By: John M Jerva
Back in the day, television was flooded with syndicated shows that offered up some pretty decent action and stories. To clarify, syndicated means that television stations have the choice to purchase a show in order to show it on their brand. Instead of network television, syndicated series can be on any channel. The formal definition is “the sale or licensing of material for publication or broadcasting by a number of television stations, periodicals, etc.”
In today’s society, syndicated action shows are pretty much extinct but back in the 90’s, they reigned supreme over the airwaves. Such classic examples are the Highlander series, Street Justice with Carl Weathers and Bryan Genesse and the classic Cobra which starred the legend himself Michael “The DUDE” Dudikoff. Action fans were guaranteed a massive dose of adrenaline pretty much on the hour.
If you ask me though, the pinnacle of syndicated action had to be the Jerry Bruckheimer produced Soldier Of Fortune, Inc. which featured an elite team of former military operatives who ban together to execute secret black ops missions around the globe in order to keep the free world safe. If you know me then you know that this show was right in my wheel house.
The cast was first rate and it included Brad Johnson (Flight of the Intruder) as former Delta Force Major Matt Shepherd who led this team of top tier professionals and he was joined by Melinda Clarke as intelligence operative Margot Vincent, Réal Andrews as transportation and cqb specialist Jason “Chance” Walker, Mark Sheppard as demolitions expert Christopher “CJ” Yates and my favorite of the bunch in Tim Abell as former Marine Gunnery Sergeant and weapons specialist Benny Ray Riddle. Veteran character actor David Selby starred as Xavier Trout who was the mysterious government official who sent the team on their black ops missions. We didn’t know exactly what he did for the government or if it was legal but we just accepted it and enjoyed the ride.
The series premiered in 1997 and even though it only ran for two seasons, it was two seasons of high-octane, in your face action that was a signature trademark of Mr. Bruckheimer who has given us such iconic films as Top Gun, The Rock and Con Air. Fans knew what they were in for with each episode and the production values were better than a lot of series on prime time.
The cast was well trained for their roles and Abell didn’t need any on set training as he is the reel deal with serving in the Army Rangers in real life. Abell could play the role of Benny Ray in his sleep and he brought it every week. Everyone looks authentic and that really elevated the show and made it stand out in every way. My favorite line of Benny Ray’s has to be when someone asked him if he wanted to wear noise reducers in his ears because it was gonna get loud and he simply replied, “I like to hear my targets fall.” If that’s not a great line from an action show or movie then I don’t know what is.
SOF featured some great weekly co-stars as well including the great Patrick Kilpatrick from Van Damme’s Death Warrant, who was featured in the second episode of the first season as a former military comrade of Shepherd’s who went off the deep end and became a self imposed dictator of a small country. Other names worth mentioning were Cobra’s Brad Thompson, Craig Fairbrass from Avengement, the late, great Francesco Quinn from Platoon, Gary Graham who starred in the Alien Nation TV series, and martial arts and Tai Bo legend Billy Blanks who starred in a host of awesome 90’s action and fighting flicks.
Like I mentioned, the action set pieces were top shelf and they were right up there with anything that was being shown on the big screen at the time. There was massive firepower and heavy weaponry showcased in each and every episode and the practical effects and stunts were the cornerstone of that era. It’s truly missed in this day and age of CGI and that’s what makes the 80’s and 90’s so damn special.
Unfortunately, the show was retooled a little in its final sophomore season with Andrews and Sheppard leaving the show. The biggest change was the title which now was SOF: Special Ops Force which I still liked. The biggest addition to the cast was NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman who was very popular at the time for his antics on and off the court and he came on as the mysterious operative Deke Reynolds who showed up at just the right time to save the day. The second addition to the second season came in the form of David Eigenberg who is now seen on NBC’s Chicago Fire and here he played DEA agent Nick Delvecchio who was certainly the comic relief of the group.
Even with the cast and name changes, the core cast of Johnson, Abell and Clarke remained in tact so I was perfectly fine and the second season was just as high-octane as the first with one of my favorite episodes bring when Benny Ray’s last catcher up to him and his son is kidnapped forcing the SOF member to go rogue and do what Benny Ray was trained to do.
Johnson was the perfect leading man choice for the series and he certainly looked the part of a former elite spec ops warrior and the chemistry between the cast was spot on. That’s one of the things that make the show so enjoyable is that besides spectacular action set pieces, the actors made you care about the characters and what they endured on the show.
The show didn’t make it past the second season which is a crying shame but it did end on a good note but there was a little bit of a cliffhanger which I was sad to never see rectified. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the adrenalized action show but I would have loved to see the show last at least a few more seasons. It was the highlight of my week back then.
Johnson and company brought their A game every week and I wonder why there was never a proper DVD release of the series. I would figure that having Bruckheimer’s name attached to it would have helped but alas it was never meant to be. I do have every episode burned onto DVD from when the episodes aired and I’m happy to this day that I did record them as I watch them periodically and love it just as much as when I first watched them. There was a DVD release of a two part episode that aired in the first season and I do own a copy of that.
Another great aspect of the series was its kick ass intro which was a staple of TV shows back in the day and I do miss intros to TV series as nowadays we don’t get anything remotely close to them. The show also featured some great rock songs that were popular at the time and the musical score was pure action bliss. It was a pulsating soundtrack that elevated the show and they definitely don’t make them like they used to.
Overall, Soldier of Fortune,Inc. was the epitome of ultra cool 90’s television and it stands up today with its great cast and thrilling action sequences. The characters were bad ass and it was like watching a blockbuster action movie every week on the small screen. Sure there are great action shows today like SEAL Team and SWAT and I would dare say that Cinemax’s Strike Back which just recently aired its final season this spring was probably the closest thing we got to glorious 90’s action on a weekly basis. That show even had a glorious opening intro like these other classic series.
If you can find the episodes, I strongly suggest making the effort as you won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re a fan of all things action. SOF was blistering action television on a grand scale and I still hold out to this day that there will be a proper DVD release of both seasons. Somebody please release them ASAP!
If your a fan like I am, enjoy the opening intro from both seasons for old times sake along with the best of Benny Ray in action below and if your new to it then feast your eyes on all the awesomeness of the 90’s and Soldier Of Fortune, Inc.!
About The Author: John M Jerva is the owner and editor-in-chief of Action-Flix.com and is a DIE HARD fan of everyhting Action! From the glorious past to the thrilling future, John lives and breathes action!