6 April 2015 | mt9045
Two series in one
I've got no quarrel with the qualitative assessments here, but I do have to clarify a couple of things. First of all, STAGECOACH WEST and WAGON TRAIN had almost nothing in common, despite the presence of wagon wheels on both shows. One (STAGECOACH) spotlighted single stories of the heroes' interaction with one of the passengers on the stagecoach, while the other featured multiple stories of the many occupants of the wagons that made the cross-country journey. The stagecoach ride was short and almost never shown in its entirety, while the days-long journeys on WAGON TRAIN usually started and ended the episodes.
The other clarification is that, due to the series' structure (a 38-39 episode season, one-hour episodes), the length of production of each episode made it impractical to feature both Wayne Rogers and Robert Bray in every episode. (Again, this was another difference between the two; meantime, WAGON TRAIN solved this by having multiple leads--Ward Bond, Robert Horton, Robert Fuller--who often would share episodes.) Using the MAVERICK paradigm, most STAGECOACH WEST episodes just featured one or the other, with infrequent instances when both (not to mention Richard Eyer) were involved. The Rogers episodes involved him as more of a roving gunfighter-defender usually set in destination cities (more like WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE), while the Bray episodes were more homespun (like THE RIFLEMAN), set around the town where the stagecoach line was based. In other words, the partners were not interchangeable, just as Bret and Bart (or Beau and Bart, or even Brent and Bart) were usually given stories playing to their strengths, so, in essence, you got two different series under an umbrella title, even more similar to the much later NAME OF THE GAME.
The marshal thing seems to come and go; I'm not sure if Luke and Simon were deputized in mid-series or not, but I've seen episodes in which it would have been natural for one or the other to flash a badge, and they did not. (The consequences of viewing them randomly...)
One other thing: while it's historically interesting to see Wayne Rogers more than a decade before M*A*S*H (and Bray several years prior to becoming Corey Stuart on LASSIE), what's more interesting is how little Rogers changed between his series. In fact, you can hear Trapper John Alabama-tinged line readings in almost every episode of STAGECOACH WEST, (quite unlike Alan Alda, whose acting changed quite a bit in the same decade prior to M*A*S*H; see his episode of BILKO, for example), just as you knew what you were getting when Rogers later portrayed Jake Axminster and Dr. Charley Michaels. And even in his eighties, Rogers looks like he could still play Luke Perry.