Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Alaskans


Ed here: I was looking through a 1960s book about the Warner Brothers TV factory of the Fifties and early Sixties and came across a reference to The Alaskans. Now I was a huge fan of all the WB product except for 77 Sunset Strip which I couldn't take because of Kookie. Really no-talent obnoxious jerk. The James Garner Mavericks were my all-time favorites but I liked all the westerns and suspense shows, esp. Cheyenne and Bourbon Street Beat. But The Alaskans...well I Googled it and came up with this long Wikipedia entry. Mostly what I remember of it (and I always watched it) was Roger Moore bundled up in furs mushing unseen huskies against a back screen of bitter Alaska winter. John Dehner did a couple of them as a con-man; those are the only two episodes I have fond memories of. The biggest selling point was Dorothy Provine who was then at the peak of her beauty. But the show had quite a (brief) history.


The Alaskans is a 1959 television series set in the port of Skagway, Alaska during the 1890s. The show features Roger Moore as "Silky Harris" and Jeff York as "Reno McKee", a pair of adventurers intent on swindling travelers bound for the Yukon Territories during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush.[4] Their plans are inevitably complicated by the presence of "Rocky Shaw" (Dorothy Provine), "an entertainer with a taste for the finer things in life".[5]
The show lasted for just one year, and is principally notable for being Moore's first regular work on American television.

The Alaskans is closely related to the series Maverick through broadcast and production.
Maverick was a lead-in for ABC's Sunday night of western dramas. For the 1959-60 season, Sundays began with Colt .45 and Maverick, went to Lawman and The Rebel, and concluded with The Alaskans.

This may have influenced the career path of Roger Moore. The same year that The Alaskans was canceled, James Garner decided to leave Maverick. Moore became, under protest[7], Garner's replacement, playing Bret Maverick's cousin Beau in the fourth season of Maverick.

Maverick and The Alaskans were also related through script, if not narrative. The two shows were not part of the same fictional world, as evidenced by a lack of crossovers between the two. Because of the 1960 Writers Guild of America strike as well as an ongoing Warner Bros. policy to save money on writers, however, The Alaskans inherited a certain amount of scripted material from Maverick. Moore bristled at the lack of originality in scripts: "An old Bronco script would interchange with an Alaskans or Maverick. In some cases, even the dialogue stayed unchanged."[7] In 2007, Moore noted, "Quite often I realized that we were filming Maverick scripts, with the names changed."[8] This made it simple for Jack L. Warner to envision Moore as Maverick since Moore had literally delivered Garner's dialogue while reshooting the same scripts with different names and locales.
Since the show has not been available to home audiences for over 40 years, independent verification of either claim is difficult. However, The Alaskans may have drawn from other series, as well. One viewer has detailed which specific Maverick, Sugarfoot and Cheyenne episodes spawned clones on The Alaskans. Cannibalizing scripts was standard operating procedure at Warner Bros. television. Their first big hit in the detective genre, 77 Sunset Strip, was copied in analogous series such as Bourbon Street Beat, Surfside Six, and Hawaiian Eye, with only the locations changed - L.A to New Orleans, Miami Beach, and Hawaii. The basic characters were identical with only the character parts which spoke in jargon being re-written eg. horse racing tout to jazz slang. It was an assembly line factory in the strictest sense of the phrase.This pre-dated the troubles with the Writers

For Roger Moore, the series is memorable for being "my most appalling television series ever". In particular, he found that attempting to recreate Alaskan exteriors on a studio backlot in California made for disagreeably hot work days.[10] The show also caused some marital strife for the actor when he had to admit to wife Dorothy Squires that he had fallen in love with co-star Dorothy Provine.


Anonymous said...

Why would anyone fall in love with Dorothy Provine? She always reminded me of a parakeet.


J. Kingston Pierce said...

Wow, I've never once seen THE ALASKANS, and don't remember so much as hearing of its existence. But after reading about it here, I'm hoping the show will eventually be rewarded with a DVD release--despite Moore's disregard for its quality.


James Reasoner said...

I remember watching and liking THE ALASKANS, but I watched that whole ABC Sunday night lineup. How about the series KLONDIKE, starring James Coburn and Ralph Taeger, which aired the next year on ABC and was almost identical to THE ALASKANS? That one is odd because at mid-season NBC updated the series to the present day, shifted the locale (and the name) to ACAPULCO, and had Coburn and Taeger playing detectives.

James Reasoner said...

Sorry, KLONDIKE/ACAPULCO aired on NBC, not ABC. Slip of the fingers.

Cap'n Bob said...

I'd forgotten this series but I did watch it. I thought Dorothy Provine was great in The Roaring Twenties but, alas, she'll best be remembered for her commercials for a feminine spray.

Anonymous said...

5 hour long episodes of this show can be found at tv