Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Episode Guide: Nichols

“Where is your gun?”
“I don’t need one.”
“How do you arrest people?”
“Moral authority.”

James Garner has called this his favorite of all the films and television shows he’s done. Teamed with Frank Pierson, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of COOL HAND LUKE and CAT BALLOU, Garner produced NICHOLS under his Cherokee Productions banner. One of the most progressive westerns ever seen on TV, NICHOLS was set in 1917 and mixed automobiles, telephones, and motorcycles with the traditional horses and six-shooters.

If MAVERICK was the inspiration for THE ROCKFORD FILES, NICHOLS was the warmup. Garner is again a reluctant hero, an ex-soldier who quits the Army to get rich. Gold, silver, he doesn’t care, so long as it makes him rich. Tired of fighting, Nichols agrees to kiss a pig in the pilot in order to avoid a beating. NICHOLS’ non-violent, non-traditional, humorous take on westerns led to conflict between the filmmakers and NBC, which wanted the same ol’ same ol’.

Nichols became the town’s reluctant sheriff whose stance against violence extended to his refusal to carry a gun. The rest of the supporting cast included Ma Ketcham (Neva Patterson), who ran the town, and her dimwitted son (John Beck), called Ketcham; Mitch (Stuart Margolin in a dry run for his Emmy-winning turn as Angel on THE ROCKFORD FILES), Ketcham’s equally dim sidekick and Nichols’ deputy; and Ruth (Margot Kidder), the sexy young bartender at the town saloon who shared a flirtatious relationship with Nichols.

With the seventh episode, the title card was changed to read “James Garner as NICHOLS.” This has led some to write that the name of the series was altered from NICHOLS to JAMES GARNER AS NICHOLS, but I don’t know if I believe it. This was supposedly a desperate attempt at drawing viewers, as if the audience didn’t already know Garner was the star, his credit had to come three seconds earlier to lure them in.

Ratings were not good, but NICHOLS managed to last the entire season. Many episodes centered on a swindle or con in an effort to convince viewers NICHOLS was like MAVERICK. While never action-packed, the show started to introduce more gunplay and fights. NICHOLS’ worst enemy, unfortunately, was probably its whimsy. It’s hard to imagine any other westerns doing a show about the leading man taking care of a dog or betting on an amateur baseball game. In a cheeky move, Beck co-starred in two episodes as Orville, an exact double of Ketcham who teamed up with Nichols for adventure.

NICHOLS premiered on Thursdays opposite LONGSTREET (James Franciscus as a blind insurance investigator) and THE CBS THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIES. After a couple of months, NBC moved it to Tuesdays, where it was clobbered opposite CBS’ CANNON.

James Garner as Nichols
Margot Kidder as Ruth
Neva Patterson as Ma Ketcham
John Beck as Ketcham
Stuart Margolin as Mitch

Creator: Frank R. Pierson
Executive Producer: Meta Rosenberg
Producer: Frank R. Pierson
Assistant Producer: Michael Zinberg
Script Consultant: Robert Foster
Production Manager: Terry Nelson
Cinematographer: Lamar Boren
Music: Bernardo Segall
A Cherokee Production
In association with Warner Brothers Television

September 16, 1971
Writer: Frank R. Pierson
Director: Frank R. Pierson
Guest Stars: Paul Hampton, John Quade, John Harding, Wayne Heffley, Harry Hickox, Owen Bush

1917, Arizona. Nichols resigns his commission after eighteen years in the U.S. Army and returns to his family’s hometown of Nichols to get away from guns and violence and settle down. Unfortunately, the town is a lot different from when he left. The family ranch is in the hands of new owners. The town is run by the rich and ornery Ketcham family. And Nichols is forced to become the new sheriff to pay off a debt.

“The Siege”
September 23, 1971
Writer: Shimon Wincelberg
Director: Paul Bogart
Guest Cast: Ricardo Montalban, Armand Alzamora, Stefan Gierasch, Wayne Heffley, John Harding, Barbara Collentine, Anna Marie Majalca, James Reeves, Vernon Weddle, Chuey Franco, Toby Anderson

Colonel Alvarez (Ricardo Montalban), a notorious Mexican revolutionary called “El Aguila,” comes to Nichols to seek out its town doctor, Dr. Bernstein (Stefan Gierasch), to cure his toothache. Nichols works out a deal with Alvarez to keep his men out of trouble, but Ketcham and the other townspeople are getting restless.

