Monday, September 8, 2014

What Might've Been: Custer (1967)

In the 60's, 20th Century Fox experimented with scripted dramas about historical figures. The first of these, Daniel Boone, was a huge hit for NBC. Two subsequent series, both produced for ABC, never got too far out of the starting gate. We previously had discussed The Legend of Jesse James, but this time, the subject is Custer.

Custer lasted just half a season, a victim of protests from Native American activist groups. Which makes one wonder what might've happened if they had decided to raise a ruckus over a certain NFL team back then instead of now. Digressing. Wayne Maunder top-lined as Major General George Armstrong Custer, who, by the time this series started, had been demoted to Captain, then promoted back to Lieutenant Colonel. We all know how Custer's story would end, but the series was cancelled before they could depict the battle of Little Big Horn.

Maunder, and co-creator Samuel Peeples, for that matter, would bounce right back with Lancer, another Fox series, this one for CBS, that bowed the very next year. We'll discuss that another time. If I didn't know any better, I'd think there was a certain stigma attached to anything that had Larry Cohen's name on it. Cohen, a prolific writer in the 50's & 60's, "suggested" the idea of Custer to Peeples. Given that Cohen had failed previously with Coronet Blue, and had modest success with Branded and The Invaders, the latter of which was in its 2nd and final season by this point, one would hope that this would've succeeded, were it not for ABC bowing to pressure.

Dwighttfrye uploaded the episode, "Suspicion":

Co-star Robert F. Simon would return a decade later, cast as newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson in CBS' adaptation of The Amazing Spider-Man. Peter Palmer, a football hero at Illinois, is still better known for starring on Broadway and in film in an adaptation of Al Capp's seminal comic strip, L'il Abner.

No rating.


magicdog said...

I don't know if the Indians were the real reason this show was buried. It could have played a part but there could be other legit reasons for it getting scalped. Probably the audience knowing what was yet to come could have had an effect. Viewers are supposed to sympathize with a guy who is often depicted as a glory seeking madman who bit off more than he could chew.

Of course, Westerns in general were falling out of favor by this time on TV. Spy shows were the thing by this point.

hobbyfan said...

Not only that, but it depends on what the competition was on the night Custer was airing. Low ratings might be the biggest reason, but I'd read that, yeah, Native Americans were protesting the show, largely because of how their forebears were being portrayed.

Hal Horn said...

Was one of the lowest rated shows of the 1967-68 season: in fact, it was fifth from the bottom: only ACCIDENTAL FAMILY, BELL TELPHONE HOUR, GOOD COMPANY and CBS NEWS HOUR were below it in the season to date ratings from the March 1968 issue of Television magazine.

CUSTER's rating was 11.7, compared to 17.5 for LOST IN SPACE and 21.7 for the first two half hours of THE VIRGINIAN.

hobbyfan said...

So it was in last place in its time period. That does explain a lot, too.