Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Forgotten TV: Frontier Doctor (1958)

The days of the singing cowboy were drawing to a close. Three of the best known singing cowboys, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Rex Allen, all transitioned to television. Allen, it happens, was the least successful of the trio.

Allen opted not to parlay his musical career into TV, choosing instead to try a straight dramatic role in Frontier Doctor, a syndicated series that lasted just 1 season (1958-9). It's now in the public domain, or so it would seem, as episodes are readily available on YouTube, and I'm not sure if it's airing anywhere at present, though networks like Get TV or Encore Westerns could be looking for new material.

Right now, let's take a look at the episode, "Queen of the Cimarron". Glenn Strange (Gunsmoke) guest stars. Turns out he's also Rex's cousin.

Growing up, I didn't know about any of Allen's movies, and only knew him as the narrator of Disney's "True Life Adventures" series of films. Son Rex, Jr. had a modest career on the country charts in the 70's & 80's.

So why did Frontier Doctor fail? Some will say Allen was a little too bland or vanilla. I'd say that because there were so, so many Westerns on the air, the show was choked out by the glut.

Rating: B.


Mike Doran said...

Frontier Doctor was part of Republic Pictures's attempt to establish itself as a player in syndicated TV, alongside companies like Screen Gems (Columbia), Ziv (United Artists), Revue (MCA), and some others.
The most successful of these was Stories Of The Century, the western take on Gangbusters with Jim Davis; others were Commando Cody and The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu.
All of these shows made extensive use of Republic's trove of stock footage from B-westerns and serials, which made weekly production fast and effective.
What happened?
Republic Pictures went out of business.
The boss, Herbert Yates, ran out of his own money, and "New York" decided to cut their losses and fold.
You'll note that the other syndie companies I mentioned above had corporate "sugar daddies" who footed a lot of the bills, and were willing to stick with them.
But when Republic went down, Studio City Television Productions went down with it - quality of the shows and their stars notwithstanding.

hobbyfan said...

Thanks for the information, Mike. Stories of the Century is already up (just look it up in the search box), and we'll get around to the others down the road.