Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dusty's Trail (1973-74)

Dusty's Trail
Stars: Bob Denver, Forrest Tucker
26 episodes

It's not my intention to turn this site into the Sherwood Schwartz Appreciation Society so I'll lay off after this entry. It just so happens that a few of his lesser known TV shows caught my eye. They also provide a somewhat instructive look at the fickle nature of success in the TV game.

Schwartz had a hand in creating a few very successful TV shows, starting with Gilligan's Island (1964-67) and then a few years later with The Brady Bunch (1969-74). But everything he touched didn't turn to gold. As the first run of Gilligan's Island was winding down, Schwartz tried It's About Time (1966-67), in which a pair of astronauts/castaways are catapulted back in time to the era of "cavemen". Near the end of that show's short run the premise was flipped and a pair of cavemen found themselves stranded in the modern era.

In the early Eighties Schwartz spun the sitcom wheel again and came up with Dusty's Trail. The premise for this one was a band of westward travelers/castways who become separated from their wagon train. They are a party of seven, headed by the wagon driver and his sidekick. The passengers include a wealthy couple, a smarty-pants kind of guy and a pair of young, attractive women. If it all sounds naggingly familiar, that's no accident.

The Gilligan of this bunch is...well...Gilligan, as in Bob Denver. Alan Hale Jr. is nowhere to be found so Forrest Tucker takes on the Skipper role. He probably did a bunch of other things that I'm not familiar with but I'll always remember him for his role in F Troop (1965-67), another Western comedy that aired about a decade and a half earlier. As for the Ginger and Mary Ann roles, they were filled by Lori Saunders and Jeannine Riley, who played sisters in Petticoat Junction (1963-70) once upon a time. The more notable guest stars who stopped by during the one-season run, at least the names I recognized, were Jay Silverheels - we all know him best as Tonto - and Billy Barty.

The contrast between the two Western comedies mentioned already - Dusty's Trail and F Troop - couldn't be more striking. I'd place the latter in my top five favorite sitcoms of all time. Thanks mostly to the manic silliness of Larry Storch and the dopiness and pratfalling of Ken Berry. Tucker was the straight man of this trio and the other two served as his subordinate/sidekick and commander. Yes, much of the humor in F Troop felt like it was straight out of the Borscht Belt school of comedy but the timing and execution took it to another level.

As for Dusty's Trail, well, not so much. I watched the first episode of the series - or at least I tried to. In the end I only managed to plod through about half of the first episode of the series. As much as I tried to forge bravely on through, it was so uninteresting and unfunny that I didn't see the point in going further. As usual, this raises the possibility that the second half of the episode was absolutely phenomenal or that the series took off somewhere later in its run. Given that it only ran for season, I'm thinking that's probably not the case. If you'd like to see the Dusty's Trail concept converted into a movie - of sorts - then check out The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West (1976), which took four episodes of the TV show and made them into a movie.

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