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Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sat Sep 28, 2019 2:43 pm
by High C
I thought the Van fans would be interested to know about this, in case they are unaware.

I was watching The Big Valley on cable Friday and saw an episode from season 3 titled 'Rimfire.' In it, Van Williams plays the tough-but-very-honest and fair sheriff of a rowdy mining town called Rimfire. He got a ton of screen time and it was abundantly clear they were trying to do a spinoff. I suspect the problem was that Westerns on TV were dying by the late 1960s, so it never made it to series.

Williams is quite good and believable in the role. It's nice to see some people in Hollywood obviously respected his performance in GH and saw he could be a series lead. Too bad it was at the wrong time.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sat Sep 28, 2019 2:52 pm
by THE BATPHONE!
Interesting, I’ll have to watch that episode again. I don’t remember much about it, so I can’t really add anything. Where did you find the information about the potential spinoff, was it a estimation, or were you up to some Sherlock tricks?

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sat Sep 28, 2019 8:13 pm
by High C
There are numerous references on the web to it being a backdoor pilot, but I noticed it right from the start. The opening scene didn't feature anyone from the main cast. That was quite unusual.

Basically, anytime you see an old show that doesn't have an anthology type-format, and the focus is almost totally on somebody not in the cast, it's safe to wonder if it was a backdoor pilot. Think Assignment: Earth on Trek TOS. Kirk and Spock are supporting characters in that episode.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sat Sep 28, 2019 8:57 pm
by THE BATPHONE!
Ok, I’m not really a fan of the show, just a casual viewer. I don’t really know the behind the scenes details. Thanks for the information. I remember, before I really knew about the Green Hornet show (it wasn’t syndicated on any of my local channels) I assumed that the Batman episode was a backdoor pilot! Oh, how ignorant I was back then!

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sun Sep 29, 2019 4:31 pm
by BATWINGED HORNET
Van Williams was considered a strong actor and had good representation, hence the reason his agent--according to Williams--was able to keep getting Greenway back to the negotiating table to get him a percentage of the GH merchandising (which was considerable) and a higher salary. While The Green Hornet had a good cast, Williams was more than the lead in name/billing--he made GH believable, and is that believability that likely placed him in the position to earn that backdoor pilot.

Too bad it did not go to series.

Trivia: As High C revealed, "Rimfire" was a backdoor pilot of The Big Valley--and of its stars was Richard Long. Long went on to star on Nanny and the Professor (ABC, 1970-1971), where he would run into guest star Van Williams in an episode titled "The Visitor" from the show's second season.

Let's not forget "Rimfire" also guest-starred the legendary Mako, who famously fought Kato in TGH episode, "The Preying Mantis".

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sun Sep 29, 2019 5:57 pm
by BatToys
Did Mako audition for Kato for The Green Hornet?

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Mon Sep 30, 2019 1:59 am
by Ben Bentley
Very interesting stuff. That's an incredibly clever and ingeniously thrifty way of producing a pilot by way of a show that has already been ordered to season. Do(ugh)zier himself would be proud of that move, no? :D

I would have loved to have seen Van have the career he truly deserved on screen. I've seen but a handful of Big Valley episodes, but i'm definitely going to try and track this specific one down.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Wed Oct 02, 2019 12:08 pm
by High C
BATWINGED HORNET wrote:
Sun Sep 29, 2019 4:31 pm

Let's not forget "Rimfire" also guest-starred the legendary Mako, who famously fought Kato in TGH episode, "The Preying Mantis".
Good point. Mako played a Chinese immigrant. He and his wife were looked down upon by the prejudiced locals, but Van's character made it clear that as residents of the town, they were due the same respect in terms of the law as anyone else, and he stood up to the land/mining baron who wanted their mining claim revoked.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 5:29 am
by NJ_Batfan
Just a heads up that the episode will air on ME-TV today, Saturday, October 5, at noon Eastern.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 7:04 pm
by gerryd54
In interviews that Van gave in the late '80's and early '90's he talked about this Big Valley episode as being a pilot for a series. It was the same production team that had success with The Rifleman in the late '50's and the vibe was the same: a good, moral father with a young son. As someone mentioned, westerns were pretty much dead at this point in entertainment. Van also didn't pursue his career the way Adam West did, he got fed up with the business which is loaded with empty promises. He got involved with law enforcement which was much more satisfying for him. He said he had many more friends from the sheriff's department than show biz. Regarding merchandising from the Green Hornet: Van did get a piece of it which amounted to about enough to buy a cup of coffee. However, he was hoping that Greenway would say no to the merchandising and then he wouldn't have to do the show. He wanted to do "Pursue and Destroy" , a war drama.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 11:27 pm
by BATWINGED HORNET
I was aware of Pursue and Destroy, and he was fortunate that it was never picked up as a series, as war dramas were starting to march their way out if popularity by the time this was produced (e.g., Combat! and Twelve O'Clock High ended in '67, Garrison's Gorillas in '68), so he would not have been better off. The Green Hornet ultimately brought him a level of pop culture awareness unlike any role he had before or since, and at least it did not really typecast him.

About the merchandising, its been said it was not only lucrative for The Green Hornet, Inc. and Greenway, but Van as well. Of course, that depends on what source one sees, as original records (contracts) from that period--particularly the kind related to this matter--are difficult to come by, so its stories going in several directions.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 12:49 am
by gerryd54
According to Van he made zilch from the merchandise. Also, I've never seen any information indicating that a lot of merchandise was sold.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 4:49 pm
by BATWINGED HORNET
I've read the opposite--that the series was heavily merchandised (which I know to be true), and that it was successful.

In a related note, here's a passage from the book View-Master Memories (by Mary Ann & Wolfgang Sell):

"The big talk going around at Toy Fair that year centered around one major character - The Green Hornet. Buzz Hazen was involved with packaging design and heard the on-floor conversations, He went over to a local ad agency, "borrowed" a drafting table and designed a Green Hornet packet on the spot.

They received tons of orders for the proposed item during Toy Fair. Luckily, View Master got the rights to produce a three-reel packet. and the company was able to fill all those orders!"


So, the "big talk" at Toy Fair was not around any other fictional character--not Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, or any other. It was The Green Hornet (the reason Hazen rushed to create something to project as a future product) and that talk turned into a profit for the license holders, as indicated by the production of the View Master reels, similar to the recollections of other companies that produced GH merchandise.

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 10:17 am
by Ben Bentley
I think i've shared the link to this thesis before, but for those interested in the merchandising aspect of The Green Hornet (and Lone Ranger), Avi Santo's dissertation is a lengthy but really fascinating read: https://www.academia.edu/2597982/Transm ... 1933--1966

Re: Van Williams had a backdoor pilot for a Western show

Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2019 4:27 pm
by gerryd54
I'm well aware that the series was heavily merchandised, what I said was that it didn't sell. The hope was that it would hit as big as Batman and we all know that didn't happen. According to Billie Rae Bates book, which has some excellent information on the GH series, William Dennis who was head of merchandising for ABC had stated that it didn't sell.