Breaking Point

The Program

From 1961 until 1966, two medical dramas battled it out in prime time: Dr. Kildare on NBC and Ben Casey on ABC. Each starred a handsome, young title character (Richard Chamberlain as Kildare, Vince Edwards as Casey) with an older, more experienced mentor (Raymond Massey as Kildare’s Dr. Leonard Gillespie, Sam Jaffe as Casey’s Dr. David Zorba). At the beginning of the 1962–1963 season, Kildare spawned a spinoff, The Eleventh Hour, focused on psychological matters. A year later, Casey did likewise with Breaking Point. Eleventh Hour would last two seasons on NBC, Breaking Point one on ABC.

After selling the concept of the show to the network, Breaking Point creator Meta Rosenberg offered the lead role to Peter Falk, Cliff Robertson and Robert Redford, but all of them turned her down. She eventually cast Paul Richards as Dr. McKinley “Mac” Thompson, a psychiatrist at York Hospital in Los Angeles. Eduard Franz played his mentor, Dr. Edward Raymer, director of the York psychiatric clinic.

George Lefferts produced the show for Bing Crosby Productions, under the condition that ABC allow him to treat a number subjects often considered taboo on television at the time. “We tried to pretty much cover everything that went wrong with your mind,” Lefferts recalled. Midway through the season, Lefferts became executive producer, while Morton Fine and David Friedkin stepped in as producers (alternating with Richard Collins) with a directive to “humanize” the Thompson character.

In the Chicago Tribune, Herb Lyon wrote: “The most unheralded big click on TV this season is actor Paul Richards of The Breaking Point. His quiet underplaying of a psychiatrist is being heralded by the profession as the most accurate yet. And his fan mail is snowballing.” Critics also lauded the George C. Scott drama East Side/West Side, which ran on CBS opposite Breaking Point at 10:00 p.m Mondays, but both eventually struggled in the ratings against Sing Along With Mitch on NBC. The networks would cancel all three shows by the end of the season.

The Music

For the Breaking Point theme and pilot score, the producers turned to David Raksin, who had performed similar duties for Ben Casey. Raksin’s theme, which opened with four alto flutes, played over shots of rotating abstract sculptures of human figures for the 23-second opening credits, and in an extended version double that length for the end credits, which rolled over static images of the sculptures.

A number of composers contributed music to Breaking Point over its 30-episode run: Gerald Fried, Waler Scharf, Richard Markowitz, Morton Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith each scored at least two shows, alongside John Carisi, Van Alexander, Johnny Williams and George Duning, who did at least one each.

Still under contract to Revue — working regularly on Kraft Suspense Theatre and occasionally on Chrysler Theatre — Williams had stepped over to M-G-M in September 1963 for a lone Eleventh Hour episode and around the beginning of 1964 he scored the “Better Than a Dead Lion” segment of Breaking Point, first broadcast January 20, 1964.

“Better Than a Dead Lion”

Robert Ryan guest-starred as famed novelist Lloyd Osment, a Hemingway-like adventurer, in “Better Than a Dead Lion,” directed by William A. Graham from a teleplay by Shimon Bar-David and Morton Fine. When Osment — suffering from writer’s block, a midlife crisis and mysterious episodes of paralysis — wrecks his car in an accident he dismisses as drunk driving, the author’s physicians call in Dr. Thompson, who suspects suicidal impulses are at play. Osment rebuffs the psychiatrist, while lashing out at his wife, Eunice (Bettye Ackerman), and publisher, Walker Gosse (John Larkin), when they attempt to help. Thompson eventually wins his patient’s trust, but we never learn whether Osment suffers from a mental ailment or a physical one — as in many Breaking Point stories, the writers avoid easy resolutions to complicated problems.

Along with five and a half minutes of source music for a jazz combo (alto sax, piano, bass and drums), John Williams contributed just under 17 minutes of underscore to “Better Than a Dead Lion,” writing predominantly for solo flute, horns and strings, with an occasional contribution from percussion. His opening music features declamatory horns and nervous strings for Osment’s automobile mishap. Many of the other cues, often playing under conversations, utilize a flute solo and strings, with horns — typically associated with Osment’s flashes of anger — driving crescendos to act-outs. The source music plays for a tense nightclub scene, while a climactic cue featuring another manic incident with Osment in his car brings the only use of percussive piano, wild clarinet solos and pounding timpani.


No music from Breaking Point has ever been released.


No episodes from Breaking Point have ever been commercially released.