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“Most writers don’t know how to write for us.  They either think we’re The Waltons or Father Knows Best.”
–Ronny Cox

Especially during the holidays, life can get a little crazy.  Things to do, people to see, errands to run, and coordinating schedules and trying to be everywhere at once just emphasizes our hurried lifestyles these days.  The more commercialized aspects of gift-giving (and gift shopping) remind us of the harried nature of life.  Of course, for many these days, it’s just adding crazy on top of crazy, in a life already going at a breakneck speed.  Sometimes, a person just has to put a stop to it all, and find a place to slow down and discover a simpler way.

Hollywood is no different, except that the pace there is almost always on fast-forward, and holidays add even more stress and complication to life in the fast lane.  And yet, there’s always a desire for many to find a way to return to a simpler existence, to slow down the rat race and find a different path.  Of course, sometimes people are just forced to deal with the craziness, no matter how simple they want their lives to be.  Two different shows dealt with these ideas, each in their own manner.  But they both came to the same conclusion.

The first was the 1974 CBS series Apple’s Way.  From The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Apple’s Way told the story of George Apple (Ronny Cox), the father of a family of six, who moved his brood from the hectic pace of Los Angeles back to Appleton, Iowa, the small town he grew up in.  Founded by his ancestors (hence the Appleton moniker), it promised a much more relaxed way of life for the architect and his family… if only they could get used to it.

George’s wife Barbara reluctantly went along with this move, although she wasn’t initially sold on the whole idea of uprooting her family and moving to what they considered “the middle of nowhere”.  But she loved George, and knew the surroundings would likely be good for the kids (whether they believed it or not).  So the family packed up and went to live in a converted old grist mill, complete with waterwheel and “old mill pond”  (because, of course, that’s Hollywood’s idea of “small town”, even in the ’70’s).

While George and Barbara got used to the more rustic surroundings, the kids had their own problems.  Accustomed to a life where friends are just around the corner and things to do are more plentiful, the adjustment to rural Iowa from big-city Los Angeles was more than a bit of culture shock.  But slowly, older teen Paul (Vincent Van Patten), sister Cathy (Patti Cohoon), and youngsters Steven (Eric Olson) and Patricia (Frannie Michel for the first thirteen episodes, Kristie McNichol thereafter) learned to love their new existence.  Dealing with their enthusiastic father, however, was still a problem.

“Earl calls him ‘a slightly berserk good Samaritan.’  He can’t help getting into other people’s problems, even when he’s not wanted.”
–Ronny Cox

George was a “true believer”, and had faith in numerous people and causes.  This obstinate refusal to back down over any situation rubbed some the wrong way, and made the family’s assimilation into the community a sometimes prickly proposition.  Whether he was standing up for a losing basketball coach or defending an ancient tree’s existence, his activism in various causes occasionally embarrassed his family, but his devotion usually was worthwhile.

Created by Earl Hamner, the man behind the successful CBS series The Waltons, Apple’s Way was hoped by CBS to be a more modern-day adaptation of the same family-style drama, although the first season of thirteen episodes played a bit more like a fish-out-of-water comedy.  Major retooling was done before its second season, with the actress playing the youngest girl replaced by Kristie McNichol (as she spelled it then).  Of course, McNichol later went on to play in a different modern-day drama, Family, for many years.

The grist mill set was built on the old Columbia back lot, and was later retooled into the house seen in numerous episodes of Fantasy Island.  Ultimately, the facade was torn down, and ironically it was replaced by the Walton homestead, moved to its new location when its previous site was sold off by the studio.  But the simplicity remained, even if just as a memory.

The problem portrayed in Apple’s Way is about trying to fit your old life into your new one.  While change is the one constant in life, change as radical as living a new life in such extremely different surroundings causes much greater problems along the way, and sometimes teaches some very different lessons.  And while there are obviously times when you’re the student, there are other times when you’re the teacher.

“That’s an important reason Aaron’s Way is such an intriguing series concept.  It deals with a family, which has been living in the old world, suddenly being thrust into a modern-day environment.  Obviously, there’s a lot of conflict there.”
–Merlin Olsen

Sarah and Aaron Miller

Just as George Apple had those moments of culture conflict in Apple’s Way, there was another man who faced many of the same challenges, only in reverse.  In the 1988 NBC series Aaron’s Way, patriarch Aaron Miller (Merlin Olsen) led his Pennsylvania Amish family westward to California, and a winery where his son Noah had once lived.  Although Noah had given up his family’s Amish ways, Aaron had kept in contact with him, until the young man’s death in a surfing accident.  At the funeral, Aaron learns that his son had been living with a woman, and that she was pregnant with their offspring… his grandchild.  In order to support what he feels are his son’s obligations, he moves his Amish family to the winery, where there are gentle clashes in society and style.

Aaron’s wife Sarah (Belinda Montgomery) and their kids are just as confused as the family in Apple’s Way was, but in reverse.  Their simple life and unassuming ways clash, sometimes a bit more sharply, with those of the denizens of California and their supposedly “superior” lifestyle.  But soon-to-be-mother Susannah (Kathleen York) is grateful for their presence, no matter what her more cynical parent Connie (Jessica Walter) may feel about Aaron’s family.  And both families have to deal with Susannah’s brother Mickey (Christopher Gartin), who develops a crush on one of the Miller daughters.

Like Apple’s Way, this was a series that tried to turn a successful “period” piece into a more modern-day one.  Merlin Olsen had been a winning addition to Little House on the Prairie, which led to his starring in Father Murphy for two seasons.   In 1988, NBC needed a companion piece to Michael Landon’s new series, Highway to Heaven, and thus believed Olsen would again be a worthy place to start.  Both shows had a more relaxed presence than many of their television counterparts at the time, and Olsen was a good fit for that style of show.

“For all the technical errors, I think the emotional honesty is there.”
–Creator/Executive Producer William Blinn

Unfortunately, not only did the Millers not fit in (nor were they really expected to, as far as the show was concerned), they also didn’t find any love from either viewers or critics.  Comparatively few watched the show, and those former Amish who saw it disliked its portrayal of the religious community, and rightly so.  This was, unfortunately, Hollywood’s version of Amish, which is occasionally composed more with misunderstanding than sympathy and, as such, didn’t ring true despite the best efforts of some involved.  And so, the lengthy journey the Miller family had undertaken to California ended much sooner than had been anticipated.

