Capturing the early emerging free roaming spirit of American youth at the beginning of the decade that would eventually come to be known as the "Swinging Sixties", Route 66 was an hour-long adventure series that ran on the CBS network between 1960 and 1964.
Produced by Herbert B. Leonard, the show took the lessons of successful television location filming learned by the producer during the course of his ground-breaking earlier hit The Naked City, and applied them to the much wider canvas afforded by a format which saw the central characters exploring the country in a cool red 1960 Corvette, via what was then the U.S.'s premiere highway, "America's Main Street", the historic Route 66 of the title.
The series featured Martin Milner as Tod Stiles, a wealthy Yale graduate, and George Maharis as Buz Murdock the tough kid from New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen. The two young men of radically differing backgrounds nonetheless formed a strong bond of friendship, which enticed them out on the road in search of adventure and excitement. George Maharis was forced to leave the series in November 1962 due to the unfortunate lingering after-effects of a case of hepatitis. However, he continued to appear intermittently in episodes that aired throughout to the March of 1963. In that same month Maharis' replacement as Milner's full-time travelling companion debuted in the form of Glenn Corbett's directionless former Vietnam war-hero from Huston, Texas, Linc Case.
Notable guest appearances on the series included a youthful Alan Alda, Joey Heatherton (in her first TV dramatic role), Robert Redford, Rod Steiger, and perhaps most importantly, Ethel Waters in the 6th October 1961 episode "Goodnight Sweet Blues", a performance that led to Ms. Waters being nominated for an Emmy award, the first such nomination for a black actress.
A direct forerunner of the rebellious, more overtly anti-establishment feeling of American youth which would find its ultimate expression in movies such as Easy Rider, Route 66 was a slick, well made and viewer pleasing series, which not only helped free US TV from the confines of the Hollywood back-lots, but also succeeded in capturing and mirroring the changing mood of a nation's youth in the process.
Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by SRH (July 2001) for Television Heaven.