“Indian Giver”
September 30, 1971
Writer: Theodore J. Flicker
Director: Frank R. Pierson
Guest Cast: Michael Tolan, James Greene, John Harding, Judd Pratt, Britt Leach, William Patterson, Eddie Quillan, Richard Bull

Flying Fox (Michael Tolan), an alcoholic Princeton-educated Apache, comes to Nichols to claim land given to his father by the federal government—the Ketchams’ ranch.

“Paper Badge”
October 7, 1971
Writer: William Wood
Director: Paul Bogart
Guest Cast: Joyce Van Patten, John Rubinstein, Ray Reinhardt, Tracy Bogart, James Lee Reeves, James Beach, John Evans, E.A. Sirianni, Dick Ryal

Nichols’ new deputy, a green criminology student named Fred Buckerman (John Rubinstein), runs afoul of both Ketchum and a celebrity passing through town, the glamorous actress Arletta McGreevey (Joyce Van Patten).

“Gulley vs. Hansen”
October 14, 1971
Teleplay: Shimon Wincelberg
Story: Frank R. Pierson
Director: Frank R. Pierson
Guest Cast: Robert Gist, Charles McGraw, Jack Garner, M. Emmet Walsh, Joe Brown, Joanie Larson, Ralph Montgomery, Jerry Harper

Nichols plays peacemaker and tries to prevent a fatal shootout between two old coots (Gist, McGraw) who have been feuding for the past twenty years.

“Deer Crossing”
October 21, 1971
Teleplay: Shimon Wincelberg
Story: Frank R. Pierson
Director: William Wiard
Guest Cast: Ray Danton, Gene Evans, William Bramley

Nichols comes between Ketcham and a renegade Apache (Ray Danton), both of whom are out to shoot a magnificent eight-point buck two weeks before hunting season.

“The Specialists”
October 28, 1971
Writer: George Kirgo
Director: Frank R. Pierson
Guest Cast: Ralph Waite, Don Keefer, Michael Baseleon, Henry Beckman, Robert F. Simon, Charles Dierkop, Poupee Bocar, Stefan Gierasch, John Harding, John Crawford, Ralph James

Nichols assembles a squad of his old Army buddies—all specialists—for a mission to steal $200,000 in stolen gold from an outlaw in Mexico.

“Peanuts and Cracker Jacks”
November 4, 1971
Writer: Bud Freeman
Director: Peter Tewksbury
Guest Cast: Med Flory, Alice Ghostley, Paul Hampton, Wayne Heffley, Richard Bull, M. Emmet Walsh, E.J. Andre, William Christopher, Buck Kartalian, Florence Lake, James Reeves, Don Newcombe, Art Passarella, Ken Endoso, E.D. Sirianni, Raphael Lopez, Moosie Drier, Sarah Fankboner

To raise money for the town, Nichols challenges an Army baseball team to an exhibition game. Of course, he’s got a wager going on the side, and to ensure victory, he brings in a ringer, a former pro named Rusty Sills (Med Flory).

“Ketcham Power”
November 11, 1971
Writer: Gene L. Coon
Director: Peter Tewksbury
Guest Cast: Alan Oppenheimer, Clifford David, M. Emmet Walsh, Don Pedro Colley, Hoke Howell, John Harding, Stefan Gierasch, E.J. Andre, James Lee Reeves, James Beach, William Patterson, Harry Harvey

After Mitch breaks his ankle, Ma installs her bullying, drunken lout son Ketcham as the temporary deputy at the same time a pair of dangerous con artists, Averill (Alan Oppenheimer) and Billings (Clifford David), hit Nichols.

“The One-Eyed Mule’s Time Has Come”
November 23, 1971
Writer: Jack Curtis
Director: Gerd Oswald
Guest Cast: Kristoffer Tabori, Roy Jenson, Walter Burke, Rayford Barnes, Jerry Summers, Lillian Bronson, Edith Leslie

James Garner is the only regular cast member to appear in this episode, which finds Nichols trapped in a cellar by an earthquake with a crippled young soldier (Kristoffer Tabori) and a mule that may be contagious.