Ironically, the cancellation likely simplified Merlin Olsen’s real life, as at the time he was also on NBC’s top team of NFL broadcasters.  The former all-Pro lineman-turned-television analyst was traveling to football games each weekend in the fall, while rushing back to film Aaron’s Way during the week.  Juggling scripts and football programs, not to mention airplane flights and promotional appearances for both NBC entities, made for an extremely hectic life, plus kept Olsen away from his own family (with three growing children).  His family was the primary reason he agreed to perform in Aaron’s Way in the first place, as he felt there were no quality shows on that reached a wide range of ages.

“I like the fact that, at a time when there is very little television that we can sit down and watch together as families, this is the kind of show that really asks people to question what is happening in this world and asks people to look at values.  What is right?  It’s the kind of show that can be very productive in terms of doing something positive instead of instilling an urge to violence in our kids and our adults, as well.”
–Merlin Olsen

In both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a germ of an idea that apparently Hollywood liked, even though it didn’t really express it well.  There is virtue in a less hectic life, and a pace where time and conscience allows for values which aren’t always found in the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown.  And while it is likely that those involved in green-lighting both series may have admired the sentiment, the presentation wasn’t really consistent with understanding the principles involved.  A simpler life, in a simpler place, doesn’t mean any lack of understanding or knowledge of the ways of the world.  It just means a choice made to savor the moments, to not get caught up in the day-to-day, and to celebrate all those things some people seem to take for granted.  While the simple life isn’t always simple, it is often much better.

(With so many biographies in two large-cast shows, I’ll just list the more well-known personalities here.)

Apple’s Way:

RONNY COX (George Apple) has a long career in television and movies, first making a huge splash in the film Deliverance, and appearing in the original Robocop.  In addition to being mentioned previously on this site for his role on Cop Rock, he’s starred in Sweet Justice and The Agency, as well as featured and recurring roles in Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1, St. Elsewhere, and The Starter Wife.  His first love is singing, and he’s carved out a pretty good career as a folk/country singer, appearing all over the country, and selling numerous CDs of his songs.

FRANCES LEE McCAIN (Barbara Apple) was featured in many movie roles, including as Marty McFly’s (future) grandmother in Back to the Future, and roles in Patch Adams, Stand by Me, Gremlins, and the original version of Footloose.  A stage actress by preference, she’s also appeared on Broadway, making her debut in Woody Allen’s first stage play, Play It Again, Sam.

VINCENT VAN PATTEN (Paul Apple) is, of course, from an acting family.  His father, Dick, is famous for starring in Eight is Enough, and his brothers James and Nels have also appeared in various television shows and movies.  In addition to his acting, Vincent was also a world-ranked tennis professional (as high as 41st in the world at one point), and he’s also written The Picasso Flop, a mystery set in the world of high-stakes poker.

KRISTIE McNICHOL (Patricia Apple, 2nd season) was extremely young when she joined Apple’s Way, but she went on a year later to star in Family (where she earned two Emmys for Best Supporting Actress) and the comedy Empty Nest.  (She also changed the spelling of her name to Kristy, just in case anyone thinks I’ve got it wrong up above… that’s the way it reads in the credits of Apple’s Way).  Tired of the Hollywood scene (shades of George Apple!), she left the acting profession, although she still teaches drama occasionally.

Aaron’s Way:

MERLIN OLSEN (Aaron Miller) was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thanks to his stellar 15-year career with the (then) Los Angeles Rams.  He became one of the top NFL broadcasters soon thereafter and, thanks to his relationship with NBC, he also signed on as Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie.  His “gentle giant” demeanor led to a lead role in Father Murphy a few years later, and then the part of Aaron Miller on Aaron’s Way.  He was a spokesman for FTD Florists, and also hosted numerous telethons for the Children’s Miracle Network.  He passed in 2010 at the age of 69.

BELINDA MONTGOMERY (Sarah Miller) has also made these pages for her role years earlier on Man From Atlantis.  In addition to recurring roles on Miami Vice and guest shots on many other television series, she’s best known as the patient mom of Doogie Howser, M.D.  An avid painter, she currently spends much of her time working with her art, some of which has been shown at various studios throughout North America (and available at her website).

KATHLEEN YORK (Susannah Lo Verde) is a woman of many talents, as she starred in Vengeance Unlimited and had recurring roles in The West Wing and Desperate Housewives.  As a writer, she’s sold scripts to many Hollywood studios, including Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Fox.  As a singer/songwriter, she’s known as Bird York (her nickname), and her music has been featured on multiple CDs and in movies like Crash and TV shows like House and CSI:  NY.

JESSICA WALTER (Connie Lo Verde) has had a long and memorable career on television, known to many as the matriarch of the Bluth family on Arrested Development.  While her first television role was back in The Naked City in 1962 as a child actress, she later starred in Amy Prentiss (as a rotating part of The NBC Mystery Movie), Bare Essence, and was the voice of Fran in Dinosaurs.  Currently, she appears on TVLand’s new series Retired at 35.

CHRISTOPHER GARTIN (Mickey Lo Verde) was a regular on the sitcom Buddies before becoming a part of another memorable one-season show, M.A.N.T.I.S.  He appeared in Baywatch, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Desperate Housewives, and The Mentalist.  He’s also appeared in multiple episodes of True Blood, and the Lifetime series Side Order of Life.

Not a lot exists online for either of these shows.  Neither has come out commercially on DVD, although bootlegs can be found.  Apple’s Way did get the full tie-in treatment (as was popular in the ’70’s), including a novelization and even a lunchbox with the characters pictured on the side.  Although Apple’s Way was a small part of its history, interested parties can find much more information about many Screen Gems and Columbia television series filmed on their backlot at The Unofficial Columbia Ranch Site, full of pictures and stories about the many locations built there.  Due to its shorter run, there’s almost nothing out there for Aaron’s Way in detail.  And maybe that’s proper, as the world of the Amish in general isn’t one for publicity in the first place.  The ways of the world, both complex and simple, will continue….

There are so many different people in this world, and just as many different ideas on how life should be lived.  What is right for some isn’t right for others.  While a great number of us find satisfaction in the lives we lead, George Apple and Aaron Miller both sought a new way to seek their own happiness, far different from the lives they used to have.  Culture shock was a given, but they both had an ideal which they tried to achieve, despite the obstacles found in their way.

The ways of the world are sometimes our own obstacles, but they can be overcome.  The worst thing anyone can do is just accept what is, instead of striving for what can be.  Those who chart their own path create their own happiness, and don’t wait for others to provide it.  A simpler life can be a better one, for those who have the courage and the patience to seek it out, and the consistency to live it despite the pressures of modern society.  Like both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a way for each of us, if we can “simply” find it.

