Here’s an idea for a new reality show:
Let’s take a group of people from the USA, unknown to each other. Different sexes, ages, races, and backgrounds (just like Big Brother or Survivor). Plop them into a series of challenges, all over the world (like The Amazing Race, without the race part), where each week a winner will be chosen. Some of the competitions will accentuate strength, some compassion, some intelligence, some bravery, or perhaps a combination of a number of these (like so many other reality shows). Some of the contests are planned, and some are improvised on the spot. At the end of the series, a winner will be chosen from these lucky few contestants, and that winner, instead of getting a million dollars, or a fancy restaurant, or some grand and gaudy prize, will instead get to RULE THEIR VERY OWN COUNTRY!!!
I can hear reality producers climbing over themselves already, trying to be the first to pitch it to a network. There’s only one problem…. It’s already been done. As a fictional series, back in 1982, called The Quest.
Here’s the set-up, at the top of every episode:
“GLENDORA. Jewel of the Mediterranean. A thriving and modern kingdom. Today, Glendora is faced with problems of succession — His Majesty, Charles Philippe, being without issue and unlikely to produce an heir….”
Our “host” and narrator is the venerable Sir Edward (John Rhys-Davies), Minister to the King. He has been entrusted with the sacred honor of figuring out who will be the next ruler of the glorious country of Glendora. (OK, so Glendora is actually about the size of Manhattan, and it only exists because of a long-lost, almost forgotten treaty with France that gives it sovereignty, with a few conditions attached.) The problem facing Sir Edward is that the King is rather old, and unlikely to be having any children to carry on the bloodline (no matter how randy the old coot might be, even in his late ’80s). And one of the conditions of the ancient treaty is that there has to be a ruler of Royal Blood, or the land reverts back to France. But there just might, MIGHT, be a way out of this problem… so the opening narration continues:
“But four Americans have been found who are of the Royal bloodline. They have been knighted, and sent forth as their forebears were, to demonstrate those qualities which most become a King… compassion, honor, courage, dignity….”
So, consulting the old (and I mean Middle-Ages-style old) family tree reveals four possible royal heirs, each with a distant connection to the throne, and each with absolutely no clue as to their possible birthright… and no way to tell which might be the “most rightful” heir. Hence, a competition.
Introducing our possible rulers: There’s Dan Underwood (Perry King), a professional photographer, self-professed ladies’ man, and all-around hero type, although not exactly blessed in the brains department, but when you’re as good-looking as he is, brains are an afterthought. Next, there’s Carrie Welby (Karen Austin), a shoe-buyer for a department store chain, who’s been held down by a glass ceiling and wants to prove that she can be more than just Queen for a Day. Cody Johnson (Ray Vitte) is a street-smart con artist who sees his chance to finally hit the big time, although he’s been known to panic at the first sign of trouble. And finally, there’s Art Henley (Noah Beery, Jr.), a retired Kansas county sheriff, with an old-fashioned and laid-back way of looking at life, and a general distrust of most situations (including his new “cousin” Cody)….
These four are now globetrotting together around the world, from Texas to the middle of Africa, trying to prove their worth to Sir Edward, and to King Charles himself (Ralph Michael), and perhaps trying to keep the King OUT of trouble considering his penchant for skirt-chasing and absent-mindedness. The competitions are rather straightforward, once the group figures out what it has to do. But Sir Edward has this habit of trying to put the quests in the form of poetry… and when I say poetry, I mean very BAD poetry, as he considers himself to be something of a bard of the olden times, no matter what lack of talent he may have.
So, we have lots of people with both good and bad traits, traipsing around the world, finding this, saving that, finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, being royally brave, sometimes royally confused, and getting into all kinds of well-meaning trouble with the hopes of somehow finally acquiring the Crown.
It was a rather innovative idea for a comedy-adventure, considering the idea of “reality” shows hadn’t really been thought of yet, and most hour shows on the air were of the cop/lawyer/doctor variety. Television at the time certainly didn’t have many “heroes” like this, let alone this type of “goal”, and adventures were not on such a worldly scale. Oh, and there’s one other little complication….
“Only one can wear the Crown, and this has fostered a competition… although they are united in their battle against the exiled Count Dardinay, an evil opponent who seeks to thwart them….”
If the King dies before a successor is chosen (one more thing to deal with, making sure His Majesty stays alive until the contest is finished), then the treaty is broken and the land goes back to France. And Count Dardinay (Michael Billingtion), who has been exiled from Glendora for conspiring against the King, has made a deal with the French that says if the land goes back to France, it will be under his ownership. So, we have four “contestants” competing with each other, but united against the scheming Count (who could just as easily kill all of them instead). So, everybody has to try to win, watch their back, help or hinder their competition, but only at their own risk, and never really know what each “challenge” is actually about until it’s over that week. Oh, and deal with the King, too, whatever he may be up to (including, once, being stuck in the large boiling pot belonging to cannibals). I did say he was a bit absent-minded… even though he and Sir Edward will have the final say on who the winner will be….
Of course, the big winner was… CBS, with Dallas and Falcon Crest.
