Monday, July 3, 2006

Road Shows Part 2

Route 66 and The Fugitive both proved fairly successful. It was their success which started a cycle of similar road shows in the Sixties. In fact, more road shows (shows which centre on individuals who wander from place to place) aired in the Sixties than any other era.

What may be the third most famous road show debuted only two years after The Fugitive in 1965. Run for Your Life The series was created by Roy Huggins, who had also created The Fugitive. The series featured Ben Gazzarra as lawyer Paul Bryan, who is given only two years to live (although he will remain in relatively good health until the last two weeks). Rather than succumbing to depression or wallowing in self pity, Bryan instead sells everything he owns and starts travelling the world in an effort to live his remaining life to the fullest. Like the heroes of The Fugitive and Route 66, Bryan often found himself becoming embroiled in the lives of the people he met. Run For Your Life ran three years, a full year longer than Bryan had to live. While both Route 66 and The Fugitive had definite endings, Run for Your Life did not. Most likely it was feared that if they actually allowed Bryan to die in the final episode, then it could hurt the show's run in syndication.

With three different series featuring wanderers on the air, the genre of road shows perhaps seemed ripe for parody in 1966. It was that year that Run Buddy Run debuted. Run Buddy Run featured Jack Sheldon as Buddy Overstreet, an ordinary schmoe who has the misfortune of overhearing what the Syndicate (the show's version of the Mob) thinks is important information. Buddy must then begin a cross country run for his life. Bruce Gordon, who had played Frank Nitti on the classic TV series The Untouchables, played "Mr. D. (the "D" is short ofr Devere)," the head of the Syndicate. The series was created by Leonard Stern, who was executive producer on Get Smart and had worked on such series as The Phil Silvers Show and The Honeymooners. Run Buddy Run failed in the ratings and only lasted one season. One can only guess that people wanted their men on the run to be a bit more serious.

While the cycle towards road shows was well under way in the Sixties, there was also a cycle towards science fiction and fantasy series. This was the era of Bewitched, The Wild Wild West, and Star Trek, among a number of other shows. It should come as no surprise, then, that someone would fall upon the idea of combining a road show with science fiction. The Invaders featured Roy Thinnes as David Vincent, an ordinary man who has the misfortune of learning that aliens are gradually taking over the world. They had already infiltrated human society to a large degree, as there were aliens in hospitals, police departments, the media, and even the government. Vincent remained on the move so that the aliens could not capture him, while at the same time trying to convince others that this alien invasion was real. Debuting in January 1967 on ABC, The Invaders only ran a season and a half. It would prove influential, however, in setting a precedent for men on the run because of sometimes fantastic reasons.

The Invaders was created by Larry Cohen (of It's Alive fame), who would also create the next road show to air in the Sixties. Debuting in the summer of 1967, Coronet Blue was another road show with a twist. The series centred on Michael Alden (played by Frank Converse). Alden had been fleeing some men when he fell into a harbour. Emerging from the water, he could only remember two things: that he had been fleeing someone and the mysterious words "coronet blue." Alden ran from place to place, attempting to escape his pursuers all the while trying to figure out the meaning of the words "coronet blue." Coronet Blue proved to be a bit of a sensation when it aired (think Twin Peaks or Lost) in the summer of 1967. Sadly, after 13 episodes the series went off the air, leaving the mystery of Coronet Blue unsolved. CBS evidently felt the series was too intellectual for its audience!

With the failure of both The Invaders and Coronet Blue, one would think that the cycle towards road shows in the Sixties would have ended immediately. It did not do so, as there were two more road shows would debut, one in 1969 and another in 1970. The more memorable of the two was Then Came Bronson. Produced by Robert H. Justman and Robert Sabaroff (both veterans of Star Trek), Then Came Bronson centred on Jim Bronson (Michael Parks), a big city reporter who takes to the road on his motorcycle following his best friend's suicide. While the guys on Route 66 just travelled for kicks and Richard Kimble on The Fugitive was on the run from the law, Bronson was searching for a meaning to his life. Then Came Bronson is one of those series that everyone seems to remember fondly. Indeed, I remember my parents (whom one would have thought a little old to enjoy a show about an outsider on a motorcycle) watched it loyally. Amazingly enough, however, Then Came Bronson only lasted one season. Only 26 episodes of the series were ever made.

The road show which debuted in 1970 has largely been forgotten. The Immortal featured Christohper George as Ben Richards, a car test driver who learns that he cannot die. It seems that his blood has unique features that make him immune to both aging and disease. Unfortunately, this knowledge falls into the hands of a millionaire named Arthur Maitland, who wants to use Richards' blood to extend his own life. For this reason, Richards must flee for his life. While Ben Richards might have been immortal, the show was not. It only lasted half a season, a mere 16 episodes.

With the demise of The Immortal, the cycle towards road shows came to an end. This would not mean that there would not be any more road shows, however, as more would follow in the next few decades. I will cover those in my next entry.


Alexander Barnett said...

You may be interested in seeing some of Roy Thinnes's recent work in my film The Eyes of Van Gogh. See the trailer on Google video or

Mercurie said...

Thanks! The Eyes of Van Gogh looks good!