Vital Stats

Apple’s Way

28 episodes aired — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  February 10, 1974
Final aired episode:  January 12,1975
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No.  It aired in the “family” slot of Sunday nights at 7:30/6:30 Central, back in the days when networks started the night early and gave the last half hour of prime time back to local stations.

Aaron’s Way

A two-hour premiere and 12 hour-long episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  March 9, 1988
Final aired episode:  May 25, 1988
Aired Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Again, no.  It ran into Growing Pains when it was a Top 10 show on Wednesdays @ 8/7 Central.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“People would paint this as teenagers in tinfoil hats.  That’s not what this is.  These are educated professionals.”
–Clarke Ingrahm, one of the founders of the movement to save Jericho

Some people on the edges of society become “Survival Nuts”; the type that believe Armageddon is just around the corner.  They have their shelters already outfitted with weaponry and non-perishable food to last through what they perceive is coming, their own idea of “the end of the world”.  Now, while most TV shows have nothing to do with this, at least one well-remembered short-lived series didn’t just portray “the end of the world,” but showed dramatically what actually might happen afterwards.

In the 2006 CBS series Jericho, the residents of a small town in Kansas have to face the unthinkable:  a nuclear detonation has occurred in Denver, and although the explosion is far enough away to preserve the town, their existence is now changed forever.  Slowly, they learn that many other locations in the United States have been devastated as well, and now they must discover how to survive in a place where supplies are limited, and where order has turned into chaos.  They and their fellow residents are suddenly showing, in their reactions to the crisis, whether they are going help each other, or decide it’s now “every man for himself”.

Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) has previously been someone who believes in the “every man for himself” principle.  He left the small town of Jericho, Kansas a few years before, leaving his family behind (as well as his troublesome youth).  On the fateful day of the explosion (or is it an attack?), he’s visiting for the first time in ages, but all he seems to want is an advance on his family inheritance and as little “connection” with them as possible.  Of course, the radical events in the country around him suddenly change all that, and now he’s back in Jericho with no other place to go.

Eric and Johnston

He decides, reluctantly, to help rebuild both his family and his town, thanks to his stalwart mom Gail (Pamela Reed) and his stoic father Johnston (Gerald McRainey).  Johnston is the current mayor of Jericho, and recruits his prodigal son into helping organize the town, attempting to provide for their well-being in the aftermath.  Jake is reunited with his brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), and also with an old flame, the newly married Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott).  Emily’s new husband is missing, and possibly dead in the attacks, so Jake has to confront the possibility of rekindled feelings and reconciliation.  Everything is uncertain, as the world has suddenly changed.

Mimi and Stanley, with Jake

The rest of the town is uncertain as well, particularly about how it will survive.  Johnston has a rival in Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), who has different ideas about how the town should be run in this “new world”, and Gray soon opposes him as leader of the community.  At the time of the attack, a visitor from Washington D.C., Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola), was in town to foreclose upon the land belonging to local farmer Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer) and his deaf sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern).  With foreclosure now meaningless and the goal of survival more important, a relationship ultimately develops between the young farmer and his former adversary, much to the dismay of the sister.

Elementary school teacher Heather Lisinski (Sprague Grayden) is most concerned, initially, with the children of Jericho, and she starts to develop feelings for Jake after he saves one of her charges.  But after she herself is injured, she ends up in a military hospital where she finds out about far more of what is going on in the outside world than most of Jericho is aware of.  One of the older students, Dale Turner (Eric Knudsen), decides that “the ends justify the means”, and becomes a valuable (if ethically shady) member of the community, with the resources to gain many of the items needed by the community (such as medicine and food).  But you may not want to know exactly what he did to acquire them, or who you’d have to thank….

Lastly, there’s new resident Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) and his family, who says they are from St. Louis.  He seems to be an expert in many technical areas, supposedly from training he received as a police officer there after 9/11.  He becomes a friend to Jake, although his background and motives still seem a mystery, even to his family.  Oh, and there’s a few other things…. he’s got hidden military skills, a link to a satellite dish, and a nuclear bomb, like the ones used to blow up Denver, Washington D.C., and assorted other places in the country…..

“We’re trying very hard to create a landscape that the audience can put themselves into and say, ‘Wow, what would I do?  How would I survive?  How would I react in that situation?’  We realize that we’re asking the audience to take a huge leap with us in that there’s this massive attack.”
–Carol Barbee, Executive Producer of Jericho

The stories of these many residents intersect, as each tries to figure out exactly how life will continue in their new situation, and their first problems (after basic survival) concern what is going on in the world around them.  Contact is made with a nearby larger town, New Bern, and while it is initially peaceful and beneficial for both locales, conflict soon ensues.  At the end of the initial season’s worth of shows, a cliffhanger ending presents both cities on the brink of a pitched battle to defend what is left of their way of life.  After the nuclear blast and surviving the imagined “end of the world”, is this new threat going to signal the true final outcome of the town of Jericho?

Well, yes, according to CBS.  Despite a good start, the series was canceled, likely due to a significant scheduled hiatus in the middle of the season.  Many previous viewers thought the series had ALREADY been given a pink slip, and didn’t find it again the following spring when it returned for the second half of its season.  Ratings dipped, and just like the explosion in Denver, Jericho paid the price despite not being at fault.

“We consistently held 8 or 9 million viewers, even going up against [Fox’s American Idol], so everyone was really surprised and shocked that we were canceled.  You have to move on and let go, but you see all this fan support and you keep that tiny bit of hope in your heart.”
–actor Brad Beyer

“Nuts!”
–Jake, responding to New Bern’s demand of surrender

In that final cliffhanger ending episode, Jake is confronted by the leader of the invading town.  Echoing the response of General Anthony McAluffe at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, Jake’s response to the question of surrender was the same as General McAluffe’s:  “Nuts!”  Both were faced with insurmountable odds, and yet believed in their cause so completely that they were willing to make a stand… and succeed.

The resolve of Jericho fans was also hardened upon news of the cancellation, and a campaign was soon mounted to hopefully change the minds of executives at CBS. In this case, as a way to gain the studio’s notice, fans decided to send in something other than letters and e-mails to make their point.  Just as Jake had referred to General McAluffe, they wanted something identifiable as part of the defense of Jericho.  They literally sent in “nuts”.

