Kevin Spacey's appearance on CBS' tough-guy drama "Wiseguy" is hardly the pop culture event it's always touted to be by obsessive tube-aholics who bathe in this kind of guest trivia.

Kevin Spacey’s appearance on CBS’ tough-guy drama “Wiseguy” is hardly the pop culture event it’s always touted to be by obsessive tube-aholics who bathe in this kind of guest trivia.

Simply a dramatic arc by a talented actor who — at the time — was still just a New York stage thesp, the show’s 11 episodes have nonetheless cultivated a certain gold-card status as one of the most memorable “future star” appearances ever on network television. So much so that the storyline, known as “The Profitt Arc” has been released on a four-disc set from small distribution squad StudioWorks Entertainment.

The show was something different in Stephen Cannell’s roster of hits. Its predecessors, from “Hunter” to “The A-Team,” were always cited as part of the dumbing down of America — bullets and babes, the main reasons — while his more respected efforts (“The Rockford Files,” “The Commish”) were still by-the-books executions.

So here came “Wiseguy” in 1987, and it developed into something of an institution among its faithful. More character driven and, yes, more in tune with the power of stunt casting — Ray Sharkey, Jerry Lewis, Ron Silver — than the average skein, show hit what many consider to be its apex when Spacey and Joan Severance appeared as creepy criminal brother-sister act Mel and Susan Profitt.

But more noteworthy than Spacey’s time on the show is the plot itself, with Mel engaging in an incestuous relationship with sis (certainly a first for primetime) as lead Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) infiltrated the family business while falling for Susan.

As for Spacey’s approach to his character, it was a manic execution; he would throw plates and tote around a “Scarface”-like obsession for Susan — indeed, that and “The Godfather” were Spacey’s inspirations — while she would shoot heroin cocktails between her bro’s toes to calm him down. Cannell says, in one of several interviews on the presentation’s bonus feature disc, that that kind of disturbing treatment of a brother-sister had never been on television.

Whether that makes “Wiseguy” special or just icky is still debatable, but viewing the show at a distance is more kitschy than it is important in the timeline of great television and the characters who shaped it. Production elements for the show, which ran until 1990, are gritty but on the low-end of today’s “ER”-like standards, and the execution of the episodes still bring to mind Quinn Martin productions from the 1970s more than great art.

Disc contains the 11 Profitt episodes, audio commentary from Ken Wahl — but no interview — and sit-downs with Cannell and exec producer David Burke along with stars Spacey, Severance, William Russ and Elsa Raven.

Wiseguy

Production

Stephen J. Cannell Prods. and StudioWorks Entertainment. Stars: Ken Wahl, Jonathan Banks, Kevin Spacey, Joan Severance, William Russ, Elsa Raven. Release: Dec. 30.
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