Television Westerns: Major and Minor Series 1946-1978
by Richard West
This series attempted to answer two questions. First, what do you, a TV executive, do when a hit movie like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford, comes along? The answer, of course, is you make an obvious rip-off "ABC Movie of the Week," and when it garners sufficiently high ratings, you make it a series. In other words, you continue an old standard practice.

The other question isn't so simple to answer, though. What do you do when one of your stars commits suicide midway through the first season? Do you run the remaining episodes that have already been filmed and let your stars ride off into the sunset, or do you recast the part and hope that no one will notice the difference? ABC chose to opt for the latter, and while the viewers obviously noticed that Roger Davis was not Pete Duel (Hannibal Heyes, aka Joshua Smith) the change apparently had little effect on the show's ratings, as it continued for another year. Davis was no stranger to the series' viewers, since he had been doing the opening narration, so viewers were at least accustomed to his voice, if not his face.

Duel, then Davis, were Heyes, with Ben Murphy his sidekick "Kid" Curry (aka Thaddeus Jones), two lovable outlaws straight out of the Butch Cassidv and Sundance Kid mold who were attempting to go straight. The pair had been promised a pardon by the governor if they could keep themselves out of trouble for a year, something which wasn't easy to do considering that they were still wanted desperadoes who kept running into either bounty hunters or old outlaw friends who wanted them to join in on some escapade which, if not illegal, was borderline. When they finally hung up their spurs and rode off into the sunset, they still hadn't received their pardon, but if they had would this somewhat tongue-in-cheek oater have been any better?

In an attempt to boost ratings, in late 1971 Sally Field was added in a sporadic but continuing role as Clementine Hale. While many still remember her for her role in one of the sillier situation comedies of all time, "The Flying Nun," the Hale role gave her an opportunity to start shedding that less-than-welcome association. It was to be a few years, however, before she was finally able to shake the image completely and gain acceptance as a serious actress.

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