Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Dakotas

This is another of those fondly remembered TV series from my childhood, a very short-lived (20 episodes total) Western about U.S. marshals bringing law and order to the Dakotas. The lead was someone named Larry Ward as Marshal Frank Ragan, and his three deputies were an impossibly young Chad Everett, an obscure actor named Michael Greene, and the real star of the show as far as me and most of my friends who watched it were concerned, the great Jack Elam as Deputy J.D. Smith. Elam is one of my favorite character actors, and his character in THE DAKOTAS started out as somewhat villainous, being a gunslinger who was hired to kill Marshal Ragan but wound up working for him instead. Definitely a Hipshot Percussion sort of character, and even though he was one of the good guys, he always had a borderline craziness about him. I suspect that one reason the series wasn't successful was that viewers in 1963 really didn't know what to make of Elam's character. The ten-year-old boys knew, though: he was cool.

The scripts were a bit odd, too, often starting in the middle of the action, and they were very violent for the time, to the point that controversy, along with low ratings, helped kill the series after less than a season. The episode in the YouTube clip below, "Sanctuary at Crystal Springs", prompted a lot of protests because its final shootout took place in a church.

Of course, I didn't really know much about any of that at the time. I just liked the show and was sorry when it went off the air. I didn't know that it was a spinoff from CHEYENNE, either (CHEYENNE being another favorite of mine from that era). As far as I know, THE DAKOTAS isn't available on DVD except maybe on the gray market, but it's one of those shows that ought to be.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Don't remember this one but love Jack Elam.

Walker Martin said...

I liked Jack Elam because he was not the usual good looking, pretty boy hero. Many cowboys and lawmen were pretty scruffy looking in real life.

I've read the show was actually cancelled because of the furor that erupted over the church shoot out. Even the YouTube clip shows the murder of an unarmed man, which many viewers would not want their children to see.

Tim Mayer said...

Jack Elam was awesome in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. One of the greatest character actors.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember this one either. Elam did a great job playing against his image in the very funny SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF as James Garner's deputy.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

"But the little boys understand..." Not the Howlin' Wolf lyric. Elam and the grit definitely seems like it might lift this one above and beyond...but 1963 would be a bad year for that kind of thing, even before November.

Rick said...

I would love to see this come to DVD. I have fond memories of my dad and I watching this show. Jack Elam was the real reason. A questionable good guy with a touch of the dark side. We watched every episode and were very sorry to see it fade into the boot hill of electronic entertainment. A loss for us "little boys who understood..."

Steve Lewis said...

THE DAKOTAS is indeed available on the "gray market." I don't remember it being on the air when I was a kid -- it probably aired on a network we didn't get (ABC?) and/or came and went too quickly -- but a seller at PulpFest talked me into buying the set he had at his table.

Offhand I don't know if the set is complete, but I'm sure you can find one online without too much difficulty.

You described it well, James. Offbeat stories with a lot of violence. Too early for its time, I'm afraid.