Packets of peanuts, cans and jars, and boxes and bags of assorted kinds, all containing nuts, were received by CBS over the next few weeks and months.  They were inundated by the stuff, so much that individuals were hired just to help the overloaded staff with them.  In all, it is said that 20 TONS of various types of nuts were sent in support of Jericho‘s renewal.  On one day alone (May 29 of that year), over 10,000 pounds of nuts were received at the CBS New York offices!

While campaigns to save cancelled shows have been tried in the past, most have not been successful.  Television is still a business in the end, and many times a show that had ended simply has too many hurdles to leap in order to return in the first place.  Sets have been dismantled, cast and crew members have scattered to new projects, and a show already has the stigma of “failure” in the television world to fight.  For business reasons alone, it’s harder to effectively “re-mount” a production than it is to start something else fresh.  But this show had the unique combination of fervent audience base, heroes who believed in the show at the network, a large percentage of nearby location shooting (which meant, in this case, that important exterior sets still existed), and a staff, both on-screen and behind the camera, who wanted to continue telling the unique stories only possible on Jericho.

Thanks to quick work on the part of the fans, the network, the production company, and all the rest involved, Jericho did not face yet another ending, but was renewed for seven episodes as a mid-season replacement.  But the renewal didn’t come without a warning to those who were ready to celebrate their success.

“You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard.  In success, there is the potential for more.  But, for there to be more Jericho, we will need more viewers.  A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show.  But that community needs to grow.  It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.  We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity, and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.”
–Nina Tassler,  CBS Entertainment President, announcing the renewal of Jericho

Oh, yeah, and they also asked people to please stop sending nuts.  Fans being fans, they didn’t, but in gratitude, sent care packages of MORE nuts to various food banks and charities instead.  CBS followed suit, and donated what they had received to other organizations, including one which sends various care packages overseas to military men and women stationed far from home.  In a definite win-win situation, fans benefited, charities benefited, CBS got some well-needed good publicity for listening to the fans, and everyone was eager for what was to come.

A seven-episode second season debuted that next February, resolving the cliffhanger ending and, although the critical reviews were generally positive, Jericho still didn’t find enough of an audience for it to survive.  A comic book version followed (commonly referred to as “Season 3”), and rumors of a revival or sequel movie on cable persist, but the televised story of what happens after “the end of the world” finished after two hard-fought seasons for survival.  And 20 TONS of nuts.

SKEET ULRICH (Jake Green) was a regular in Miracles before he landed in Jericho, and was also the star of Law and Order:  LA before the show was rebooted and his character was eliminated.  His stage name “Skeet” comes from his first nickname as a little-league baseball player, when he was known as “Skeeter”.

PAMELA REED (Gail Green) starred in the HBO spoof on elections called Tanner ’88, and in the short-lived comedies Grand and The Home Court.  She has a recurring part on Parks and Recreation as the lead character’s mother, and her best known movie role was as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s partner in Kindergarten Cop.

GERALD McRAINEY (Johnston Green) has been a lead in two very successful series, Simon & Simon and Major Dad.  He’s also had featured roles in Women’s Murder Club, Promised Land, Deadwood, Undercovers, and currently on Fairly Legal.  He also appeared multiple times on Designing Women, playing the ex-husband of Delta Burke’s character, and the two hit it off so well that he later married Burke in real life.

KENNETH MITCHELL (Eric Green) first was seen as a recurring character on Showtime’s quirky series Leap Year, before appearing on many episodes of Odyssey 5.  After Jericho, he had an occasional part on Ghost Whisperer.  Most recently seen in episodes of Castle and The Mentalist, he’s an avid horseman, and he also has a degree in architecture.

ASHLEY SCOTT (Emily Sullivan) is familiar to genre fans, having appeared in Dark Angel and as one of the three leads in the television series adapted from the comic Birds of Prey.  Originally a fashion model before taking up acting, she was featured in both 2005 and 2008 in Maxim Magazine on their annual list of the world’s hottest women.

MICHAEL GASTON (Gray Anderson) is a popular TV actor, and has been a regular in Deadline, Blind Justice, The Mentalist for one season, Terriers, and currently on the CBS hit Unforgettable.  He was also featured in story arcs on The Sopranos and Prison Break.  Prior to his television work, he’s appeared in live theatre both on- and off-Broadway.

ALICIA COPPOLA (Mimi Clark) got a soap opera start on Another World, before moving to prime-time guest spots in shows like Sports Night, Star Trek: Voyager, Crossing Jordan, and CSI.   She portrayed a naval lawyer in multiple episodes of both JAG and NCIS, and was a regular in Cold Feet, Bull, and American Dreams.

BRAD BEYER (Stanley Richmond) originally took an acting class for non-theatre majors in college, before one of his instructors told him he should think about acting as a profession.  He was seen in numerous episodes of Third Watch, and is a regular on the upcoming January 2012 ABC series entitled G.C.B.

SHOSHANNAH STERN (Bonnie Richmond) had to learn English as a second language, as she was born into a deaf family, and the primary language in their home was American Sign Language.  She’s learned English and lip-reading proficiently, and works as an actress with no special interpreter.  Her recurring role on the short-run series Threat Matrix was specifically written for her, and incorporated many of her unique abilities, and she also had a featured part on the Showtime series Weeds.

SPRAGUE GRAYDEN (Heather Lisinski) was a regular on the FOX series John Doe, and also had significant parts on Six Feet Under, Joan of Arcadia, and Over There.  She was the female lead in the recent Paranormal Activity horror franchise, and also had appearances on Sons of Anarchy and 24.

ERIK KNUDSEN (Dale Turner) has appeared in primarily Canadian productions, although audiences in American may have caught him in episodes of Flashpoint or the movies Saw II and horror/parody movie Scream 4.  Genre fans would find him as part of the cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (and yes, I’m biased, but this is a fantastic film… go see it!!!!)

LENNIE JAMES (Robert Hawkins) is actually British, although you’d never know it from his speech patterns on Jericho.  Much of his work has been in Britain, including appearances on many BBC dramas and radio plays.  In America, he was featured in the AMC remake of The Prisoner, and also on AMC’s The Walking Dead.  He is also an award-winning playwright, with his works having been featured on the BBC as televised stage productions.

Even after Jericho “ended” the second time, it was still too strong to die.  The CW Network (also owned by CBS) reran the show in place of its quickly canceled series Valentine during the 2008-2009 season, showing the entire 29-episode run.  CBS also tried at one point to work out a deal with the Comcast cable network, similar to the one which kept Friday Night Lights in production with initial airings exclusive to Dish Satellite before their network broadcasts, but that fell through.  Fans can, however, still relive memories of what does exist.

