Like most humans presently stalking the Earth, I’ve been watching teevee ever since my eyeballs could focus. Being a fanboy collector, I do my share of possessing odd and great stuff. Sadly, there were two teevee shows I absolutely worshipped that I could not find, even from collectors who obtain their DVDs through questionable means.
The first is T.H.E. Cat, Robert Loggia’s jazz-based New Orleans cat burglar private eye show. It only lasted one season, it was in black-and-white, and each episode only ran 30 minutes. So it’s half-life in syndication was roughly the same as Lawrencium. There are some truly awful bootlegs around, 12th generation dubs of a kinescope shot off of teevee set that desperately needed rabbit ears. I haven’t given up, but the challenge is undermining my otherwise natural sense of happy optimism.
The second is Nichols, the post-western western about a pacifist who was shanghaied into becoming the sheriff of a small Arizona town in 1914 that is being overrun by bicycles and its very first automobile. Pretty heady stuff for 1971. It, too, lasted only one season but at least it was an hour long and it was in color. But in those days, local teevee stations wouldn’t touch a show that only ran 24 episodes.
This week I received a package from Warner Archives containing the entire Nichols collection on six DVDs. I ordered it the minute it was announced.
First, a word about Warner Archives. They sell a couple thousand DVDs of hard-to-find stuff from Warner Bros., MGM, Sony (Columbia), Paramount, HBO, Cinemax, and Hanna-Barbara. Lots of obscure movies and teevee shows, lots of comics stuff (for example, the complete runs of both the Superboy and the Shazam series), and they add new titles roughly every minute. These DVDs are made-to-order: they’re professionally packaged and of high quality. Warners discovered something Frank Zappa learned 20 years ago: if you can’t stop people from bootlegging, boot ‘em yourself.
Nichols starred – no surprise here – James Garner and was produced by his Cherokee Productions company with many of the same people who later did The Rockford Files. The show starred Margot Kidder – yes, that Margot Kidder, seven years shy of Lois Lane. Veteran character actor Neva Patterson and Stuart Margolin (later “Angel” on Rockford) also starred. But in my fertile brainpan, the real star of this show was its creator/writer/producer and occasional director Frank R. Pierson.
Pierson had a pedigree to die for. He’d written Cat Ballou, Cool Hand Luke, The Anderson Tapes, Dog Day Afternoon, The Good Wife, and 11 episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel – one of the best written shows in history. Oh, and shortly before his death last year, he wrote an episode of Mad Men and was its consulting producer. And he directed The L Word and Citizen Cohn. This man defied stereotyping.
Nichols was clever, heartwarming, very funny, brilliantly acted, and it had a point. It was very much a product of its time, that time being the enlightened days of peace, love, and sideburns, but it’s so well produced and acted that shouldn’t annoy anybody today. It deserves to be seen, and if you’re a fan of any of the people involved, it needs to be seen.