2 February 2006 | ruffrider
A one-of-a-kind TV show
It was 1960, when the country was far less crowded and open roads beckoned just outside the cities. This was before the country lost its innocence via Vietnam and Watergate, a time when the rest of the world bought our manufactured goods and America had saved the world from Hitler and fascism within recent memory.
Cynicism and paranoia hadn't yet taken hold, many people would actually stop to help if your car broke down on the highway and altruism was a viable concept on TV and in real life. Into this world rode 2 young guys in a Corvette convertible (Corvettes were still somewhat exotic at the time), who met unusual people everywhere they went, which was all over the USA and even Canada. The two young men were total opposites, who made a fascinating personality clash and a winning pair of adventurers and Good Samaritans. Dark-haired Buz Murdock (played by George Maharis) was the brooder and battler with street smarts, who spoke like the hep-cat and jazz buff he was, while sophisticated, red-haired Yale grad Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) quoted literature and poetry, charmed the ladies and handled his share of the bullies. Sometimes the two boys were the center of the stories, other times just onlookers.
The dramatic, socially-conscious scripts met the tough issues head-on, from runaway kids and juvenile delinquency (this was long before young kids routinely carried guns to school) to substance abuse, terrorism and mercy killing. The quality of the scripts demanded high-powered acting, which it got from its stars Maharis and Milner and the impressive list of guest stars, including Rob't Duvall, Rob't Redford, Lee Marvin, Ed Asner, Martin Balsam, Alan Alda, Janice Rule and Jack Warden, to name only a few.
"Route 66" was so progressive socially because its producer (Herbert Leonard) allowed his chief writer (Stirling Silliphant) to tackle just about any subject he wanted, with no interference from the network or sponsors - a very unusual situation, even in 1960. There are so many out-of-the-ordinary elements in this show it's hard to list them all and in retrospect it seems like a kind of avant-garde television, with 100% location filming, travelogue, adventure and even a sort of Playhouse-90-like dramatic quality, all rolled into one. Perhaps the show's most striking element was the remarkable dialog, usually relegated to the guest actors, which often took the form of meditations on life or the ruminations of demoralized characters forced to confront their demons. This dialog can be seen today as nothing less than brilliant free-verse poetry, into which (future Oscar-winning Hollywood screenwriter) Silliphant poured his deepest thoughts. Looking back it seems remarkable such a show was ever made at all. Having written a book on this program, I've come to know "Route 66" quite well and feel privileged to have watched it.