Both seasons one and two of Jericho are available on DVD, with plenty of extras.  The first season is streamable for those with Netflix access, and the entire second season is available with commentary on the CBS.com site.  The “third season” comic has been combined into a trade paperback edition, with a story created by those involved with the series, so it is a genuine continuation of the televised events on the show.  A decent website concerning the thoughts of some involved in the “Nuts” campaign is found here, and there’s a wiki concerning the events, characters, and settings of the show found here.

This was the iconic image of the show, from one of its first scenes.  The idea of a series about what happens after an apocalyptic event like a nuclear bomb explosion was enough to gain the interest of many.  A fervent following for the show wanted to see even more, and although the audience was ultimately too small for Jericho to become a hit, they were active, well-organized, and discovered a way, like the citizens of Jericho they watched each week, to try and save something they believed was important.

Those fans weren’t “tinfoil hat” crazy, they just found a battle they believed worth fighting, even when the odds were terribly against them.  In the case of Jericho, “Survival Nuts” meant something far different from someone barricaded in a fallout shelter with a year’s supply of canned goods and weapons.  It meant a way to keep telling stories of people, both heroic and not, and how they faced what many consider “the end of the world”.  Only those fans refused to see an end.  Just like the residents of Jericho.

Vital Stats

29 episodes — all available on DVD — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 20, 2006
Final aired episode:  March 25, 2008
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, it aired originally on Tuesday nights, and although it got bumped a bit on the schedule, the biggest problem was a three-month hiatus during its first season.  Sadly, on television, there is an “end of the world”.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“We’re trying, as we go along, to deal with what war is about.  We’re looking at how our guys, as soldiers, see the war.  They’re not really involved in the big happenings or decisions, but they get their orders and go about obeying them.”
–Glen Morgan, Co-Creator of Space: Above and Beyond

Mankind has always been a species of conflict.  Wars have been fought for the noblest of reasons, and for the least worthy as well.  But there’s a great deal of science fiction, both literary and televised, which posits a future where mankind has put aside its conflicts and joined together in a journey to the stars.  A journey into Space: Above and Beyond.

Of course, since the essence of good storytelling is the drama of conflict, the obvious antagonists for a united planet are those we discover elsewhere.  But just because there’s an external threat doesn’t mean that the only conflict has to be “us vs. them”.  Sometimes, the best drama is found in discovering exactly how people will react when faced with something that threatens their very existence and the way of life they believe in.  Will they find courage?  Will they hide behind others?  Or will they simply discover their own essence along the way?  The people you never thought worthy might just be the wild cards you need to survive.

In the 1995 FOX series Space: Above and Beyond, viewers follow the members of the Fighting 58th Squadron of the US Marine Corps Space Aviator Calvary.  In the year 2063, a united Earth has begun to colonize outside our own solar system, thanks to the discovery of predictable “wormholes” in space that let humanity travel great distances despite the lack of faster-than-light engines.  When one of the colony ships is attacked by a previously unknown race, the Fighting 58th and their fellow “Space Marines” must protect both Earth and its colonies, and try to battle the unknown enemy.

Nicknamed the “Chigs”, these aliens, and their fights with our humans, form the backdrop for stories of heroism and doubt, bravery and cowardice.  1st Lt. Nathan West (Morgan Weisser) was slated to be one of the crew of the attacked colony ship, where he and his beloved girlfriend were planning to start a new world together, literally.  At the last minute, he was replaced on the mission, and decided to enlist with the Marines and pursue his only way to rejoin her.  His motivation is purely for her, and when he has the chance to find her again, he goes AWOL for a brief time.  While his initial priorities are not with his squadron, he soon learns to have their backs… just as they have his.

“Everyone–Grab the ass of the person to your right!  Well now, isn’t that beautiful.  Do you feel it?  His ass is yours!  Her ass is yours, and yours is theirs.  You may fly in individual rockets, but you are a squadron!  You are a team!  And if you risk your ass, you risk the team.  You people have been here six weeks now, and you still do not know how to work together!  Well, you WILL learn to work together, or that fatty clump of flesh in your hand will be blown to the far corners of the universe–And yours will be right behind it!!!”
–Gunnery Sargeant Frank Bougus, instructor for the early training of the 58th

Capt. Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) is the leader of the squadron.  While a youngster, she watched as her parents were killed by “Silicates”, an early version of Artificial Intelligence that rebelled against humanity (in a conflict known as the “metal wars”).  Wanting to prove herself and driven by her past, she joins up to face her fears, and to (hopefully) become a member of the “Avenging Angels”, the best squad in the Marines… until that group is decimated in the first major Chig battle.  Now, she’s got nothing but inexperienced people hoping to turn into soldiers, literally a set of “wild cards” that she hopes will be ready when called upon… but can she trust them with her life?

Because of the “Silicates”, mankind has a negative impression of any “non-human” creations, including the newer, more advanced “in vitros”.  Biologically human, they were created rather than “born”, and their version of an umbilical cord is located in the back of their neck.  Seen by some as second-class citizens, their own fight for recognition as “normal” is what led to Nathan West’s bumping off the colony flight… and the addition to their squadron of 1st Lt. Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland).  Nicknamed “tanks”, Hawkes and his fellow “in vitros” are essentially “born” at age 18, and while their emotional growth is limited at best, their physiology is stronger and more durable than most humans.  While some in the military see them as “disposable” pieces to be sent in to make the way for the “real” humans, the 58th (after a rough start) begin to see him as one of their own instead of just cannon fodder.

1st Lt. Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente) probably has the farthest to go to become a soldier, as early on his most endearing trait is being a screw-up.  But when he’s captured and subjected to torture, he has to make a choice with consequences for the rest of his life.  1st Lt. Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman) is his closest friend on the squad, and she’s also their tech expert.  After leaving another relationship behind, she’s looking for a fresh start with the Marines, and may finally have found a group of people where she belongs… if they can all just stay alive.

Their commanding officer is Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen (James Morrison), formerly the leader of the “Avenging Angels” and the only survivor of their run-in with the Chigs.  He’s an “in vitro” as well, and while he understands the feelings some have for his kind, he also knows the military, and sometimes men and women are ordered to lay down their lives for their comrades in arms.  He realizes that those decisions have absolutely nothing to do with who you’ve been or how you were born.