The Quest aired on Fridays, on ABC, in 1982. The biggest problem with The Quest wasn’t its quality, or its scripts, or its production value, or even its concept. No, the biggest problem with the show was very simple. It was 1982, and on Friday night television, there was Dallas and Falcon Crest… and nothing else. They were top ten shows in all of television from 1980 – 1985 (Dallas was #1 four out of five of those years), and everything else programmed against them simply died. So, just because they had to put SOMETHING there, ABC trotted out this unusual, different, sacrificial lamb to the slaughter… which was a real shame because, given time to grow, this had the makings of a true gem of a show. ABC tried to do something REALLY different with the time slot, and it just didn’t work there (but to be fair, neither did anything else).
The Quest even had a great pedigree. It was created and produced by Stephen J. Cannell and Juanita Bartlett., who were royalty themselves as far at TV went at the time. They had recently come off of six seasons of TV classic The Rockford Files and had started The Greatest American Hero a year or so earlier for ABC. Later, they were responsible for shows like Scarecrow & Mrs. King and The A-Team, as well as many others. Cannell himself said a few years later that The Quest was one of the best ideas he’d ever had for a show (at the time), and that he was very disappointed that it didn’t really have a chance. But then, almost nothing had a chance against J.R. Ewing and Dallas in 1982. Not even if you were of Royal Blood.
PERRY KING (Dan Underwood) is best known for his next Stephen Cannell series, playing Cody Allen on the series Riptide for its three-season run. Also a regular for a time on the original Melrose Place, he was almost cast instead of Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the original Star Wars movies, and actually did play the character in the audio adaptations. King is an avid motorcycle enthusiast and has amassed quite a large collection of various collectible bikes.
After The Quest, KAREN AUSTIN (Carrie Welby) was a regular on the first season of Night Court, and played recurring characters on shows like St. Elsewhere, L.A. Law, The Trials of Rosie O’Neal, and Murder One. She is also well known to SF audiences, playing roles in episodes of Sliders, both Star Trek: DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager, and as recently as the revival of Battlestar Galactica. She’s still acting, appearing occasionally as a judge on CSI: Miami.
RAY VITTE (Cody Johnson) had a good run before The Quest, appearing in That’s My Mama, Doc (the 1976 version), and What’s Happening? and the movie version of 9 to 5. His promising career was cut short the year after The Quest, when he died in a scuffle with L.A. Police in February of 1983.
NOAH BERRY, JR. (Art Henley) had a long and memorable run as Jim Rockford’s father “Rocky” on The Rockford Files (also with Stephen Cannell), and had made his name in many of the early TV westerns, including Death Valley Days, Hondo, Bonanza, The Virginian, and many others. His career actually goes much farther back than that, with one of his first movie appearances dating back to The Mark of Zorro in 1920. He passed away late in 1994.
JOHN RHYS-DAVIES (Sir Edward) is primarily known for three genre parts. Of course, he played Sallah, the guide for Indiana Jones in both the first and third movies of the series; Prof. Maximilian Arturo in the series Sliders; and of course he played the dwarf Gimli in the three Lord of the Rings movies. He’s also had a significant number of voice-over roles in animated projects, including Pirates of Dark Water, Gargoyles, and Justice League.
RALPH MICHAEL (King Charles) has spent most of his acting years in British television, appearing in shows dating back to 1937. More modern appearances included parts in Doctor Who, A Tale of Two Cities, and Jeeves and Wooster. He left us in 1994, having acted almost until his passing.
MICHAEL BILLINGTON (Count Dardinay) had screen-tested a number of times for the coveted role of James Bond in the sixties and early seventies. Another actor with primarily a British career, he found success in the series U.F.O. and The Onedin Line. His American appearances included guest parts on Magnum, P.I., Hart to Hart, and The Greatest American Hero. He returned to British TV in The Collectors in 1986, and actually got to play a Bond villain in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Sources differ on exactly how many episodes actually aired (the show was preempted locally by many stations for sports broadcasts and such, figuring they could make more money against Dallas that way by owning all the commercials instead of sharing them with the network… that’s how powerful Dallas was then). Counting the pilot, likely five episodes actually aired (although some sources list seven), and there were a total of nine actually made. To complicate matters even further, apparently only eight of them are available on bootlegs of varying quality (and no official DVD release), so if anyone has a copy of the unaired episode titled A Prince of a Fellow, please contact me IMMEDIATELY!! Meanwhile, there are eight episodes floating around out there, at least, including the pilot that sets everything in motion. YouTube has the opening credits available, with the fabulous Mike Post writing the catchy opening theme and lyrics (like he did with many Cannell shows).
And hey, with all the interest in genealogy these days, who knows? There may even be a King or Queen in your own ancestry, and you could be heir to your own throne of some small, distant country! Think of it… Ruler of all you survey! Or at the very least, you might get a reality show out of it. You could be a reality star–in a race for a place in the Royal celebration! A new Quest for Kings and Queens….
Five (?) aired episodes — four unaired (one unavailable at this point) — nine total.
First aired episode: October 22, 1982
Final aired episode: November 19, 1982
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central? No, but later on Friday nights, again up against Dallas and Falcon Crest; unfortunately for The Quest.
Comments and Suggestions appreciated, as always.