“Away the Rolling River”
November 30, 1971
Writer: Ken Kolb and Juanita Bartlett
Director: Ivan Dixon
Guest Cast: Steve Forrest, Stefan Gierasch, John Day, Richard Yniguez, William Paterson

Nichols’ old Army buddy, Sam Jaeger (Steve Forrest), gets drummed out of the service and arrives in town to convince Nichols to rob a payroll train and run away to Nicaragua.

“Where Did Everybody Go?”
December 7, 1971
Writer: Buck Houghton
Director: Frank R. Pierson
Guest Cast: Nira Barab, Jesse Vint, Bill Vint, Alan Vint, Paul Hampton, Robert Gist, Richard Bull, John Harding, Robert Gibbons, Dana Derfus, James Lee Reeves, Bennie Dobbins

Free-spirited Mabel Zimmerman (Nira Barab) arrives in Nichols and drives the men crazy with her flirting. But her jealous boyfriend Bob Springer (Bill Vint) wants her back and sends his brother Charlie (Jesse Vint) to Nichols to fetch her. I believe this was the first episode produced after the pilot, but was held back until December for airing. Casting the real-life Vint brothers as siblings was an interesting idea.

“The Marrying Fool”
December 28, 1971
Writer: Ben Masselink
Director: Gerald Mayer
Guest Cast: Tom Skerritt, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Susan Tyrell, John Harding, Barbara Collentine, Joe Billings, Joe Brown

Ruth returns from a vacation with a surprise for Nichols: a fiancé (Tom Skerritt). But—whoops—he’s already married, and his wife’s father (Gerald S. O’Loughlin) is out for blood.

“Eddie Joe”
January 4, 1972
Teleplay: Frank R. Pierson and William Wood
Story: Robert Van Scoyk
Director: John Badham
Guest Cast: Paul Winfield, Warren Vanders, Eric Laneuville, James Daris, Lou Frizzell, Scatman Crothers, Jester Hairston, Napoleon Whiting, James Beach, John J. Fox, Howard Dayton, Sam Javis

Nichols protects the new chef (Paul Winfield) at Ruth’s café, an escaped convict on the run from an old prison enemy (Warren Vanders) and a federal marshal (James Daris).

January 11, 1972
Writer: Juanita Bartlett
Director: Ivan Dixon
Guest Cast: Strother Martin, Barry Cahill, Marc Lawrence, Edward Faulkner, Barbara Collentine, Luis Delgado, Dick Ryal

In one of the series’ most MAVERICK-y episodes, Nichols, his uncle Zachariah (Strother Martin), and two ex-cons attempt to swindle one another out of a missing $32,000.

“The Unholy Alliance”
January 18, 1972
Writer: Ben Masselink
Director: John Badham
Guest Cast: Noam Pitlik, Jennifer Gan, Liam Dunn, Orwin Harvey, Chuck Hicks, William Christopher, Ted Gehring, Regis J. Cordic

$475,000 is sitting in the Nichols town bank after robbers led by Jack (Noam Pitlik) cause a landslide and delay the train carrying the money. They mistake Nichols for a safecracker named Fingers (Liam Dunn) and force him to break into the bank vault.

“Slight of Hand”
February 1, 1972
Story: Frank Telford
Teleplay: Juanita Bartlett and Frank Telford
Director: Ivan Dixon
Guest Cast: Bo Hopkins, Dabbs Greer, Jonathan Lippe, Luis Delgado, William Christopher, Barbara Collentine, Frederick Downs, Duncan McLeod, Harvey Johnson, Chester Grimes, Steve Chambers

The town of Nichols gets gold fever when country boy Kansas (Bo Hopkins) arrives with a gold mine for sale. Little do the townspeople know they’re being swindled by father-and-son loan sharks (Dabbs Greer, Jonathan Lippe).

“Wings of an Angel”
February 8, 1972
Writer: Robert Foster and Buck Houghton
Director: Ivan Dixon
Guest Cast: John Crawford, Val Avery, John Harding, Richard Bull, Jack Garner, M. Emmet Walsh, Chuck Hicks, Richard Stahl

In a clever piece of casting, series regular John Beck guests as Orv, a barnstorming pilot who crashes on his way to a world record in Santa Monica. Nichols convinces him to use his biplane to help capture a mass murderer named the Dutchman (Chuck Hicks).