“Courage.  Honor.  Dedication.  Sacrifice.  These are just the words they used to get you here.  Now the only word that means a damn to you is Life.  Yours.  Your buddy’s.  The one certainty in war is that, in an hour, maybe two, you’ll either still be alive, or you’ll be dead.”
–McQueen’s opening speech to the 58th, his new command

The military is a completely different life from that which the rest of us lead.  Personal identity is often subsumed in the quest for preparedness and the immediate obeying of orders, with no questions asked.  The job of a soldier is to do what he is told, and not to question those who outrank him or her.  Many believe that the military is wrong in eliminating, at least initially, that which makes each of us unique.  But the goal is not to eliminate the person, it is simply to eliminate the doubt, not just in each other but in each person themselves.

There is duty, honor, and tradition in the service, but those things are earned, and earned with the hard work of all.  It’s a long and difficult road to travel, even in the best of times.  And the universe presented in Space: Above and Beyond was far from ideal for all its soldiers.  Racism reared its ugly head in the perception of both the alien Chigs (about which we knew very little) and the “in vitros” (which were simply a different type of human).  Situations were faced by the crew with little or no information, and sometimes misinformation (which was even worse).  And yet, one of the most important questions is asked by one of the characters in the pilot episode, one which every soldier has to answer to his own satisfaction.  We all have something to live for.  But for soldiers, the question is also “What would you die for?”

Ready to battle. But for what?

Most people never even think about such a thing.  I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve never had to realistically face death in my life.  Injury, yes, multiple times.  Emotional pain and sorrow I wouldn’t wish on anyone else, of course.  But to come to terms with a person’s own death is something beyond my ken.  And yet, a soldier has to ask themselves that question every day, and come up with an answer that allows them to keep going, to work and endure a harder life than most can imagine, especially during wartime, and still be expected to be as human as the rest of us.

The amazing part is that most succeed, and come home to us all safe and sound.  Some suffer, and some valiantly end up sacrificed so that the rest of us can go on, never having to even ask the question of ourselves.  But we should all be thankful for their service, both in peace and in war, for making it safe enough for the fellow humans to, hopefully, continue to strive for ourselves and those we love in other ways.  Someone has to make the choice so many others do not, and for those people we should be more than grateful.

The stories of Space: Above and Beyond were set in a future with spaceships and aliens, but at the series core was an examination of what it takes to be a soldier, to answer those questions no one else in society really dares to ask, and to find a way to live through the worst.  Just like the title of the “Avenging Angels”, the men and women of the 58th got a nickname for their group as well.  It was, as you’ve likely already guessed, “Wild Cards”, due to their unpredictability and their own natures.  And, even though it was never explicitly stated for all of them, the name was probably also due to their own answers to the question  “What would you die for?”  They each had an answer for themselves, and that was part of their journey as Marines.  Capt. Shane Vansen said it best:

“Even if we are trained to die, we have got to believe that we’re going to live.”

The Fighting 58th were well and truly “Wild Cards” to the end.

MORGAN WEISSER (Nathan West) guested in numerous series, including The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Alias, and NCIS.  Born to an acting family, his father started multiple theatre groups in Los Angeles, and Morgan has been active on both the television screen, in movies, and on stage.

KRISTEN CLOKE (Shane Vansen) appeared on numerous episodes of Millennium, plus was seen on Quantum Leap, The X-Files, Felicity, and Men of a Certain Age.  She gained more than most out of Space: Above and Beyond, as she became happily married to producer/creator Glen Morgan after the series, and they’ve produced two children, along with her two step-children.

RODNEY ROWLAND (Cooper Hawkes) started out as a fashion model before a colleague convinced him to try acting, and Space: Above and Beyond was one of his first roles.  He also appeared on The X-Files (sensing a pattern here?) and was a regular on Pensacola: Wings of Gold.  He’s most recently been a recurring character Veronica Mars and Weeds, both under his preferred name of Rod Rowland.

JOEL de la FUENTE (Paul Wang) starred in 100 Centre Street and High Incident, and has been featured in ER, All My Children, and Canterbury’s Law.  He’s best known these days for his recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, on which he’s appeared occasionally for almost a decade.

LANEI CHAPMAN (Vanessa Damphousse) had already found her way into “space” previously, having appeared as an Ensign four times on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Other roles included series such as The Pretender, Judging Amy, Grey’s Anatomy, and Cold Case.  She’s changed her name slightly, so that her more recent roles list her as “Lanai” instead of “Lanei”.

JAMES MORRISON (T.C. McQueen) was ALSO on Quantum Leap, Millennium, and The X-Files (I told you there was a pattern here…) in addition to recurring roles in HawthoRNe, Private Practice, and 24.  A many of almost too many talents, he’s a singer/songwriter, has written and directed award-winning stage plays, produced short films which have appeared in numerous festivals internationally, and is a certified yoga instructor (and still teaching both yoga and theatre currently).

“Had it been created in this era of cable channels and websites dedicated to science fiction, I wonder if it would have run for a hundred episodes.”
–Jesse Alexander, Producer and Writer on such series as Alias, Lost, and Heroes, when asked about Space: Above and Beyond a decade later.

The complete DVD set for Space: Above and Beyond was released in 2005, and although it contains no extras, you can still get all the series episodes, unedited, including the amazing finale.  While the majority of the show is not found easily on the internet (as rights holders have been cleaning up youTube lately), the two-hour pilot (in hour episode form) can be streamed here.  Although they haven’t been updated in a while, some of the best fan sites for the show are located here and here, and lots of information can be found about the adventures of the Fighting 58th.  A number of novelizations were written based on episodes of the series, six in total, and there is also a small private company that makes custom resin model kits of many of the spaceships seen in the series, available for purchase.

“These characters are always facing what may happen in the last minutes of their lives.  What do you say to the last face you may see before you die?  What are you thinking at that moment?  These characters experience those feelings a great deal on [Space: Above and Beyond], and facing them together, over and over again, makes them very close.  So, it’s in those moments that everyone’s true colors are revealed.”
–Kristen Cloke

Some disagree on the necessity of war, and rightfully so.  There are unjust wars, and unjust reasons for fighting them.  But even if the true goal of humanity is peace, there are still those individuals who would prefer power over justice, and their own way for all over allowing people to choose their own path.  When all else fails, these people must be confronted, for the good of the rest of us.  Thankfully, there are those who believe that justice and choice are worthwhile values to be protected, even at the cost of their own lives, so that others can continue to live without threat of fear or oppression.  While we can’t always agree on any particular fight, we must all surely give thanks for those who are willing to stand up, not for themselves, but for their loved ones, and for people they’ve never even met, in order to protect the ability to freely live.  And the amazing thing is, most are willing to protect even those who disagree with them, just because it is the individual’s “right to choose” they are defending and not the actual choice.

