16 July 2006 | Cheyenne-Bodie
Carl Betz in a pilot movie from Roy Huggins ("The Fugitive")
Former Sugar Bowl tailback Carl Betz played Dr. Alex Stone, husband of wholesome but buxom Donna Reed, for eight years. When that fine, traditional situation comedy ended, Betz surprisingly returned as the commanding lead in an hour-long drama series called "Judd for the Defense". "Judd" was created and produced by Paul Monash ("Peyton Place"). Monash said his first thoughts for casting the flamboyant, bigger than life Judd included Martin Landau and Chuck Connors. But somehow Betz got the role over the usual suspects and wound up winning the Emmy for best actor in a dramatic series in 1969 (although the series was canceled).
"Set This Town on Fire" was a pilot for a new series for Carl Betz that was created and produced by Roy Huggins ("The Fugitive", "Maverick", "77 Sunset Strip", "The Rockford Files"). Betz played the publisher/editor of a small town newspaper. Charles Knox Robinson was his handsome young son who was learning the business. Lynda Day George was a gorgeous young secretary who both father and son may have romantic designs on. These three characters would apparently have been the leads in a resulting series.
Ex-con Chuck Connors returns to town. Was Connors unjustly convicted of manslaughter? Why is he back? Is he seeking revenge? Is Connors' character similar to Huggins' Richard Kimble or is he someone darker? Huggins used an ex-con character again in "The Outsider" and "The Rockford Files". Since this is a Roy Huggins pilot, the three newspaper people act a little more like private detectives than journalists. But it still makes for a well-written, tough, moody melodrama. The movie had a fine film noir ambiance.
Chuck Connors ("The Rifleman", "The Big Country", "Branded") was always interesting in anything he did. He was well cast as the potentially tragic hero at the heart of this story. The rest of the cast was also good: Jeff Corey, John Anderson, Nancy Malone, James Westerfield and Paul Fix ("The Rifleman").
Carl Betz made two more series pilots. In "In Search of America" Betz and his wife Vera Miles and their son Jeff Bridges travel around the country having adventures. It was sort of a family version of "Route 66". ( This makes it cruel and funny that Jeff Bridges says he never heard of Vera Miles when Jane Fonda's character tells him she was being groomed as the new Vera Miles in "The Morning After".)
Carl Betz's third pilot was produced by Quinn Martin. Quinn Martin's strength as a producer was the shrewd casting of series heroes (David Janssen, Robert Lansing, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Roy Thinnes, William Conrad, Michael Douglas), so this pilot underlined Betz's potential as a series lead. In "Crisis" Betz played psychiatrist Frank Chandler who runs a crisis hot-line service staffed by young professionals. Betz also works as a psychiatric consultant to the police.
Betz's career cooled off a little after making these three unsuccessful pilots, but he continued to be a frequent guest star on other peoples shows (including many Quinn Martin productions).