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Western stories and legends based, and filmed, in and around Death Valley, CA. One of the longest-running Western series, originating on radio in the 1930s. The continuing sponsor was "20 Mule Team" Borax, a product mined in Death Valley.
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I was never able to warm up to Leslie Nielsen in "The New Breed" and "The Swamp Fox", his first two series. Nielsen was just too muscular, unemotional and infallible. He was the same way in his guest star roles. But Nielsen became more interesting after he turned 40 and his hair started to go gray. He seemed to loosen up a little.
Here Nielsen played the deputy chief of police in a volatile California city. He was a conservative law and order type who was brought in from Cleveland to try to keep the lid on. Nielsen often had run-ins with the city's idealistic, liberal black DA, played by Hari Rhodes.
The pilot movie was called "Deadlock". It was produced by William Sackheim ("The Law") and directed by Lamont Johnson ("That Certain Summer").
Jack Laird ("Ben Casey", "Kojak", "Night Gallery") was brought in to be executive producer of the series. Twenty-seven year old Jerrold Freedman ("The Psychiatrist") was the line producer.
One startling innovation of this series was that there was no background music. The soundtrack just used the noises of the city and offices were it took place. This really made you realize how bad series music had become, particularly in creating false suspense prior to the commercial break. This lack of background music really gave the show a unique feel.
The photography was also unusually fine. Vilmos Zsigmond ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind") was a cinematographer.
Emmy winner Daryl Duke ("Payday", "The Senator") directed three of the six episodes.
The show opened and closed with a radio call-in show where the issues of the day were discussed. The calls often reflected on the episode's themes.
Guest stars included Edmond O'Brien, Charles Aidman, James Broderick, John Rubinstein, Robert Drivas and Louise Sorel.
Hari Rhodes was very good, but he wasn't quite as strong as Nielsen. I would have preferred the older Ossie Davis as the DA. Or maybe Al Freeman, Jr. ("Dutchman", "My Sweet Charlie").
This was the best of the three shows making up "The Bold Ones" in its first season, but it got the lowest ratings and was canceled. At least it made way for "The Senator" starring Hal Holbrook, which was superb. William Sackheim had also produced the pilot for "The Senator", but didn't produce the series. The most talented writers at Universal (such as Steven Bochco and Joel Oliansky) seemed to flock around Sackheim. The work he was associated with was always a cut above.
"The Senator" didn't use background music either, also to great effect. But as far as I know, no show has gone without music since.
Leslie Nielsen made a fine John Bracken the next season on "Bracken's World".
Leslie Nielsen was a big favorite of Jack Laird, the very talented executive producer of this series. Nielsen worked for Laird in at least six TV movies: "See How They Run", "Dark Intruder" (a pilot for a Nielsen series), "Shadow over Elveron", "Trial Run", "Hauser's Memory" and the Charlie Chan pilot with Ross Martin. Laird also used Nielsen as a guest star on "Ben Casey", "Channing", "Night Gallery" and "Kojak".
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