 24 July 1973 and in its portrayal of Shaft was perhaps the furthest away from Ernest Tidyman’s creation of any of the TV episodes.
  • The episode is also known as The Enforcers in some territories.
  • The episode achieved the highest rating for a new show in its season.

Many of the criticisms levelled at the TV series – notably the toning down of Shaft’s anti-establishment attitude, sexual appetite and violent approach to solving crimes – originate here. The trouble begins with Woodfield and Balter’s script, which is a generic and derivative vigilante tale – only the twist here is the vigilantes are well-respected citizens. The story moves along at a decent rate and despite a number of stretches of credulity – not least the premise that respectable citizens would set up a kangaroo court – is entertaining on its own terms if not particularly original or believable.

“The dialogue is tepid, the plot tried and true; and the performances are one and all pure stereotype… One wonders why Richard Roundtree allows himself to be so suppressed in his TV role.” – Fred Wright, The Evening Independent, 9 October 1973

“The only redeeming element in the show, aside from Roundtree, is cast regular, Ed Barth… Alas, he and the others are caught in brisk but very bad script that leaps about faster than a flute player’s upper lip during the William Tell Overture and with far less effect.” – Jay Sharbutt, Gettysburgh Times, 9 October 1973

“Though bland, the story did have its good moments… There were moments when Roundtree’s considerable charisma slipped through the TV code corset imposes on his character, and the only time he came close to his head-whipping screen self were in the closing scenes with a daring jump through a window. Besides that there was much mediocrity in the premiere.” – M. Cordell Thompson, Jet, 1 Nov , 1973

“If you can get past the fact that Shaft has been watered down and look at this for the 70s cop show elements, The Executioners is solid fun and Culp makes an interesting, if not always convincing villain.” –, 15 October 2017