“About Jesse James”
February 15, 1972
Writer: James L. Henderson & Sam Roeca
Director: William Wiard
Guest Cast: Jack Elam, Charles McGraw, Fran Ryan, Vincent Van Patten, Dort Clark, Rance Howard, Dennis Robertson, Paul Brinegar, Charles Knapp, Frank Bonner, John Rayner, Barry O’Hara, John Bunzel

An old woman (Fran Ryan) who escaped from an asylum tips Nichols that Jesse James is still alive and using the name Hopkins. Lured by the $123,000 in reward money still on the books for James’ capture, Nichols, with the unwelcome help of a con man named Baxter (Jack Elam), tracks down Hopkins (Charles McGraw) while disguised as a priest.

“Fight of the Century”
February 22, 1972
Story: Gilbert Ralston
Teleplay: Marion Hargrove and Gilbert Ralston
Director: William Wiard
Guest Cast: Ray Young, H.B. Haggerty, Ed Flanders

A fast-talking promoter (“Special Guest” Ed Flanders) convinces Nichols to put up a dim-but-sweet local boy (Ray Young) against his barnstorming heavyweight (H.B. Haggerty).

“Man’s Best Enemy”
February 29, 1972
Writer: Bud Freeman
Director: Tony Leader
Guest Cast: Lou Wagner, Kelly Thordsen, Iler Rasmussen, M. Emmet Walsh, James Lee Reeves, John Harding, Richard Bull, Nora Marlowe, Olan Soule, Barbara Collentine, James Beach, Kay E. Kuter

Nichols tries to take care of Mitch’s ornery dog, while also guarding a dangerous escape artist and accused murderer (Lou Wagner).

“Wonder Fizz Flies Again”
March 7, 1972
Writer: Robert Foster
Director: Frank R. Pierson
Guest Cast: Allyn Ann McLerie, Val Avery, Ramon Bieri, Jay Varela, Priscilla Garcia, Rayford Barnes, Chuey Franco, Douglas Dirkson, Henry Allin

Series regular John Beck reprises his double role as biplane pilot Orv from “Wings of an Angel.” He and Nichols team up for a mission across the Mexican border to rescue the kidnapped daughter of an Army captain (“Special Guest” Ramon Bieri).

“All in the Family”
March 14, 1972
Story: Frank R. Pierson
Teleplay: Juanita Bartlett
Director: Jeremy Paul Kagan
Guest Cast: Anthony Zerbe, Marge Redmond, John Quade, John Harding, Russ McCubbin, Luis Delgado, Ray Pourchot, Chester Grimes, Buck Kartalian

In the series finale, Nichols is shockingly murdered by mean drunk Quinn (Anthony Zerbe). Even more of a shock is the arrival of his tougher, more serious twin brother, Jim Nichols (played by James Garner, natch), who vows not to leave town until he brings in the killer.

May 16, 1972
Writer: Juanita Bartlett
Director: Robert Butler
Guest Cast: Alice Ghostley, Gale Dixon, Karl Lukas, Eve Bruce, Maria Gahva, Sandy Brown Wyeth, James Lee Reeves, William Christopher, Barbara Collentine, Buck Kartalian, Gregg Palmer, Herman Poppe, Larry Gelman, John Taylor, Richard Wright

James Garner plays the original Nichols character in an episode that NBC preempted in November 1971 and later aired during summer repeats. To earn quick cash for another investment scheme, Nichols takes over the local brothel owned by Bertha (Alice Ghostley) while her daughter (Gale Dixon) is in town.

Here's the NICHOLS pilot, which should play in its entirety as a YouTube playlist:


Jerry House said...

I loved the show, but hated the finale. The "surprise" ending was far too gimmicky for me.

Marty McKee said...

I've read that the finale was a sop to the network, who may have brought NICHOLS back for a second season with a more heroic leading man. However, I think it's pretty clear that everyone involved knew NICHOLS was done, and the finale was just one last attempt at subverting the western genre, as the show had done all season.

Ken said...

This was always my favourite James Garner show. As a 16 year old lad, Margot Kidder was overwhelming. And Ketcham;man what a great idiot!