20 March 2006 | dougbrode
Two brothers (John Smith & Robert Crawford) run a ranch near Laramie, Wyoming.
When it first premiered in 1959, Laramie seemed to be shaping up as something a bit different in what had become (quite quickly) the monotonous world of TV westerns, which had more or less degenerated into endless shows about either a loner or a couple of buddies riding the west. Here was an attempt to do something far more intriguing: a focus on two brothers, young Slim (John Smith), the nearest thing that the show had to a conventional lead, and confused kid brother (Robert Crawford, Jr., whose brother Johnny played Chuck Connors' son on the long-run Rifleman series). Their relationship was believable and complex and not quite like anything else on a western at that time, leading to many unexpected and intriguing plots. Also impressive were the two other main characters - Robert Fuller as a rather unpleasant loner who wandered in to the area and was accepted, with qualifications, as part of the group, though the brothers couldn't quite understand his melancholy personality, and Hoagy Charmichael, that wonderful musical star from the big band era, as a strangely cynical and always ironic Greek chorus-like commentator on the action. The show didn't quite take off, had only mediocre ratings, and NBC had to decide to either cancel it or 'reimagine' it. If they had done the latter, this might be recalled as one of those great one-season classics that was too 'different' to survive. Instead, NBC decided to keep it on the air but remove everything that made the show special. So gone were both the little brother and Hoagy; Slim, the conventional lead, was relatively unchanged, and Robert Fuller's "anger" was "toned down" to the point that it didn't really add up to anything any more. The show, now in color, was one more ordinary series about two cool guys riding the west together. If there was anything at all different about it now, that was the addition of Spring Byington as a sweet old lady who cared for them, like the aunt who oversees Batman and Robin in the mansion, though this only brought a 'December Bride' sentimentality to the series. Wouldn't you know it - the moment that the show became more conventional, it picked up in the ratings quite considerably and ran for three more mostly mediocre years.