While I wish this piece could have been posted a week ago on Veterans Day, it was these thoughts throughout that week that led me to Space: Above and Beyond and the ideas in this article.  Veterans Day is a time to reflect, in whatever way appropriate, on what those who choose to serve have done, and what they continue to do.  No single individual is perfect, and mistakes are made by the humans involved, both in real life and in the depictions of them on television.  But that doesn’t make the idea any less proper, or any less worth the time and effort (and yes, sometimes sacrifice) those men and women make for all of us.  Space: Above and Beyond may have only been a science-fiction television show, but it dramatized the type of people we all desperately need to be real.  Because without them, we’d have already lost.

Vital Stats

A two-hour pilot and 22 hour-long episodes — none unaired — all on DVD
FOX Network
First aired episode:  September 24, 1995
Final aired episode:  June 2, 1996
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Not initially.  The show premiered on Sunday nights, but was promised a spring slot at Friday 8/7 Central for a steady run… which was promptly pre-empted by FOX anyway.  Although it did well there, the Fighting 58th had already lost the war for viewers.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“Let’s do it.”
“Amen.”
“Slow and easy.”
“All the way.”
“To the hilt.”
–the five heroes of Outlaws, each ready to go into battle together

Some people live in the past.  There are large numbers who spend their spare time recreating different eras, whether it’s medieval times, the Revolutionary War, or the Victorian Era.  That’s all well and good, but what would happen if you brought someone from the past forward to a more modern era?  What mores and behaviors might we discover?  And what attitudes would they bring with them, transported forward a century?

The romanticism of the Old West was a staple of early television, but westerns as a significant portion of the programming landscape died out after the ’60’s.  Occasional revival efforts were made, but one show turned the idea on its head.  In the 1986 CBS series Outlaws, viewers got to see how western attitudes coped in a modern society.  Could their Code of the West, as exemplified by their quotes above, survive today?

Back in 1899, veteran lawman (and reformed outlaw) Sheriff Jonathan Grail (Rod Taylor) had finally cornered his former criminal group, now known as the Pike Gang.  Lead by Harland Pike (William Lucking) and his hot-headed younger brother Billy (Patrick Houser), the four-man group had just robbed a bank, and they’d been trapped by a local posse in an Indian burial ground.  Along with fellow members Wolfson Lucas (Charles Napier) and former slave Isaiah “Ice” McAdams (Richard Roundtree), the Pike Gang was ready to make a final stand against their ex-leader.  As thunder rolled and the bullets were about to fly, a freak bolt of lightning engulfed the five of them.

“What in the name of all that’s holy was that?”
–Wolfson Lucas

They awaken to find their weapons all useless from the electrical bolt, but weapons are the least of their worries.  The storm gone, they all hear a low rumbling… which turns out to be a jet airplane taking off over their heads.  Frightened by this unknown machine ( as even cars were a new invention back in 1899), they put their differences aside to discover what might have happened to them.

Arriving at the crest of a hill, they look down into the valley and discover Houston, Texas… but it’s the Houston of 1986, and they’ve been somehow transported into the “present day”.  After the usual “fish-out-of-water” misunderstandings, they discover their loot, a saddlebag full of double eagle solid gold dollars, is now worth a fortune… and it lets the group set themselves up with a new place to live, and no worries about income.  But what will they do in the modern day?

“If we hadn’t rode that lightning bolt from 1899 to now, we would have shot each other to death.  Or you would have hung.  And there would have been no future at all.  And no wonderment like that.  It don’t happen without a good reason.”
–Frank Grail

The group may have been Outlaws at one time, but Grail and the Pike Gang’s legacy as bank robbers is long forgotten in the past.  They decide to create new lives for themselves, with something other the word “Thief” written on their tombstones.  It turns out their frontier skills are actually useful, and their Code of the West still has a place in modern day.  Between a lawman, a bunch of former crooks with an old west sense of justice, and an occasional excuse for a bar fight, Houston has their very own new set of Outlaws.  The group forms the Double Eagle Ranch Detection Agency, using their old-school ways to hunt down lawbreakers in a new century.

After they move into their new ranch, they meet their neighbor, Maggie Randall (Christina Belford).  She happens to be a Texas Deputy, and is initially suspicious of the new people next door.  But she develops a fond relationship with them, despite their evasions about their past.

Grail is once again, ostensibly, their leader.  The Pike brothers are both trying to figure out how they fit into this century, the elder with reason and the younger with emotion.  Wolfson is a religious type, trying to determine how his belief system can adapt to all the changes in a society he doesn’t recognize in the least.  And former slave Isaiah has suddenly entered a world of wonder, where racial equality is much more of a reality and man has traveled to the moon.  But all five of these men soon realize that their future is bound up with each other, taken out of time.  Outlaws by history, they are heroes by nature.

As I said, televised westerns were a staple of the early days of the medium.  In the 1950’s and ’60’s, there were often at least one western broadcast on network television every evening, and many nights featured more.  Production on a back lot was relatively inexpensive, and extensive use was made of the previous inventory of studios, where costumes and standing sets had been built for numerous feature films and 2-reeler shorts throughout the black-and-white movie era.  It was a familiar path from those productions to television, and it’s no coincidence that the longest running live-action drama in history was the western Gunsmoke, which ran for 21 consecutive seasons. In the prime-time landscape of 1959, there were more than THIRTY westerns on the network schedule.

In an era of social change like the 1960’s, westerns still represented a more traditional way of looking at people, by romanticizing and reinforcing the “hero-and-villain” mentality many were still trying to hold on to in those turbulent days.  When most homes still only had one breadwinner and one television set (and only three networks to choose from), shows like Rawhide, Bonanza, and The Rifleman were popular fare, but change was coming.

Stanwyck in The Big Valley

The Big Valley aired in the late 1960’s, featuring Barbara Stanwyck as the feisty widow and leader of a ranching family.  It began to break the mold of previous westerns by having a female lead, the equal of any man and better than many.  In the real-world struggle for women’s equality, The Big Valley was a way to meld the two ideas of tradition and societal evolution on-screen, just as popular western High Chaparral used storylines featuring minority characters of Native American and Latino heritage as more than just the ciphers they’d been in previous series.  Society was changing, and television was changing with it.

