Friday, June 03, 2016

Observations About The TV Series Route 66 By a New Fan

Just in case you're wondering, that new fan happens to be me.

I've been getting my kicks watching Route 66 for the past week or so. At first I watched a couple of random episodes on YouTube, and liked it so much I decided to watch them in order on Hulu, starting with the first season. And now, just four episodes in, I'm addicted. It's become my nightly ritual after washing up. I put my sleep attire on, fire up the laptop, and settle into the glorious early '60s, black and white world of Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdoch (George Maharis) to savor whatever adventures -- and mishaps -- these two gorgeous guys get into next, when they're not gliding down another American road in that fabulous Corvette convertible.

But Route 66 wasn't just about two hotties picking up odd jobs and girls across the country. There was real substance behind this show. Although I've barely watched a few episodes as of this blog posting, I can honestly say it has to be one of the most underrated series of the sixties decade. Perhaps, even, a somewhat forgotten one. I only found one active fan group on Facebook (that I promptly joined) and a few sites and blogs that focus on the show, but no real "official" page dedicated to it. I only decided to explore the show because of my new love for co-star Martin Milner, and after getting a little bored with Adam-12 I veered into Route 66 territory. No offense to the Adam-12 fans, but I can honestly say I like Milner's first TV series better.

The word "groundbreaking" when describing television and films is starting to sound like a cliched and overused term. But there's no doubt that aptly applies to Route 66. For starters, the series was filmed on location -- with many of the settings nowhere near the famed American highway it was named after. If the script set Tod and Buz in Butte, Montana, the cast and production crew went directly to Butte, Montana. Many of the story lines would be right at home in the year 2016. One of the random episodes I watched on YouTube -- "To Walk With the Serpent" -- is about a wealthy guy with aspirations of power who wants to keep immigrants out of America. Sound like anyone in the news lately? Then there's the Nazi war criminal that Tod and Buz help expose, a feisty feminist running a shrimp boat who doesn't want to get married, and an epidemic of "parrot fever" which is not unlike the bird flu scare from a few years ago. It's almost as if the writers were time travelers that derived their plot ideas from the social norms and headlines of the 21st century.

This was also a show that came on the air at a time when Westerns ruled -- it's been reported that in 1960, one-third of all television programming was devoted to the cowboy genre. Route 66 gave American TV viewers something fresh, new, and adventurous to watch.

It should come as no surprise that the inspiration for Route 66 was Jack Kerouac's novel, On the Road. (I've read that Kerouac planned to sue producers as he felt his story had been plagiarized.) The American interstate highway system was getting some final touches, Motor City was cranking out automobiles ("See the your Chevrolet" was a popular jingle in the early '50s) and a lot of Americans were getting wanderlust. But many more were still timid about venturing outside of their towns and Route 66 provided viewers with a glimpse into various parts of their country along with the good, bad, and ugly of humanity.

I know I'm still a new fan, but here's just some more observations about the show, in no particular order, which illustrate why I'm hooked -- and why it's probably going to go down as one of my favorite series, ever.

Tod and Buz Are Total Hotties
Yeah, as a horny female who digs retro guys, I'll just state the obvious and get it out of the way first. Martin Milner and George Maharis were super hot foxes. Milner's my guy, but I can still appreciate Maharis, who almost looks like Jack Kerouac and also resembles Eric McCormack from Will & Grace fame. It's refreshing to watch a series and be reminded of how clean cut guys in general used to be: short hair, clean shaven, and devoid of tattoos, piercings, man buns, and all of that dreck. And these two red blooded American, boy-next-door types were natty dressers, too...collared shirts, nice sweaters, jackets, etc. and not a single baseball cap to be found. Tod even wears a bathrobe...needless to say, I'm drooling.

How did Tod and Buz know each other, anyway? Buz worked for Tod's dad and the two become friends. After Tod's wealthy father passed away he discovered that he was nearly bankrupt, except for the flashy Corvette which he left to his only son. Tod went to Yale, but has no post-college plans, and he and Buz decide to enjoy the freedom of the open road and see where it takes them.

