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Harold J. Stone
two yanks and a johnny rebel travel west together following the civil war
Even as all TV westerns were beginning to look and sound pretty much the same in 1958, here was one that dared to be different - perhaps too different, as it lasted only one season on ABC, in a late evening spot that attracted little attention. The premise was simple enough: immediately following the Civil War, two yankees - a no-nonsense officer (Kent Taylor, formerly TV's Boston Blackie and still sporting the same abrupt mustache) and a large, mean-looking but easygoing sergeant (Peter Whitney) team up with an elegant looking southerner (Jan Merlin) and head west together, looking for a fresh start. Ordinarily, a series like this would begin with a pilot which set the stage for how the three came together in the first place, though that was not the case here. We were more or less thrown into the situation and asked to fend for ourselves. What most qualified the show as an original was that, other than the opening shot of the three riding over a hill together while a narrator spoke in voice-over about this being the beginning of the legend that would lead, half a century later and miles away, to the charge on San Juan Hill, most of the series took place not in easily identifiable western settings - prairies, mountains, towns, deserts, etc. - but in thick swamps, where the trio appeared to have bogged down. It wasn't until nearly halfway through the season that they ever even wandered into a town that looked at all like those seen in other western TV shows of the time. This lent ROUGH RIDERS a unique aura, for the trio almost seemed like that couple in Twilight Zone - you know, the one that kept trying to drive or travel by train out of a small town but always ended up right back where they had begun? Supposedly these three were headed west, but week after week, we'd seen them pass the same bog, ride under the same moss covered tree, as if they had somehow become disconnected from all the other similar western series then taking place. none of the scripts particularly stood out as strong - all the shows seemed variations on the same theme, with character - and the relationships of the three characters - taking precedence. Until cancellation time, of course. Not that this was a whole lot better than most oaters on the small screen at that time - but is sure was different!
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