Sunday, February 14, 2016

What Might've Been: Nichols (1971)

James Garner returned to television and Warner Bros. in 1971, and established his own production company, Cherokee Productions, for his first NBC series.

For those who believe Nichols was an attempt at recapturing the magic of his 50's series, Maverick, his other series for WB, Garner was actually adhering more to the spirit of the two Western comedies he made for director Burt Kennedy, "Support Your Local Gunfighter" & "Support Your Local Sheriff", one of which had been released mere months before Nichols hit the air. Unfortunately, something got lost in the transition.

While Garner's character was not given a first name on the air in early episodes, it is implied, from military records, that he was named after series creator Frank Pierson. However, ratings were so bad, Garner and producer Meta Rosenberg decided to kill off Frank Nichols and reboot with Frank's twin brother, James (Garner with a mustache) to finish the series. That didn't help, as NBC dropped the axe on Nichols at season's end.

Nichols airs on Get TV at the back of its Saturday Showdown Western block on Saturdays, and despite a supporting cast that includes Margot Kidder (7 years before "Superman") and Stuart Margolin (who'd reteam with Garner in The Rockford Files), it fell victim to confusing viewer expectations. For those expecting a revival of Maverick, Garner would finally deliver that a decade later.

Warner Archive offers a trailer of sorts:

Nichols was one of two 1971 freshman series set in the early 20th century, with CBS' Bearcats! being the other. The two shows were set three years apart, skirting around World War I, but if memory serves, they were slotted against each other for a time.

Rating: B--.

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