Milner passed away last year at the age of 83. Maharis is alive and well, but fans may know he was not with the show until its end. Sadly, he contracted hepatitis during season three from a vitamin B12 shot (which were commonly administered in those days by family doctors) and had to leave the series. His departure sparked unfair rumors that he wanted more money, that he wasn't getting along with his costar Milner, and that he wanted to abandon TV to pursue a movie career -- all of which was untrue.

“The doctor said, ‘If you don’t get out now, you’re either going to be dead, or you’re going to have permanent liver damage,'” Maharis said in a 2007 interview. “I wasn’t interested in leaving the show. I enjoyed it; I was having a good time. It probably could have gone two or three more years, and I think they even had plans of taking the show to Europe. That’s what they talked about, anyway, and I would have looked forward to that. I was trying to recuperate, and there was all the crap going on about how I wanted more money. It was all garbage. Some people even tried to make it like I never had hepatitis at all. But it’s all in the doctor’s reports. I was just ill. It took me 2 1/2, three years to recuperate before I started working again. What should have happened, I guess, was that I should have worked only a couple of hours a day.”

Maharis left the series near the end of season three, and his character was replaced by Lincoln "Linc" Case, played by Glenn Corbett, but the bromance between him and Milner wasn't the same as when Maharis portrayed his traveling companion. The show suffered, and ended after season four.

Needless to say, although I plan on watching all four seasons, I'm not looking forward to this part of the show. To me, Route 66 will always be about Tod and Buz.

Fisticuffs Fly In Nearly Every Episode
It's starting to get comical, but fistfights seems to be a given in nearly every episode -- it was the early '60s, after all, and that was how men settled their differences. Buz is an ex-gang member and hails from Hell's Kitchen, so throwing punches in nothing new to him. Of course he and Tod manage to always win and get away without scars and other real physical damage. Oh, and there's smoking, too. Not that frequent but enough that it's noticeable. And uh, oh: I also noticed the guys tossing their cigarette butts onto the road, because you definitely don't want the lingering nicotine stink in that Corvette.

Each Episode Is An Unfolding Mini Mystery
The writers really knew what they were doing with this program; with each new destination that Tod and Buz arrive in, they seem to stumble into a mysterious and often potentially dangerous situation or someone's dysfunctional drama. Some of the moods are even a bit reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. The show really keeps you intrigued to therefore, keeps you watching....that's one of the reasons why I've been coming back for more every night.

Also, I hear there's one episode where poor Tod takes an LSD-like substance and goes tripping on it. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to seeing THAT.

The dialogue at times is quite colorful -- Shakespearean, in fact. Makes me wonder how some of the actors remembered their lines. This was a time when television was still a fairly new frontier, and scriptwriters could feel comfortable staging plays within an hour of TV drama.

The Opening Nelson Riddle Theme Is A Killer Tune
A few years ago I wrote about how very few TV shows have theme songs nowadays, whether it's due to a lack of attention spans or production money. Route 66's opening theme (which has nothing to do with the Bobby Troup composition that Nat King Cole popularized) is, without a doubt, one of the coolest TV themes ever. So much so that I listened to it on Spotify several times this week.

The Show Was Only Nominated For Two Emmys. WTF?
I was flabberghasted to learn that during its four season run, Route 66 only earned two Emmy nominations: one for George Maharis and the other for Ethel Waters. Neither won. What, no nominations for the scriptwriters (Stirling Silliphant wrote most of the episodes; kudos to him), the directors, the producers, Milner, or anyone else? Shameful.

Lots of Well-Known Actors Had Roles On the Show
Although I haven't gotten into enough episodes yet to see them show up, everyone from William Shatner to Boris Karloff was on Route 66. Apparently it was a hot series to work on, and who can argue with that?

There May Be a Remake Of the Show -- Although An Earlier One Flopped
Yes, I was disheartened to learn that in December 2014, it was announced that a media company was developing a reboot of Route 66 -- complete "with a faster car." Well, I have zero interest in watching a 21st century, hipster Tod and Buz in some ugly, overdone sports car or SUV using a GPS to get around the U.S. instead of a paper map. You can bet your bottom dollar they'll be sleeping their way across the USA with every slut that comes their way, too!