But there were still many for whom the future, in its romanticized way, was the past.  And, if chosen well, there are lessons to be learned and behaviors to be modeled by those heroes of the Old West, which is what Outlaws was hoping to do.  Although other shows may ultimately have found a way to showcase those ideas more popularly (the series Walker: Texas Ranger comes to mind), Outlaws was the only one which found a way to truly dramatize the transformation from Old West to New West, from the rough-and-tumble days of cowboys to the concrete canyons of a modern metropolis.  They kept the Code of the West, and it didn’t matter if it was the Old West or the New.

Rod Taylor

Outlaws Creator Nicholas Corea was a former Marine, decorated with the Purple Heart in Vietnam.  He developed an extensive a television career, having produced and written for a wide variety of programs.  As a writer and consultant for Walker: Texas Ranger, he wrote what is considered to be one of the best episodes of that series, Brothers in Arms.  (He also created The Oregon Trail for television, and clips from that series were used in a flashback for the characters of Grail and Pike in Outlaws, as it had featured actors Rod Taylor and Charles Napier.)  No matter what era or arena, his characters often had the heroic sensibilities of a traditional western hero, whether presented in the futuristic context of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, flying in a fighter squadron on WWII drama Baa Baa Black Sheep, or as seen in the loner of Dr. David Banner on The Incredible Hulk.  In Outlaws, he combined all of these heroes into characters no longer in their own time, but still in possession of their own morality, their own sense of justice, and their ability to create their own future, no matter how long ago their past actually was.

To Nicholas Corea, these are the true lessons of drama and humanity:  that we each have, at our core, the ability to transcend place and time by treating ourselves and each other with honor, respect, and dignity, to protect the innocent, and to find justice for all.  While westerns may have had their place in telling that tale, his career proved the setting really doesn’t matter.  Whether it’s 1899 or 1986, in the Old West or the New, it’s all about the character of the people.  It’s about living according to the Code of the West.

ROD TAYLOR (Jonathan Grail) is known by SF fans for his starring role in George Pal’s legendary version of H.G. Wells The Time Machine.  He also had a major role in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds.  His television presence has been featured on this site before, for his lead role in Masquerade, plus the series Bearcats!, The Oregon Trail, and Falcon Crest.  He recently played Winston Churchill in the 2009 Quentin Tarantino movie Inglourious Basterds.

WILLIAM LUCKING (Harland Pike) has had a long and illustrious career in acting, starting in the late ’60’s.  His adventures in western include appearing on Bonanza, The Virginian, Lancer, and Gunsmoke, and he was also on numerous other shows.  Just prior to Outlaws, he was one of the lead military men to be seen chasing The A-Team during their first season, and most recently he’s returned to his “outlaw” ways as a regular in the biker gang featured on Sons of Anarchy.

PATRICK HOUSER (Billy Pike, Jr.) had a short film career, mostly noted by roles in silly movie comedies aimed at teen audiences.  His movie roles included Weekend Pass, Hot Dog… the Movie, and Spiker, each of which allowed him to display his athletic talents as well as his acting ability.

CHARLES NAPIER (Wolfson Lucas) is known for his craggy face and gravely voice, which served him well in The Oregon Trail and as a recurring character on B.J. and the Bear.  That voice also led him to a career in animation, speaking for characters in shows like The Critic, Men in Black:  The Series, and God, the Devil, and Bob.  In movies, he’s known for playing Sylvester Stallone’s nemesis in Rambo:  First Blood Part II, and although it was never publicized widely, he provided the growls and roars for The Incredible Hulk in the ’70’s TV series.

RICHARD ROUNDTREE (Isaiah “Ice” McAdams) essayed the title character in the 1971 movie Shaft, probably the best known “blaxploitation” movie ever made (and certainly the most popular).  He appeared again in multiple sequels, plus starred in a tv series of the same name.  A recurring character on numerous series like Beauty and the Beast and Roc, he returned to lead roles in 413 Hope St. and Soul Food.  Most recently, he’s appeared on episodes of Heroes and Diary of a Single Mom.

CRISTINA BELFORD (Maggie Randall) is also credited as “Christine” Belford, and has made a career out of “recurring” characters.  Most notably, she was featured as the on-again off-again love interest on Banacek, as well as acting on multiple episodes of Marcus Welby, M.D., Silver Spoons, Wonder Woman, Dynasty, and the original Beverly Hills 90210.  She grew up in Amityville N.Y., and actually lived in the famous Amityville Horror house prior to the events that led to it supposedly being “haunted”.

Despite its unique premise, Outlaws doesn’t really have that much of a presence online, and as an 80’s show made before the advent of widespread DVD releases (and the accompanying contracts allowing such for music and other performance rights), the show isn’t commercially available anywhere.  Thankfully, it was new enough (and different enough) to get the taping treatment done by fans during its original run, especially those of Rod Taylor and his genre work, and so bootlegs are reasonably found.  Surprisingly, more of the older era of westerns are available, probably due to their existence on film rather than the video tape medium thought of as “cutting edge” in the 80’s.  Just one more instance where older tech was better than “modern”, a theme Outlaws knew well.

Maggie:  “Who are you?”

Grail:  “Outlaws.  Outlaws who’ve seen the light….”

There is a reason why westerns as a genre died out on television.  The changes of society, such as the evolving roles of women and minorities, were reflected in the popular television of the day.  The idea of the western gunslinger hero and his lonely prairie was not one a vast majority of viewers could identify with and reconcile those social changes.  Even the series that do occasionally try to revive the western genre have to provide a different spin for a more modern time, like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman or Little House on the Prairie.  The western hero, as well as the western villain, may be archetypes, but more recent audiences typically demand a bit more gray area than the “white hat” and “black hat” the cowboy period expresses so well.  Those days are gone, as are the westerns that portrayed them.

But some things really never change, and those parts of the western are still what attracts some to their adventures.  There’s a reason the idea of a Code of the West lives on.  The idea that justice is part of what makes a person good, and that there are still right ways and wrong ways to treat other people, aren’t just western ideals, but human ones.  It’s sometimes too easy to forget these ideals in a complicated and frantic world, and perhaps we just need a good reminder once in a while.  I’d like to believe that’s where shows like Outlaws come in.  They’re not presenting a way of life that used to be better… they’re presenting a way of life that should be eternal.  Good people, with good hearts, are always heroes… even when they’re Outlaws.

Vital Stats

2-hour pilot and 11 hour-long episodes — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  December 28, 1986
Final aired episode:  May 2, 1987
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  The pilot aired as a CBS Sunday Movie, before the series settled into its regular slot on Saturday @ 8/7 Central.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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