At the risk of belaboring the obvious, Ellery Queen is a TV show, even if it doesn't always look like one. And yet TV hasn't been much of a factor in the context of the stories. Characters listen to the radio, go out to the movies, go out in general. They don't sit on the sofa and stare at the tube. There's a certain amount of realism to this, as the stories take place mostly in 1947, several years before the Lucy-driven explosion in TV set ownership.
Once previously television played a major part in the story. That was in the pilot movie, where what was broadcasting at a particular time turned out to be the key to a dying clue. In the pilot TV was treated as a gimmick, a fad that would pass in a few months without leaving a mark. There are words to that effect in this episode as well, notably from the victim. But by this time the dismissal has lost any force it may have had. TV may not have hit its stride yet in terms of viewership, and there are clearly some technical refinements that will have to be made. Yet the infrastructure is unmistakably there. It's not going away.
As pretty much every episode takes our heroes to a different professional or social milieu - ah the pleasures of standalone episodes that we seem so determined to abandon - this is Ellery Queen's advertising business mystery. It also intersects heavily with the tobacco business, which highlights some interesting facets of the show. When Ellery Queen was created, smoking was considered one of those things that an adult - especially a man - just did, unless he was an athlete in training or a mama's boy. So the Ellery of the books is a pretty heavy smoker, if not a chain smoker. His ashtray gets alarmingly full when he's got writer's block.
On the show, Jim Hutton never lights up as the title character. In part this is part of an overall strategy to emphasize the boy-next-door aspects of the category, a strategy which no doubt influenced Hutton's casting in the first place. It's possible that the Surgeon General's report had something to do with it as well. By the mid-seventies tobacco was on its way to being seen as a not-very-good industry. It's plausible that the makers didn't want to/felt they shouldn't encourage smoking, and since Ellery was technically not part of the famously hard living police profession, they had an opportunity to create a non-smoking hero. (That said, Velie is frequently seen chomping on a cigar, although I'm not sure I've ever seen it actually lit.)
Why that side trip? The victim for the night is James Bevan Long, an executive in charge of promotions for the Quicksilver Tobacco Company. And as they often are, he's a massive tool. Among other things, he blackmails a mistress into spying on one of his competitors.
He also seems to be something of a fool. He's first seen rejecting a TV ad for his product, as well as dismissing the entire medium of television. To be fair to his judgment the ad looks terrible, a spot of a dancing girl dressed up like a cigar box, followed by an unconvincing cowboy shooting prop guns in a way that would have most viewers just scratching their heads. But rejecting the entire idea of TV advertising raises serious questions about his judgment.
The advertising industry doesn't come off that well either. This is a case where the killer doesn't show much aptitude for the "get away with it" part. Said killer has a stroke of luck, though, in that everyone else acts so thoroughly shifty that they make themselves guilty, confusing the issue for the police and for Ellery.
The other big distraction is Frank Flanagan, appearing on the show for the last time. Flanagan exhibits his usual need to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral (metaphorically speaking, natch) vacuuming up every item on the murder legitimate or not for his column. In this case he's also angling for a radio show, which is then bumped up to a TV show. Whenever Inspector Richard Queen sees him he looks pained, and who can blame him?
The climax takes place on Flanagan's new television talk show. Well, on the demo for a TV talk show. A motormouth in nearly every other situation, he clams up on the air, appearing stiff and frail. It's all he can do to introduce his only remaining guest, Ellery Queen. Ellery then goes on to provide a solution to the case of the week, showing an eerie calm on the set of a collapsing program.
All in all, it seems more fun to go on Simon Brimmer's radio show, though.