The pace is so hectic that a 50-minute episode--which cost 98,000 pounds to produce--is completed every five days.
Those associated with the show like to call it 'a Western with a sensor of humour,' which means that tongue is in cheek, but not too far. It's set towards the end of the 19th century, when the frontier was already fading into history. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry are two reformed outlaws. Or rather, they want to be reformed. They've committed plenty of thefts in their time, without ever killing anyone, but they realise the Old West is coming to an end.
'They want to give it all up for a very moral reason,' explained producer-creator Glen Larson. 'They know that if they don't they'll get killed.'
The territorial governor promises them a free pardon if they prove they can stay out of trouble and live as model citizens for a year. The problem is, for political reasons no one can know about the deal and the rewards for their arrest remain open. So Hannibal and the Kid don their aliases--Smith and Jones--and try to stay out of trouble and keep their guns in their holsters. Which is not so easy when your talents lie in quick-shooting and poker.
'Smith' is a fictional character, though drawing on the lives of several Western outlaws. He's the thinker and organiser. Even the Bannerman Detective Agency, hot on his trail, recognises his ingratiating disposition when it describes him on its wanted posters as 'cheerful and amiable.' Peter Duel, who plays the part, is an intense young former Broadway actor who began his Hollywood career doing heavies and has since taken on virtually every kind of role. 'After the parts I'd had in recent years--from drug addicts to draft-dodgers--I was glad to have something with humour,' he said.
'Jones' is based on a famous gunfighter, Kid Curry, who was part of the same real-life Hole-in-the-Wall gang which spawned such recent films and The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy. He is slow-talking and no-nonsense.
Playing him is Ben Murphy, who bears a striking resemblance to Paul Newman and has a university degree in political science.
The real star of the show is Glen Larson, who created it, produces it, and writes a lot of it.
'I had wanted a Western that was more towards the turn of the century and which also had some humour,' he explained. Browsing through the records of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which was the nemesis to many Old West outlaws, he came across a reference to two outlaws who had been offered amnesty--and jobs as guards on the Union Pacific Railroad. 'Soon as I read that,' said Larson, 'I knew I had a substantial basis for a series.'
'I suppose it's true the Western is escapist entertainment. Everybody likes to identify with the freewheeling cowboy, gun-at-hip with no restraints. With a contemporary hero you see more of the restrictions you experience in your own life.'
Larson is a Wunderkind among Hollywood
producers. He's confident, careful in what he says, discusses
his characters as though they're close friends, calls programmes
'vehicles' and speaks modestly about his career. Aged 32, he is
now producing his third TV series. 'It's what I always wanted
to do--write and produce. When I was a boy I typed out scripts
from the anthology of Best Radio Scripts 1939-40 and put
them on in the garage. I even hooked up a little red light for
being on the air. The most exciting thing for me was to phone
the set this morning to see how things were going and they answered
"Alias Smith and Jones."'
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