TV Marathon

As part of my physical therapy, I have to spend four to six hours a day with my arm in a machine that forcibly bends and extends it… so I have been watching a lot of television lately.

First, I went on a big GUNSMOKE binge… which is easy, since the color episodes play on TVLand every day and the black-and-white episodes air on Western Channel. Plus both networks have been running mini-marathons. You gotta love Tivo.

Anyway, besides noticing what a great, under-appreciated show GUNSMOKE was (though there were a few seasons in the mid-60s you can skip)… I was struck by how often it has been subtly imitated over the years. The key characters on the show are Marshal Matt Dillon, his deputy Chester (and later Festus), his friend ornery Doc Adams, and his girlfriend Kitty, the saloon-keeper (and, let’s be honest here, proprietor of the whore house). But that central triumvirate…  lawman, deputy, and doctor, have been repeated ever since in many series…including one very popular example.

Gene Roddenberry described STAR TREK as "WAGON TRAIN in space." It probably would have been more accurate to call it GUNSMOKE in space. Captain Kirk is Matt Dillon, Mr. Spock is Chester, and Doctor McCoy is, well, virtually the same character as Doc Adams. All the STAR TREK shows have repeated that triumvirate in some form or another…

I also caught up on the first season of NIP/TUCK on DVD… a show that deserves all the praise it has been getting. I can’t wait for season two box set to come out. And I watched the first season DVD set of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT… which left me cold. I can see why it’s struggling to attract an audience, despite its Emmy awards.

I’ve also caught a bunch of movies…among them THE BIG SLEEP (love the movie, though I still can’t follow the plot at all), TONY ROME and LADY IN CEMENT (two fun Frank Sinatra PI movies based on Marv Albert novels), THE GOOD THE BAD AND UGLY special edition (a classic), MISSING (the Tommy Lee Jones western, the DVD is loaded with deleted scenes and alternate endings), all the Bond films for the millionth time, and two PINK PANTHER movies.. in addition to my usual primetime viewing.

5 thoughts on “TV Marathon”

  1. Ah, yes, the GUNSMOKE formula. When I was writing the Walker, Texas Ranger novels, I found the going much easier once I realized that Walker was Matt, Trivette was Festus, C.D. was Doc, and Alex was Kitty. I really enjoyed writing those arguments between Trivette and C.D., because I figured that was as close as I’d ever come to writing for Festus and Doc.
    Also, did you notice that Matt could ride one day from Dodge City and find any type of terrain that exists west of the Mississippi?

  2. There were three Walker novels, all published by Berkley in 1999. The editor was also the editor on my Westerns there, which is how I got the job. Supposedly Chuck had to sign off on everything, but I never had any contact with him. I had one conference call with Aaron Norris, Gordon Dawson, and a couple of CBS execs in New York. After that I just worked with Gordon, submitting my outlines to him for approval before I wrote the books. The first one was a sequel of sorts to one of the TV episodes (the one where drug smugglers were using some sort of super helicopter stolen from the military), and the other two were just ideas I came up with. Writing the books was a lot of fun. I’m not sure I ever really connected with Walker fandom, though. For one thing, for some reason I kept making the same mistake in every book, calling C.D.’s bar by the wrong name. I knew better, it was just some sort of brain glitch. For another, most of the fans I heard from were much more interested in the Walker/Alex romance than in anything else about the show, and I always found that the least interesting element and wrote the books accordingly. At one point I was supposed to visit the set in Dallas and meet Chuck, but that was called off and never rescheduled. All in all I enjoyed the experience and would be happy to write more TV tie-in novels, but those are the only ones I’ve done so far.

  3. I’m a big admirer of Gordon Dawson and his work (Rockford Files, Bret Maverick, etc.). I’ve run into him socially many times and I was pleased to have a chance to work with him on our MARTIAL LAW/WALKER cross-over. He’s a hell of a nice guy.
    WALKER strikes me as a strange pick for original tue-in novels, since half the fun of the show is the martial arts action sequences which, I imagine, would be hard to recapture in book form…

  4. That’s right, martials arts sequences don’t translate very well to the written word. That’s probably why the books have more shoot-outs than the TV show did. A little easier to write. Also, I gave Walker more dialogue in the books than he had on TV, because I discovered that if I wrote the character as laconic as the TV version, he tended to disappear without Chuck’s physical presence to dominate the scenes.
    Gordon’s a good writer and a good story editor. By the third book, he and I were very much in synch and I would have enjoyed continuing if the publisher had been interested. Unfortunately the numbers weren’t that good.


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