As the only news I found on this subject came out a year and a half ago, I'm hoping that means this project was abandoned. NBC already tried to revive it in 1993, with Buz's son inheriting the Corvette and picking up a hitchhiker to ride with him. Lame.

There can only be one Route 66, and only two men that can fill the roles of Tod and Buz.


  1. You've sold me, Pam! I'm going to have to check this out, I can't believe I've never seen a single episode--especially since I love Martin Milner :)

    1. Thanks, Doug -- happy that my post sparked interest to create potential new fans. Please report back and drop me an email to let me know what you think of the show!

  2. That was a great show, and I too am a fan of Martin Milner's understated approach to acting, which is rarely if ever seen these days. It strikes me as a bit more how people actually act in real life.
    I went through this phase in my late twenties traveling around America looking for adventure. It didn't last very long, because I ran outta money, but, it woulda been cool if I could have solved people's problems, like David Bruce Banner in the Hulk or that guy from Kung Fu.
    Me, I didn't solve shit.

    1. Ha ha, of my dreams, actually, is to go on a road trip...with a significant other...even if it just covers part of the U.S. Ideally, both of us would have to be out of work in order to drive all the way from the Boston area to the West coast, and back. Of course, a lot has changed since Tod and Buz traveled America's highways and back roads...not the least of which are traffic congestion and road rage incidents.

      I appreciate that Martin Milner was as great a guy offscreen as the characters he often portrayed. Not a single bad word or scandal attached to him. He always considered himself a working actor and not a celebrity.

      And Maharis is not to be overlooked. I'm looking forward to the episode called "Even the Stones Have Eyes" -- in which Buz is temporarily blinded. Fans rave about the performance he turned in during that particular hour.

      A great series; often overshadowed by the sillier sitcoms on the 1960s. I'm so happy I discovered it!

  3. I forgot to mention that while the series ran for four years, each season has between 22 and 30 episodes. Contrast that with today, where some shows deliver around half that much per season. It was a very demanding job for Milner and Maharis, as well as the crew.

  4. I've seen that episode that you mentioned, Pam, and if you haven't seen it yet, it's really worth seeing. It's pretty powerful.
    Yeah, Milner's only vice was an incurable addiction to fishing.

    1. I'm tempted, but think I'm going to continue watching them in order. I knew about MM's passion for fishing -- he was a great guy, and faithful to his wife of over 55 years of marriage.

  5. I'm so glad to hear that I'm not the only one who loves Route 66. I never made it through the entire series--like you I'm a Tod and Buz fan to the core.

    When we lived in NJ, The Mister and I took a couple of six-week road trips "home" to California (two weeks to get there, two weeks visiting family, and two weeks to get home) during my summer breaks and after he had saved up enough vacation days. We avoided the interstates as much as we could and discovered all sorts of great things along the way. I was whining to The Mister last week that I am getting restless for another really long road trip.

    (PS: We watched every episode of Adam-12...MM was the only reason I watched them)

    1. Thanks for your comments, Dr. JuliaAnn. I'd love to take a road trip and see more of the nooks and crannies of this country (as well as national landmarks I've never visited before, such as Gettysburg and the Grand Canyon.)

      I do plan on watching all four seasons...from what I understand, it was one of the first dramas to actually close the storyline in its finale.

      I do like "Adam-12", but I'll tell you what's bugging me the most about this series: the music. It's overused (I realize this was norm during late '60s and '70s dramas), overwhelming and melodramatic during so many scenes...scenes where Malloy and Reed are investigating fender bumpers and other minor incidences. Maybe it's just it's taken a while for me to really take a shine to Malloy. He's WAY too tough on Reed in that first episode (although he has a reason for it.)

      He and Kent McCord are great eye candy for sure, though, and I'll resume watching it at some point. However, I'm hooked right now on Route 66's storytelling.

  6. I got to find this on disc somewhere, so cool. From a guys point of view the 'hottie' stuff is lost on me but oh that Corvette. Oh and BTW Trump does not want to stop immigration. Get your facts straight. Illegal and further Muslims, yes.

    1. I'm not going to turn this into a political discussion. My description in the blog post was referring to the character in the particular noted episode and what I meant is, that in GENERAL, it may remind someone of Trump. I'm well aware of what his exact stance on immigration is.

      Glad you like the show.


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